Group challenges Swanton dog ordinance

Law considers all ‘pit bulls’ vicious

Tyler Bork, 10, and his sister Kayla Bork, 5, of Swanton, play with their mixed-breed dog, Bailey. A village ordi-nance requires muzzling Bailey when she’s in public.
Tyler Bork, 10, and his sister Kayla Bork, 5, of Swanton, play with their mixed-breed dog, Bailey. A village ordi-nance requires muzzling Bailey when she’s in public.

SWANTON — Despite the state’s move away from breed-specific dog laws, the village of Swanton still considers all “pit bull”-type dogs to be inherently vicious.

An Ohio dog advocacy group is challenging the village’s dog ordinance, saying it is vague and that it puts an undue burden on its dog-owning residents.

Caught in the middle is Bailey, a mixed-breed dog who was adopted by a family with two children. If they want to keep Bailey under the current ordinance, the family is facing a slew of requirements, including muzzling her when out in public.

The ordinance also requires owner Tim Bork to register the dog with the police department.

Acting Fulton County Dog Warden Brian Banister visited Mr. Bork’s home and told him the dog is likely a Brazilian mastiff mix, also known as a Fila Brasileiro.

“He said he would consider her a ‘pit bull’-type breed because of her large head and brindle color,” Mr. Bork said. “But I know a lot of dogs with those two characteristics and they aren’t ‘pit bulls.’ ”

Fila Brasileiro isn’t one of the breeds that the Swanton ordinance states are “pit bull”-type dogs, although Mr. Banister considered it a “pit-bull” type dog.

Swanton’s ordinance states, “Vicious dog has the same meaning as set forth in ORC 955.11 and shall include in addition any breed of dog that is commonly known as a ‘pit bull dog.’ This includes any Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, or American Staffordshire Terrier breed of dog or mixed breed of dog which contains, as an element of its breeding, the breed of Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Perro De Canario, aka the Canary Dog.”

Mr. Bork said the dog warden, who visited him June 13, gave him 30 days to complete a canine good citizen class that would allow him to obtain liability insurance, which must be shown when the dog is registered with the police department. He said he is taking steps to comply.

Mr. Banister said this is the second time the village has asked him to come out and give his opinion on the breed of a dog.

“I don't have the authority to enforce that law,” he said. “That's up to their police department. I simply give my opinion on if it’s a ‘pit bull’-type dog or not. In this case, I think it absolutely is.”

The Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates has started a petition drive at to urge the village to revise its dog laws.

“No family should have to give up a beloved member because of the size of their head or the depth of their chest,” said Jean Keating, co-founder of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, who also asked the village to meet with her group to discuss changing the laws.

“If all else fails, we will challenge it in court,” she said.

Ohio’s dangerous and vicious dog law, which was revised after the passage of House Bill 14, went into effect in May, 2012. Introduced by state Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), it defines a vicious dog as one that, without provocation has killed or caused serious injury to any person. Appearance is no longer mentioned in any section of law, which focuses on behavior.

Swanton Administrator Jon Gochenour said he has asked the village’s attorney to review the language of the ordinance, which was last revised in 2010.

“We have the right to enforce our own ordinances,” he said. “But we are reviewing the existing ordinance to see if it’s out of date.”

Ms. Keating said the wording, “mixed breed of dog which contains, as an element of its breeding” is vague. “Even under the old state law, the courts found that a dog had to have more than 50 percent of one of the ‘pit bull’ breeds,” she said.

Nikki Morey, executive director of Planned Pethood, the rescue group that adopted out Bailey to the Bork family, said the dog was “perfectly lovely; acting like any normal, happy, healthy dog would.” The dog was obtained as a stray from Wood County, she said.

“Her breed is a mystery to many and is irrelevant,” Ms. Morey said. “We have hopes that this can be a learning opportunity to overcome prejudices.”

The Fulton County Dog Warden continues to treat “pit bulls” and “pit bull” mixes as inherently vicious and will not adopt out the dogs to the general public or allow rescue groups to take them, Mr. Banister said. Stray “pit bulls” that are not claimed by their owner are euthanized. Fewer than a dozen “pit bull” and “pit bull-mix dogs were euthanized in his facility last year, he said.

Contact Tanya Irwin at:,

419-724-6066, or on

Twitter at @TanyaIrwin.