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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2012

Bill doing away with label on “pit bulls” sent to Kasich for signature


COLUMBUS — After 25 years, Ohio may be about to do away with its law automatically declaring the “pit bull” to be an inherently vicious dog.

The House voted 67-30 Wednesday to send House Bill 14 to Gov. John Kasich’s desk.

“Today we have an opportunity to finally be the last state to eliminate our discrimination of breed-specific dogs,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township). “We can join the other 49 states and virtually every other country in the world in eliminating our breed-specific language.”

Current law defines a “vicious dog” as one that, without provocation, has seriously injured a person, killed another dog, or belongs to the general breed of “pit bull.” Such a designation triggers additional liability insurance, restraint, and other requirements and increases the chances that a pit bull could be euthanized if picked up on the street.

In addition to dropping any reference to a specific breed of dog from the law, House Bill 14 would redefine current designations of “vicious” and “dangerous” dog, create a third lesser category of “nuisance” dog, create a venue for dog owners to appeal law enforcement’s labeling of their dogs, and place the burden to prove the classification by clear and convincing evidence on the dog warden.

Supporters of the law have argued that it allows law enforcement to judge a dog by its appearance rather than by its behavior.

The sole negative vote from northwest Ohio was delivered by Rep. Bruce Goodwin (R., Defiance), who objected to increases in two fees included in the bill on dog owners, increases that helped to bring the Ohio County Dog Wardens Association on board after years of opposing similar bills.

“My other objection is I am not convinced that a pit bull is a safe animal to have around,” he said. “I understand all the arguments from all these organizations, but I still have a fear that a pit bull has a characteristic that we need to protect our kids from…

“The pit bull has the distinction or characteristic that, when they grab on, they don’t let go,” Mr. Goodwin said. “You can say all you want about all these other breeds, but pit bulls are the choice for drug dealers and other bad folks for a reason.”

John Dinon, executive director of the Toledo Area Humane Society, applauded the vote.

He said the group has been fighting for a long time to change Ohio’s vicious dog law from a breed-based law to a one based on behavior. “We feel that this is not only more fair to the dogs, but also makes our state safer since the new law gives dog wardens tools to go after dangerous dogs of all breeds,” Mr. Dinon said.

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