Wednesday, Dec 13, 2017
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'Pit bull' friends, foes clash at hearing to change Ohio law

COLUMBUS -- Animal-rights activists and dog owners Tuesday urged lawmakers to end Ohio's discrimination against the ''pit bull'' based primarily on its appearance.

But victims and witnesses to ''pit bull'' attacks argued the breed is not like other dogs and should retain its distinction under Ohio's 24-year-old law as the only type of dog singled out as inherently "vicious.'' Such a designation triggers additional confinement and liability insurance requirements for the dogs' owners.

"How can anyone believe that dogs with certain physical traits are vicious when we see dogs with those exact physical traits successfully serving individuals with disabilities?'' asked Toledoan Jean Keating, Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates' president.

As she spoke, a white American Staffordshire Terrier named Wendy begged for treats and sought attention from others attending the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The dog, which falls into the general category of ''pit bull,'' is training as a service animal for a child with post-traumatic stress disorder and other disabilities.

"Wouldn't Ohioans be better served by having a vicious dog law that is in line with the [federal Americans with Disabilities Act] and identifies dogs as vicious based on their behavior?'' she asked.

House Bill 14, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), passed the House 69-29 last spring. Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), the Senate Judiciary chairman, has tentatively scheduled a committee vote for next week.

Current law defines a "vicious dog'' as one that, without provocation, has killed or seriously injured a person, has killed another dog, or is of the general breed know as ''pit bull.'' House Bill 14 would replace that language with revised definitions of "vicious'' and "dangerous'' dogs and create a new lower-level classification of "nuisance dog.''

None of the definitions would include breed-specific language.

In September, Kathleen Scarbrough, a health professional, was out walking with her husband when they came across the bloody aftermath of an attack by two "pit bulls" on a Miami County woman.

The woman was pulled from her bicycle and suffered severe facial and other injuries. The attack occurred before many witnesses. The dog owners were later charged, and the dogs were shot.

"Until about 1980, 'pit bull' dogs were owned by two groups of people -- serious professional dog fighters and pet owners/hunters. The serious dog fighters killed puppies and dogs that did not meet their standard as fighters,'' Ms. Scarbrough said

Critics of the current law argued that there is no true ''pit bull'' breed and that the law allows authorities to unscientifically label a dog based on its appearance rather than its behavior.

Opponents of proposed House Bill 14 say it wouldn't impose the most stringent of restrictions on a ''pit bull'' until after it had already seriously injured a person.

Carol Miller was injured in 2007 when a ''pit bull'' attacked the horse she was riding in a Cleveland-area park. She noted there have been six deaths related to ''pit bull'' attacks in Ohio since the 1987 law was passed, compared to 31 and 28 respectively in California and Texas, both states without breed-specific laws.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.

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