Dogging it


The village of Swanton has decided that its breed-specific dog ordinance is legal, even though it conflicts with more-rational state laws that define a vicious and dangerous dog by its behavior, not its breed.

Swanton’s dog ordinance may be constitutional, but it is neither prudent nor reasonable. The city council should scrap it in favor of an ordinance that’s in synch with state law.

The village’s ordinance, in defining a so-called pit bull-type dog, is vague and impractical. The larger problem is that it is based on breed instead of behavior.

Many breeds of dogs — including Labradors, golden retrievers, Rottweilers, huskies, boxers, and dalmatians — have acted aggressively or violently toward people without getting stigmatized and legally restricted. Whether “pit bulls,” however defined, are more aggressive or violent than other breeds is conjectural.

Either way, a dog’s training and handling have the most influence on its behavior. Reckless and negligent dog owners — some of whom regard "pit bulls" as showpieces — are the biggest problem.

Massachusetts recently passed a law that banned cities and towns from targeting specific breeds. Ohio should consider similar legislation.

Ohio’s dangerous-dog law, which took effect last year, defines a vicious dog as one that, without provocation, has killed or caused serious injury to any person. Appearance is no longer mentioned in the law — just behavior.

By contrast, an ordinance that assumes all members of a breed to be inherently vicious creates unreasonable burdens on owners, as a recent article in The Blade on Swanton’s dog law underscored. "Pit bulls" and "pit-bull" mixes can’t be adopted out to the general public. Stray “pit bulls" that are not claimed by an owner are euthanized.

The Blade story showed how a mixed-breed dog named Bailey, adopted by a Swanton family, was required to be registered with the police department and muzzled in public. The acting Fulton County dog warden considered the dog a pit-bull-type animal because of its large head and brindle color.

Bailey’s behavior was not an issue. The dog, a stray from Wood County, was adopted out by the rescue group Planned Pethood, whose executive director called the dog “perfectly lovely.”

How the dog behaves is what counts. Swanton’s dog’s ordinance — constitutional or not — is irrational and should reflect more-sensible state law.