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Published: Monday, 6/13/2011

Good law for dogs, people

Dogs that bite or otherwise misbehave -- whether they are vicious, dangerous, or merely nuisances -- ought to be regulated according to what they do, rather than what breed they are. A measure before the Ohio General Assembly would make that sensible distinction and deserves to become law.

Current Ohio law, unique among states, defines just one breed of dog -- the so-called pit bull -- as inherently vicious, no matter how well it conducts itself or how responsibly its owner trains and supervises it.

The definition of a pit bull is so vague that it is largely meaningless. Yet the law automatically places all dogs identified as such in the same category as dogs of other breeds that, without provocation, have killed people or other dogs or seriously injured a person.

The effects of this distorted classification scheme are evident in Lucas County. The previous dog warden showed -- and defended -- a bias toward killing stray pit bulls with few questions asked, and little effort to promote placement, adoption, or rescue of such dogs.

Current Dog Warden Julie Lyle has introduced more-humane operations at the dog pound. But its kill rate is still unnecessarily high and the arbitrary distinction between "pit bull-type" dogs and other breeds remains. That distinction can become lethal when dogs are selected for euthanasia.

The bill before the state House has the support of dog wardens and animal activists alike. It creates tiered classifications of errant dogs, based on behavior rather than breed, that sponsors credibly argue will help enable identification of bad dogs and punishment of criminally irresponsible owners.

Any dog, not just a pit bull, that kills or seriously harms someone still would almost certainly be put to death. That's appropriate.

The legislation would impose new registration, insurance, and notification requirements on owners of problem dogs. It would encourage the implantation of microchips to help track dogs that get loose.

The state measure would not supersede dog laws in home-rule cities such as Toledo, which recently revised its ordinance. But it includes useful features that those communities should want to emulate.

The state House enacted similar legislation in the past session, but the Senate let it die. That shouldn't happen this time.

The measure before the House would improve both public safety and animal welfare in Ohio. It deserves enactment.



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