To discriminate or not to discriminate?
Such a question yesterday came before the citizens' group drafting a new vicious dog law for Toledo.
In the end, the Lucas County Dog Warden Advisory Committee reaffirmed its earlier intention of not singling out the "pit bull" as a vicious breed in the draft ordinance, which remains a work in progress.
In doing so, the panel kept to its goal of defining a vicious dog according to its behavior, a move that makes the draft law a departure from the city ordinance and Ohio law, which state that "pit bulls" are inherently vicious regardless of behavior.
"The framework of the [draft] ordinance is behavior-based, not based on a specific breed," committee chairman Steve Serchuk said.
The committee also approved provisions that would prohibit an unattended dog from being tethered for more than 15 minutes and limit the ownership or harboring of vicious dogs to one per household.
Other provisions approved yesterday would mandate spaying or neutering for licensed dogs running loose that are picked up a second time, for unlicensed dogs after a first offense, and for any vicious dog. An exception could be made for a dog deemed unfit for surgery by a veterinarian.
A vicious dog, for the purposes of the draft legislation, is one defined as such by state law or that has hurt or killed another dog. Because state law defines "pit bulls" as automatically vicious, the draft ordinance would require all of them in the city to be spayed or neutered.
The issue of breed specificity generated the most discussion at the meeting, which lasted more than 90 minutes.
Matthew Bombrys, a Toledo police lieutenant, said the draft ordinance should single out the "pit bull" as a dangerous breed. He said Toledo's current ordinance has worked to reduce the severity of dog bites, if not their number.
Committee member Dale Emch, who described himself as undecided, said there was no denying that "pit bull" bites tended to be more serious than bites of other dogs.
But most of the rest of the 10-member panel rejected the idea of discriminating against "pit bulls" as inhumane and counterproductive.
Perhaps most impassioned was committee member Jean Keating, who told her colleagues empirical evidence shows that "pit bull"-specific legislation does not reduce the incidence of bites.
"Ninety-nine percent of these dogs will not do anything wrong in their lifetime," she said. "Over the years we've had this [current Toledo ordinance], the number of bites hasn't changed. …. Only when we start to deal with the reckless owners are we really going to tackle this problem."
Rob Ludeman, a Toledo City Council member, said he too opposed breed-specific legislation. "I don't think it's fair to single out one particular breed and make it the enemy," he said.
Deborah Johnson, staff veterinarian with the Toledo Humane Society, agreed that spayed and neutered "pit bulls" made good family pets.
Tara Kestner noted that "pit bulls" were prone to abuse by their owners. "The breed seems to be a magnet for abuse," she said.
The committee also agreed to include a provision for declaring dog owners "reckless" and penalizing them. This part of the draft ordinance will be based on a reckless dog owner law in Omaha.
In other canine-related public business, Lucas County Dog Warden Julie Lyle has scheduled a news conference this morning to outline her plan to resume door-to-door license checks. She said the county commissioners had approved her plan.
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