COLUMBUS — A proposed law introduced after the mauling death of a Dayton woman would create a statewide registry to track dog violations and complaints and give judges no choice but to order a dog destroyed once it’s been legally declared “vicious.”
The bill does not revisit the recently abandoned idea of automatically labeling a dog “vicious” because of its breed, but breed will be one of the characteristics tracked as part of the new registry to be maintained by the state attorney general.
“It gives a trail of activity to define the type of dog as it goes from a nuisance dog, to a dangerous dog in terms of biting and aggressive behavior, to a vicious dog, which involves killing or a serious mauling,” said state Rep. Roland Winburn (D., Dayton), who is sponsoring House Bill 541 with Rep. Terry Blair (R., Dayton).
“We’re trying to redefine the difference between a dangerous dog and a vicious dog,” Mr. Winburn said.
The bill will not see immediate action as lawmakers plan to wrap up business this week for the summer.
■ Vicious dog: Has, without provocation, killed or seriously injured a person. Failure to follow confinement restrictions can climb to a fourth-degree felony, carrying up to 18 months in jail for the owner, and lead to the dog’s destruction
■ Dangerous dog: Has, without provocation, injured a person, killed another dog, or is a three-time offender as nuisance dog. Owners can face a third-degree misdemeanor, carrying up to 60 days in jail, and the potential destruction of the dog.
■ Nuisance dog: Has, while off its owner’s property and without provocation, menacingly approached or attempted to bite a person. The highest penalty would be a fourth-degree misdemeanor with a maximum of 30 days in jail.
It evolved from meetings involving lawmakers, law enforcement, dog wardens, and others that followed the Feb. 7 killing of Klonda Richey, 57, outside her neighbor’s home by two mixed mastiffs. She and others had made multiple complaints about the dogs, but the animals had never been classified under the three categories of problem dog under a law that took effect in May, 2012. The dogs were shot to death at the scene, and a grand jury will consider whether to criminally charge their owners.
In addition to changing what it takes for a dog to be officially classified a problem animal, the bill would increase the criminal penalties for owners. It creates a notification process for complaints and sets fines and other penalties for owners who fail to meet certain deadlines in the investigative process.
The bill would also give dog wardens and their deputies arrest powers.
The new statewide registry would contain information about dogs and their owners who’ve been determined to have committed violations as well as additional complaints made about them. It would track characteristics of the dog — breed, color, hair type, gender, registration number, and name — as well as the owner — name, address, sex, and date of birth.
Under current law, a judge has the option of ordering the destruction of a dog declared to be “vicious” or imposing additional restrictions on harboring the animal, including a mandate for liability insurance.
The latest bill would remove the judge’s discretion.
“The judge has no option at that point, but you could have options as a dangerous dog,” Mr. Winburn said.
The bill would redefine “vicious” to apply only to a dog that has killed a person or another companion animal. The element of causing serious injury to a person or a dog under the current definition of “vicious” would instead become one of the factors for the lesser category of “dangerous dog.”
Current law judges a dog on its behavior toward people and other dogs. House Bill 541 would expand that to other companion animals, defined under existing law as any animal kept inside a residence as well as any dog or cat regardless of where it’s kept. “Companion animal” does not include livestock or a wild animal.
House Bill 541 would allow the vicious dog’s owner facing criminal prosecution to offer the defense that the dog had been teased or tormented by the injured person or the dog had been coming to the defense of the owner or someone else who was being illegally victimized.
The same argument may be used to try to prevent the animal from being labeled vicious, dangerous, or a nuisance in the first place.
Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), author of the current dog law, generally supports the direction that the Dayton lawmakers want to go, but she questioned proposed changes to existing law that requires authorities to consider whether a dog had been provoked.
“In some parts of the bill they seem to be broadening it and in other parts seem to be narrowing it down,” she said. “Somebody needs to explain that in more detail. I always knew when we did [House Bill 14 in 2012] that there was going to be a rule or jurisdiction that somebody would need to adapt. I’m much more a fan of letting the locals root those issues out.”
Ms. Sears said she’s also not sure she’s a fan of the registry idea.
“I’d like to see a cost-benefit analysis on that,” she said. “We have statewide registries for all sorts of things. Dogs are not people.”
She said she would fight any attempt to again automatically label a dog because of breed rather than behavior. Among its other provisions, the 2012 law eliminated a portion of Ohio law that automatically labeled a “pit bull” as vicious.
There’s been no talk of returning to that, perhaps because the dogs involved in the Dayton case were not “pit bulls.”
“That’s just not good public policy,” Ms. Sears said. “It amuses me. I don’t even own a dog. I’ve never owned a dog.”
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.