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Published: Wednesday, 10/13/2010

Steep fines ordered for dog bites in new law

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The regulations will replace the city's “vicious dogs” law, which a Toledo Municipal Court judge found unconstitutional in January.

While the old law dealt primarily with setting restrictions on “pit bulls” and “pit bull” mixes, the new and more extensive rules do not discriminate by dog breed and are aimed at promoting responsible ownership.

The logic behind the change is that many breeds besides “pit bulls” can be dangerous, and not all “pit bulls” should be considered dangerous.

Council voted unanimously in favor of the regulations, and Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said after the meeting that he too supports the rule change.

The mayor said the city can always adjust the ordinance in the future if necessary.

“We can put it out there and see if it works,” Mayor Bell said.

The new rules underwent several rounds of hearings and minor changes since they were presented to council in August by members of the Lucas County Dog Warden Advisory Committee.

Council members did not add any further comments during the meeting, although councilman Rob Ludeman, who is a member of the county dog committee, thanked his council colleagues for their support.

“My opinion is [that] a vicious dog is created by its owner, and so we take that into account as opposed to a specific breed,” Mr. Ludeman said after the meeting.

The old law targeting “pit bulls” was a favorite of former county Dog Warden Tom Skeldon.

Mr. Skeldon resigned his post last year amid mounting criticism that his department euthanized too many dogs of all breeds and adopted out too few.

During his tenure, any “pit bull” or “pit bull” mix that entered the county pound and wasn't claimed by an owner was killed, even puppies.

Though “pit bulls” go unmentioned in the new rules, they are still singled out as inherently vicious animals under state law. Ohio is the only state with that blanket designation.

Toledo's new ordinance:

• Sets fines for unprovoked dog bites that escalate from $150 to $500 to $1,000, and can include mandatory pets-ownership classes or community service with an animal-welfare group.

• Creates new “level one” and “level two” threat classifications for nuisance and dangerous dogs.

• Mandates sterilization at the owner's expense for dogs caught running at large more than once.

• Bans chaining up dogs outside for more than an hour, and not at all if the owner isn't home.

• Prohibits dogs from being left unattended for more than 24 hours.

Council also voted to amend the penalties for killing or injuring animals that are based on monetary value and replacing them with a uniform, first-degree misdemeanor charge for the killing or injury of a domestic animal or a farm animal.

Councilman Ludeman said the new penalties were inspired in part by the experiences of Sarge, an East Toledo German Shepherd who survived six gunshot wounds this summer.

Police have charged the dog's owner and the owner's friend of taking turns shooting Sarge in a backyard cage.

Contact JC Reindl at:jreindl@theblade.comor 419-724-6065.



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