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Published: Saturday, 7/10/2004

Pit bulls' owner may plead no contest

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Toledo owner of pit bulls is in an awkward position: To prove his innocence in court, he might have to first pursue a guilty verdict to charges he's violating the city's vicious dog ordinance, his attorney says.

"The question is: Do we take the easy way out?" said Sol Zyndorf, who is representing Paul Tellings, a father who said his two pit bulls are family pets.

"It wouldn't be hard" to win the misdemeanor case that Mr. Tellings, 30, is facing, after a judge this week found that a court could determine on a case-by-case basis whether a pit bull is vicious, Mr. Zyndorf said. "But then the issue [remains]: We don't agree with the law."

Pleading no contest most likely would lead to a guilty verdict, which would allow Mr. Tellings to make his argument to a higher court, Mr. Zyndorf said.

Two years ago, Mr. Tellings was charged with owning more than one vicious dog. He also faced charges that he failed to keep liability insurance for the pair.

In Ohio, pit bulls are the only breed presumed to be vicious under the law. Other dogs are considered vicious if they've bitten or killed a human or a dog. In Toledo, owners can have no more than one vicious dog, they must keep a vicious dog locked up, and they must muzzle it and keep it on a short leash if they leave their property.

Mr. Zyndorf asked that the case be dismissed, arguing that breed-specific legislation is overly broad and therefore unconstitutional.

It's an argument that Glen Bui of the American Canine Foundation has been making around the country. The foundation retained Mr. Zyndorf for Mr. Tellings. Mr. Bui contends breed-specific legislation only punishes responsible dog owners, while those intent on misusing the dogs - for dog fighting,

for example - simply ignore the regulations. Ultimately, it is the animals that suffer by the legislation, rather than the humans who train them to be aggressive, Mr. Bui said.

Instead, legislators should strengthen penalties for "irresponsible ownership," whether allowing dogs to run loose or training them to fight, he said.

"When you go out and drink and you get in a vehicle and you run over someone, they don't ban vodka and they don't ban the make of your car," Mr. Bui said. "They put you in jail."

Mr. Bui also understands the legal maneuvering that Mr. Tellings might face.

"Mr. Zyndorf [is] taking Mr. Tellings in and he's going to plead to no contest, and he's going to appeal it," Mr. Bui said.

Earlier this week, Mr. Tellings told the Blade he most likely would appeal.

Also in question following the ruling Thursday by Toledo Municipal Court Judge Francis X. Gorman is how others who face vicious dog violations will react.

Judge Gorman's ruling that the law may be unfair but not unconstitutional also underscored the additional responsibilities of dog ownership.

Amanda Dunlap, a mother of three children whose two pit bulls were seized last month, said she was unaware of the insurance requirement.

"I never thought pit bulls were considered like they are to such an extreme," she said. "It was just the dog I liked."

In fact, Mr. Bui predicts many residents now may seek court orders declaring their pit bulls not vicious, "and that's going to cost the city of Toledo thousands of dollars more than even this silly ordinance."

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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