THE Lucas County Dog Warden Advisory Committee has made a good start on drafting a new dog ordinance for Toledo that would identify vicious animals based on behavior, rather than breed. But the panel needs to distance itself from the misguided state law that defines "pit bulls" as inherently vicious.
The committee now appears to want to have it both ways. It claims the new city law will determine whether a dog is vicious by what it does, not what it is. But the draft ordinance also requires all dogs defined as vicious by the state to be spayed or neutered. That would include all "pit-bull" breeds, regardless of actual temperament.
If "pit bulls" are truly to be judged on their behavior, then either all dogs in the city should be spayed or neutered - which will never happen - or only dogs that have acted badly should be "fixed." Singling "pit bulls" out for special, negative attention amounts to saying: We don't want to call these dogs vicious, but we still don't trust them. At least we're not saying, kill them all.
The breeds referred to as "pit bulls" are well-muscled dogs with strong jaws. They often are trained to be aggressively vicious. Their ferocious reputations are compounded by our fear of them. That fear is reinforced every time a "pit bull" bites someone, in part because they can do so much more damage than many other dogs.
Jimmy Straley, the director of Clark County's humane society, has shown the effort needed to get beyond that fear. This week, Mr. Straley was surrounded by three "pit bulls" running loose outside a home in Springfield, Ohio. The dogs circled and darted at him as he tried to fend them off with a pole. After a few seconds, Mr. Straley fell. A police officer shot one of the dogs as it lunged at him.
Mr. Straley acknowledged he was frightened and said the dogs posed a danger to the community. But to his credit, he declined to blame the animals. Instead, he placed responsibility where it belonged: on the owner.
Lucas County's new dog warden, Julie Lyle, has begun to reverse long-standing attitudes and policies that resulted in the deaths of too many dogs of all breeds. More than half of the dogs, including "pit bulls," that entered the county pound in her first month on the job have been returned to their owners, adopted out, or transferred to other groups for adoption.
For permanent change to take root, though, Toledo's new dog law needs to be consistent in applying the principle that dogs - and their owners - are accountable for what they do, not what they are. The advisory committee must hold to that assumption.
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