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Published: Saturday, 7/17/2004

Pit bull owner accepts guilt for chance to challenge law

Paul Tellings, Jr., leans on one of the family's pit bulls, Miss Priss, which has since been placed in another home. The boy's father contends the dogs are pets and are not vicious. Tellings: 'We want to follow through with this so the law [on pit bulls] is changed.' Paul Tellings, Jr., leans on one of the family's pit bulls, Miss Priss, which has since been placed in another home. The boy's father contends the dogs are pets and are not vicious. Tellings: 'We want to follow through with this so the law [on pit bulls] is changed.'
KING / BLADE Enlarge

Paul Tellings, Sr., doesn't agree with the law that labels his family pets as vicious dogs.

But yesterday in Toledo Municipal Court, he consented to be found guilty of violating the vicious dog ordinance so that he can challenge it in a higher court.

Mr. Tellings, 30, pleaded no contest to four charges - one count that he owned more than one pit bull and three counts that he did not have proper insurance for the pets. The Toledo man said his plea is not an admission of guilt, but instead a necessity to bring the case before the state's 6th District Court of Appeals.

"I want this law changed for the simple fact that I want to rectify something I feel is wrong," Mr. Tellings said. "We want to follow through with this so that the law is changed."

Mr. Tellings was set to go to trial Aug. 25 after his motion to dismiss the case was overruled earlier this month by Judge Francis X. Gorman. Yesterday's plea gives Mr. Tellings the right to appeal the case.

Although the judge admitted that there may be a question down the road as to whether Mr. Tellings' dogs are actually considered vicious, he sentenced him yesterday to pay fines of

$275 as well as spend 30 days in jail if he does not obtain insurance on his pets by Nov. 1.

Toledo's vicious dog law is based on the Ohio Revised Code, which considers any dog vicious if it has killed another dog or has bitten or killed a human. In contrast, a pit bull is considered vicious even if it has not bitten or killed.

In Toledo, pit bull owners are required to carry a minimum $100,000 liability insurance for their pets and to muzzle them when the animals leave their property.

Judge Gorman ruled on July 8 that although assuming that all pit bulls are vicious dogs may be unfair, it's not unconstitutional. In the ruling, the judge wrote that dog ownership is a property right rather than a fundamental constitutional right involving personal liberty.

Mr. Tellings had three pit bulls at the time he was cited. In court yesterday, he said he only has one of those dogs - Chance - still at home with him.

Another was given away and the third was put down by the dog warden, he said.

Mr. Tellings said that when he was cited, none of his dogs had any complaints against them.

He said that he also has an American bull dog named Justice, a breed that does not fall under the vicious dog ordinance.

Attorney Sol Zyndorf, who was retained by the American Canine Foundation to represent Mr. Tellings, said the ultimate goal is to have the law declared unconstitutional because it deals only with one specific type of dog.

"We want to attack this law because we don't believe there should be breed-specific legislation," he said.



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