Ohio group challenging breed specific law

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

The Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates is challenging the village’s dog ordinance, saying it is vague and puts an undue burden on its dog-owning residents. The group has started a petition drive to urge the village to revise its dog laws.

Caught in the middle of the controversy is Bailey, a mixed-breed dog who was adopted by the Bork family.  In order to keep Bailey under the current ordinance, the family is facing a slew of requirements, including muzzling her when out in public and registering her with the police department.

Acting Fulton County Dog Warden Brian Banister visited Mr. Bork’s home on June 13 and told him the dog is “likely” a Brazilian mastiff mix, also known as a Fila Brasileiro.  Banister advised Mr. Bork that he considered Baily to be a ‘pit bull-type” breed because of her large head and brindle color.

It should be noted that Fila Brasileiro is not one of the breeds named in  Swanton’s ordinance.

The  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.”

The Bork family was given 30 days to complete a canine good citizen class that would allow them to obtain liability insurance, which must be shown when the dog is registered with the police department, and they are taking steps to comply.

Acting Dog Warden Banister said this is the second time the village had asked for his opinion on the breed of a dog.  According to him, only the police department has the authority to enforce the law, and he is utilized for his opinion about breed.  He further advised that in his case, it was his opinion that Bailey “absolutely is” a pit bull type dog.

Ohio’s dangerous and vicious dog law, which was revised after the passage of House Bill 14, went into effect in May, 2012, and 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.

The Swanton city administrator has asked the village attorney to review the language of the ordinance, which was last revised in 2010.  He advised that the village has the right to enforce their own ordinances, but are reviewing the existing ordinance to see if it’s out of date.

Jean Keating of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates  says the wording of the ordinance, “mixed breed of dog which contains, as an element of its breeding” is vague, and that 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.

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.

What’s happening in Swanton illustrates very clearly how arbitrary and subjective breed specific laws are.  Under a breed discriminatory ordinance, breed is ALWAYS in the eye of the beholder.  If a different dog warden were utilized in this instance, and that warden determined that Bailey was simply a “mixed breed” dog, this entire situation would never have occurred, and that is simply unfair, unjust and unacceptable and should be truly offensive to ALL dog owners.

Its very important that you please sign and share the petition to encourage and show your support for removing the breed specific provision of Swanton’s animal control ordinance.

The petition can be found at this link:  http://www.change.org/petitions/village-of-swanton-oh-mayor-and-council-members-replace-your-discriminatory-ordinance-with-the-breed-neutral-state-law

I’m sure that the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates will keep us apprised of their progress, and we wish them the best of luck in changing the breed discriminatory law that punishes responsible dog owners and good dogs for no other reason than their appearance.

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