Lawmaker rejects label of pit bull as vicious dog


COLUMBUS - A suburban Toledo lawmaker yesterday proposed doing away with Ohio's law that automatically deems a pit bull to be a "vicious dog."

Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Sylvania) introduced a bill to strip the pit bull clause from the state definition of a vicious dog.

"In the 1970s, it was the German shepherd,'' Ms. Sears said.

"In the 1980s, it was the Doberman. In the 1990s, it was the Rottweiler. We shouldn't put something in permanent law that is a moving target. It begs the question that whether we should really be looking at the owners of the pit bulls."

The Ohio Supreme Court in 2007 unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the state law and a Toledo ordinance based on it that consider the pit bull to be the only dog breed inherently considered "vicious."

Proponents of the pit bull-specific law, including Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon, argue that those involved in drug dealing and dog fighting exploit the breed's muscular physique and strong jaws, which enable them to latch onto something and not let go.

Mr. Skeldon said the 2009 count for pit bulls picked up by his office was 173 as of March 7. Most were killed.

"Just today a pit bull came in with a cable around its neck," he said. "It was too mean to get the cable off. I had to tranquilize him."

But he said the county has turned the corner on the pit bull problem.

After picking up a record 1,354 pit bulls in 2007, the number dropped for the first time last year to 1,281.

The law defines a vicious dog as one that has killed or injured a person, killed another dog, or "belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog."

Ms. Sears' bill would strike the last phrase, along with language stating that the "ownership, keeping, or harboring of such a breed of dog shall be prima facie evidence of the ownership, keeping, or harboring of a vicious dog."