Lima, OH seeking public input on vicious dog ordinance

Elected officials in the city of Lima, Ohio are in the process of rewriting the city’s vicious dog ordinance.

On Dec. 23, 2013, the Third Ohio District Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling, effectively throwing out provisions of the city of Lima’s vicious dog ordinance and declaring them unconstitutional because they conflict with state law.

The ruling came as the result of a criminal complaint filed in November 2012, charging Lima resident Theodore Stepleton, with the misdemeanor charge of having an unconfined “vicious dog” on his premises. Because Lima’s law automatically deemed “pit bulls” as vicious dogs, Mr. Stepelton was denied the opportunity to rebut the vicious dog claim in court.

In writing the Appeals Court Opinion, the judge held that the municipal court erred in denying Mr. Stepelton a hearing to rebut the vicious dog claim.  The Opinion also held that the municipal court should have found the city code conflicted with Ohio laws and, thus, should have dismissed the case.

Specifically, the Court determined Lima’s law ignored Ohio statutes in defining that owners of “pit bulls” could be found guilty if they failed to confine their “vicious dog” in a secured pen. The Opinion notes that Ohio state law only defines dogs that “without provocation have caused injury to a person, killed another dog or have been restrained in violation of ORC on three previous occasions as being ‘dangerous’ dogs.” The state law, revised in 2012, makes no reference to any specific breed in defining vicious or dangerous dogs.

Lima City Council Safety Committee members are holding a public hearing on March 3, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. at Town Hall to give the public a chance to comment on the issue, and to give committee members direction in approaching the matter. According to the city attorney, the committee is in an “informational gathering stage,” and looking for public input on “how to handle vicious dogs, and pit bulls in particular.”

At a previous meeting, committee members were given three options they can consider as they move forward in regard to the issue. They can enact no new ordinance and follow state law, they can continue the path to regulate vicious dogs in some fashion through muzzling, leash laws and pens, or they could completely ban pit bulls and other vicious dogs from the city limits. However, Councilman Todd Gordon, chairman of the committee, along with fellow councilors Derry Glenn and Sam McLean, were in agreement that they did not think an outright ban was in the best interests of the public (and more likely than not, not in the best interest of the city’s finances as dog owners would surely bring the matter to the courts once again).

If you are in or near Lima, please make an effort to attend tonight’s meeting and offer suggestions and input on creating an ordinance that is both fair and effective, and works to secure the safety and well being of all members of the community – people and animals. We suggest offering for the committee’s consideration the NAIA’s Guide to Constructing Pet Friendly Ordinances.

This is a great opportunity for residents to work with their city officials and make positive change for Lima.

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