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State Rep. Sears urges end to Ohio's 'pit bull' law
By JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- The sponsor of a bill to end Ohio's distinction as the only state that declares the "pit bull" to be a "vicious dog'' by virtue of its existence is hoping it will have more bite this time around.

Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova) Wednesday urged the House Criminal Justice committee to pass House Bill 1 swiftly. The House passed a similar measure last year after it was attached to another bill, but it died in the Senate.

"Any dog will attack," Ms. Sears told the House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday. "You can train any dog, and probably any animal and person, to attack given the right training and the right environment."

Since 1987, Ohio law has defined a "vicious dog" as one that, without provocation, has killed or seriously injured a person, killed another dog, or is of the general breed known as a "pit bull." The "pit bull" is the only specific type of dog singled out.

Ownership of a vicious dog means additional restraint, muzzling, and liability insurance requirements. Toledo's ordinance also limits such dogs to one per household. The state's law also declares that just owning a "pit bull" is prima facie evidence of harboring a vicious dog.

The Ohio Supreme Court as it pertains to their "pit bill" provisions has upheld the constitutionality of state law and city ordinance. The court said statistics backed up the state's claim that the "pit bull" is likelier to do more damage when it attacks and is likelier to spur police to fire weapons compared to other breeds.

Ms. Sears noted that home-rule cities such as Toledo could keep their ordinances even if Ohio should strip the "pit bull"-specific language from its law.

Critics of the law and the city's ordinance have argued it automatically assumes that the "pit bull" is vicious by virtue of its existence rather than its behavior. The laws' defenders, however, have cited the training of the "pit bull" as fight dogs or guard dogs for drug-dealer operations.

"In an urban setting, my community on the near-east side of Columbus, we have gangs, crack houses, and drug houses in which this particular dog -- not what looks like a "pit bill" but is a "pit bull" -- is used for protection, is used when police come to patrol an area," Rep. W. Carlton Weddington (D., Columbus) said. "How do we get down to the deeper issue of addressing this type of dog that is in fact trained to kill. ...?"

Ms. Sears, however, said the bill keeps the rest of the "vicious dog" definition so dogs still could be labeled as such based upon their behavior.

"The person who wants to have a "pit bull" for what it's intended to be, a family pet, not for protection or for attack, should be allowed to do that without knowing they're harboring a vicious dog," she said.

She argued that the term "pit bull" is too broad and condemns animals that fit a general description even if there is no true "pit bull" breed.

Contact Jim Provance at: [email protected], or 614-221-0496.

toledoblade.com -- The Blade ~ Toledo Ohio
 
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