The Lucas County Dog Warden's office has stopped enforcing the city of Toledo's controversial vicious-dogs law and “pit bull” restrictions following a judge's ruling last week that parts of the law are unconstitutional.
County and city officials asked late last week that Acting Dog Warden Bonnie Mitchell stop her deputies from targeting “pit bulls” and “pit bull” mixes, as they were doing to carry out the law, County Administrator Mike Beazley said Thursday.
“We've directed them to not enforce Toledo's law,” he said.
The law limits city residents to owning just one “pit bull” or “pit bull” mix dog and requires that owners keep their animal leashed and muzzled when it's away from home. A violation is a misdemeanor offense.
Dog warden deputies have previously ventured onto Toledoans' properties to seize dogs that look like “pit bulls,” and have taken those dogs that appear to be in violation.
Such enforcement action has now stopped, Mr. Beazley said.
Toledo Municipal Court Judge Michael Goulding in a Jan. 20 opinion found the city's ownership restrictions in conflict with home-rule doctrine, as the requirements go above and beyond state law.
Although Ohio law singles out “pit bulls” as inherently vicious, it doesn't set muzzling or ownership number restrictions, or lump certain mixed dog breeds with “pit bulls.”
Still, the dog warden's office will continue its long-standing policies against adopting out “pit bulls” or “pit bull” mixed dogs despite the court ruling, Mr. Beazley said. The county euthanizes all “pit bulls” and “pit bull” mixes unless the dogs' owners retrieve them.
Adam Loukx, acting law director for the city, did not return messages yesterday on whether the city plans to appeal last week's court decision.
“Pit bull” is a generic descriptive term for a dog trained to fight and can refer to multiple breeds, including the American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, and American pit bull terrier.
Toledo may soon have a citizen-led committee to rewrite the now-contested law. Two options are being discussed: setting up an entirely new committee or forming a subcommittee of the county's existing Dog Warden Advisory Committee.
City council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the former option, the establishment of a Toledo Dog Policy Advisory Task Force.
Jean Keating, co-founder of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, strongly urged officials to go the new task force route, noting how several animal experts, including Ledy VanKavage, have volunteered to join such a group and help rewrite Toledo's dog laws.
Ms. VanKavage is senior legislative analyst for Best Friends Animal Society, the group that rescued, rehabilitated, and adopted out the approximately 50 “pit bulls” of National Football League player Michael Vick. According to Ms. Keating, Ms. VanKavage has indicated her willingness to fly to Toledo for the meetings at no cost to the city.
“There are people who are very knowledgeable about these issues who would like to serve on this task force,” said Ms. Keating, who counts herself among the eager. “We need to create a task force and we absolutely need to look at that ordinance and revamp it.”
Judge Goulding's ruling involved the case of a Toledo man, Hugh Smith, who was charged last fall with 13 violations of the city's dog laws. The judge dismissed all but three charges related to the owner's failure to immunize for rabies.
The city of Toledo has a contract with the county dog warden to enforce its local laws. Last year the contract was for up to $146,882. The contract calls for the city to pay the dog warden's office $100 for every citation issued against a “pit bull” or “pit bull” mix dog.
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