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Published: 10/6/2003

Vicious-dog law comes under attack

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A pit bull struggles to get out of his pen at the county dog warden's headquarters. A pit bull struggles to get out of his pen at the county dog warden's headquarters.
LUCAS MOBLEY / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The sound from the trash can sounded like a baby crying, but turned out to be an abandoned pit bull that had been sealed in a trash bag and tossed away.

When Annie Connolly, a deputy county dog warden, arrived Sept. 26 in an alley in central Toledo near the home of a known dog fighter, she discovered an emaciated pit bull barely able to stand.

She figures the brown dog with a white crest on its chest and scars on its legs was an outcast because it was a bad fighter.

“Someone just tossed him in the trash - it's so sad,” Ms. Connolly said.

Earlier in September, a pit bull and a Rottweiler attacked a 69-year-old man walking down Jackman Road, leading to a trip to Toledo Hospital for cuts to his wrist and abdomen.

Both situations are examples of the booming market for pit bulls driven by a combustible mix of gangs, drugs, and dog fighting, Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon said.

With Councilman Wilma Brown holding a hearing on pit bulls last week and a constitutional challenge to the city's vicious-dog law pending in Toledo Municipal Court, the controversial dogs have been thrust into the news again.

Further fueling the situation is the climbing number of confiscated pit bulls. So far this year, 480 pit bulls have been surrendered or captured by the Lucas County dog warden. That puts the department on track to exceed the 550 that were picked up last year.

“I think the [number of confiscated pit bulls] is going up because there's an economy established around them,” Mr. Skeldon said.

Glen Bui has another theory.

Mr. Bui, vice president and lobbyist for the American Canine Association in Seattle, thinks Mr. Skeldon helps drive up the popularity of pit bulls because he pursues the breed so aggressively.

“They're watching TV, and Mr. Skeldon is promoting [pit bulls] like they're an M-16. That's probably why the gang-bangers want them,” he said.

The American Canine Association is supporting a constitutional challenge brought by Paul Tellings of East Toledo, who is charged with violating the city's vicious-dog law. Based on state law, all pit bulls are classified as vicious dogs and Toledo places tight restrictions on how they can be kept.

Mr. Bui thinks it's wrong to classify a specific breed as vicious. He said plenty of other dogs are used by criminals and the focus on pit bulls is misguided. He contends that Mr. Skeldon “hates [pit bulls] and wants them all dead.”

Sandy Rowland, director of the regional office of the Humane Society of the United States, takes the middle view between Mr. Skeldon and Mr. Bui.

She said only a few people in the Toledo area are involved in high-stakes pit bull fighting, but more owners in the area engage in pick-up street fights.

She said the dog definitely is associated with a criminal element in the city, but many pit bull owners simply like the breed.

“I'm concerned more about the types of individuals who own pit bulls and use them for guarding drug houses,” Ms. Rowland said. “But there are very responsible pit bull owners. When you find those people, you find pit bulls that are very gentle and aren't dog-aggressive. Those are very nice pets.”

Detective Doug Allen of the Toledo Police Department's gang task force says he has no problem with pit bull owners who follow the law.

He said his focus is on people who train the dogs to fight and reward them for being aggressive.

Once a pit bull gets a taste for fighting and aggressiveness, they become dangerous, he said.

“Street-level dog fighting has become entertainment for criminals,” he said.

As evidence that problems with pit bulls aren't being exaggerated, he said police officers have fired their weapons more at the dogs than for any other reason.

Though the department does not specifically track shooting of pit bulls, statistics show that 19 of 21 police shooting incidents this year have been animal-related.

“The vast majority, I'm sure, were pit bulls,” Sgt. Jerry Heer said.

The most recent shooting occurred Wednesday when the vice/narcotics unit was serving a search warrant at 311 Rockingham St.

In that shooting, police killed a pit bull that charged them. In September, an officer used a TASER stun gun to stop a menacing pit bull at 523 Shasta Dr.

“We are forced to deal with the pit bull issue because some people don't do what they should do with their dogs,” Detective Allen said.

Mr. Bui, though, thinks people like Mr. Skeldon and Detective Allen are exaggerating the pit bull problem.

“Are there a huge amount of pit bulls being harbored by criminals in Toledo? Absolutely not,” he said.

Mr. Skeldon said his experience in the area tells a different story.

“We have been focused on this problem since 1988,” he said. “We aren't more focused now - it's just more prevalent.”



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