In honor of the first annual National Pit Bull Awareness Month, during the entire month of October, Bless the Bullys is honoring individuals who go above and beyond for pit bulls in their communities. While some of the nominees have been hand-picked by me personally, I have also asked for public input on pit bull advocates who have inspired them, and I have received some wonderful, heartfelt nominations!
Today’s nomination, while on my list, was also nominated by more than one person. Quite frankly, I could think of no one better to kick off the honors for National Pit Bull Awareness Month than Jean Keating. Jean, along with her group, Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, has made tremendous strides in the state of Ohio in the last year, and I am very proud to honor her today. I am going to publish the entire nomination sent to me by Dawn Stretar as I could not convey Jean’s work in any better words than Dawn’s.
I nominate Jean Keating to be honored during National Pit Bull Awareness Month (and if there is a top prize she, of all people, is most deserving.) Back in 2006 when her son turned up at her house with Capone, a blue and white American Staffordshire Terrier, Jean thought he was a nice dog. Young and rambunctious, because his first owner did very little training with him, she didn’t give his presence in her house a second thought. Until one night when speaking with the previous owner about receiving his AKC paperwork did she find out the truth about Capone, that he was the dreaded “pit bull”. Taken off guard by the news, she began to panic and pace the room, her head filling with the hundreds of newspaper stories…the locking jaws, turning on their owners, the stalkers of children. What was she going to do? She had a house full of children to protect from this dog, who only a few minutes before was “just a dog” that her son brought home. Fortunately for Capone, and many pit bulls and their owners within Lucas County, City of Toledo, and State of Ohio, Jean realized no matter what Capone “was,” he was a wonderful dog with a big personality and just full of love, especially for her youngest daughter with whom he developed a very close bond with. From that point on, Jean vowed to do whatever needed to be done to protect her dog and other misunderstood dogs just like him. She was very aware of the Notorious Lucas County Dog Warden, Tom Skeldon, and how he looked to kill any dog with a short coat and blocky head. She would end up having to follow through with her vow in 2008 when her own city began to discuss enacting a form of breed discriminatory law to target a set of American Bulldog owners within the city. Jean immediately sprung into action to educate City Council and enlisted the help of other dog advocates to show that this form of discrimination is both costly and ineffective in reducing negligent owners or bites. She successfully prevented the law from being considered. It was her first victory, but it would not be her last.
Her next target was the Lucas County Dog Pound. With the help and cooperation of others that wanted to open up the Lucas County Dog Pound to rescues and end the senseless killing, she relentlessly pursued the justice for the animals that went through the dog pound, especially the pit bulls. After effectively educating the County Commissioner Ben Konop, Commissioner Konop acknowledged the need to form the Lucas County Dog Wardens Advisory Board and a thorough investigation of protocols and practices began. Jean spent much time and money doing records requests, filing lawsuits and uncovering the truth about what was really happening at the dog pound. The Toledo Blade began to publish articles about that truth and was instrumental in forcing the resignation of Tom Skeldon so that real reform at the Lucas County Dog Pound could happen. In the meantime, she also helped contribute to the Toledo v. Smith court case that ruled the Toledo breed specific ordinance was unconstitutional. Toledo City Council made the decision the old ordinance was ineffective and in November of 2010 a breed neutral one was enacted.
While all of this was going on, Jean never lost sight of the unfair breed specific law at the state level, and when her State Representative Barb Sears showed an interest in proposing a bill to remove the “pit bull” language from the Ohio Revised Code, Jean worked closely with her office to provide whatever information and support needed to get the bill off the ground. House Bill 79 passed through the House as an amendment to House Bill 25 in 2010 only to die in the Senate. Now House Bill 14 is continuing to make traction in the House, and Representative Sears has done a lot to educate her peers on the ineffectiveness of the current law. When Jean gave her testimony to the Criminal Justice Committee, she had a room full of educated Representatives to discuss the merits of the change.
As the founder and president of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, Jean has become Ohio’s resident expert on Breed Discriminatory law and on how to draft legislation that address the true cause to dangerous human canine interactions. She is sought after by other advocates who are looking to make improvements in their own cities and counties and by legislators who want to enact breed neutral laws. Her most recent accomplishment was assisting the City of Cleveland with drafting a new breed neutral law.
Jean has come a long way from that pacing mother at the thought of a pit bull in her house, in a short time and dogs and owners in Ohio owe a lot to her tireless pursuit of just laws and for the love of her dog.
It has been my honor to know Jean Keating and work along side her to not only make Ohio a better place for pit bulls, but as a model to the country and the world.
On behalf of Bless the Bullys and the National Pit Bull Awareness Campaign, thank you, Jean, for all you do! You are an inspiration to us all.