Update Oct. 18, 2010: With the passage of a new breed neutral ordinance, the City of Toledo has now dropped its appeal in this case.Â
Update Feb. 3, 2010: The City of Toledo has filed an appeal of Judge Goulding’s decision to strike several provisions of the city’s vicious dog ordinance particularly those related to "pit bulls" and "pit bull mixed breeds".Â Â
The appeal will be heard by the 6th District Court. In the meantime the Lucas County Dog Warden is not enforcing the parts of the ordinance struck by the judge. The city council is also considering convening a committee to rewrite the ordinance.Â
For more, read Animal Law Coalition’s earlier report below.Â Â
Toledo Municipal Court Judge Michael Goulding has struck down provisions of Toledo, Ohio’s vicious dog ordinance. The ruling came in a case in which a resident, Hugh Smith, was charged with 13 violations of the city’s dog laws.
Under the Toledo ordinance residents are limited to one "pit bull" or "pit bull mixed breed" that must be leashed and muzzled when away from home. Â Ohio state law already defines dogs that "belong to a breed commonly known as a pit bull" as inherently vicious. ORC Sec. 955.11Â Â Â The state has a number of requirements for owners of these dogs. ORC Sec. 955.22
The Lucas County Dog Warden seized Mr. Smith’s 3 dogs in October, 2009 while he was walking them. During the walk, Â the dogs got into a tussle with another dog. Though Mr. Smith explained the dogs are cane corsos, they were seized and impounded, and he was charged with owning more than one "pit bull" or "pit bull mixed breed" Â and not having them leashed and muzzled as the city requires for owners of "pit bulls" or "pit bull mixed breed" dogs. Toledo City Code Sec.Â 505.14
Judge Goulding struck down the city’s muzzle requirement and limit on the number of "pit bulls" per owner.Â He found they conflicted with the state law and were unconstitutional under the home-rule doctrine. Â The judge said, "While the state statute does not specifically permit ownership of more than one dog ‘commonly known as a pit bull,’ it does not specifically prohibit it either". Â He also said it was unconstitutional to treat "pit bull mixed breed" dogs the same as "pit bulls".Â
Most breed specific laws like the Toledo ordinance target mixes as well as pure bred pit bull dogs.Â Lucas County refuses to adopt out any dog its employees decided is a "pit bull" or "pit bull mix" except this past week it was agreed pit bull puppies could be placed with the Toledo Area Humane Society for adoption. Â The Toledo Blade reports more than 55% of the 1,951 dogs euthanized in 2009 were called "pit bulls".
This same ordinance was upheld in 2007 by the Ohio Supreme Court against a challenge that breed discrimination is unconstitutional.
Smith’s dogs are back home,Â and if it stands, Judge Goulding’s ruling could pave the way for challenges to Ohio county or municipal ordinances that actually ban "pit bulls" or restrict them in ways that may conflict with the state law. The ruling could save thousands of Ohio dogs labeled as pit bull mix and subjected to breed discrimination.Â Â Â
Smith was represented by attorneys Daniel Haude and Kristi Haude of Cleveland.
The Toledo city council has formed a committee to study the dog laws further. In the meantime, Lucas County’s dog warden, Tom Skeldon, has resigned amidst controvery after a history of aggressively and even cruelly targeting dogs deemed to be "pit bulls".Â The county is looking for a new dog warden, hopefully one that will bring a professionalism to animal control for the community and work to implement and enforce laws that promote healthy relationships between people and dogs. Go here for more including Animal Law Coalition’s suggestions….Â Â Â
It’s time to end breed discrimination in Ohio
Judge Goulding wrote, "a more uniform, practical, and humane method of regulating dogs, which both preserves the safety of the public and focuses on the dangers and misdeeds of irresponsible dog owners, would seem preferable to the status quo". Â Indeed.
There is not one major animal or health organization including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control, among many others, that supports breed discrimination.
Breed specific legislation does not work to make communities safe. Study after study has proven this.Â Dogs don’t bite because of breed or appearance; they bite out of fear that could have been the result of poor socialization, neglect, abuse, tethering or confinement orÂ isolation.Â In other words, it is the owner’s negligent or criminal actions that are responsible, not the dog’s breed or appearance.
BSL penalizes responsible dog owners and means the death of dogs that are not in any way dangerous.
It is also well-established thatÂ people cannot look at aÂ dog and determine its breed. Recently, in Denver Dr. Victoria Voith did a little test onÂ animal shelter directors,Â dog trainers and others who work with dogs.Â
They were asked to view 20 dogs on a videotape and identify each one by breed including whether the dog was a purebred or a mix.Â The professionals were surprised by how few dogs they identified correctly by breed. Voith believes as many as 75% of the pit bull identifications made by shelter workers, animal control or law enforcementÂ are wrong.Â She is the author ofÂ Shelter Medicine: A Comparison of Visual and DNAÂ Identifications of BREEDS of Dogs.Â Â As DNA testing becomes more reliable, it is proving that many of the dogs identified as pit bull are actually a mix of dozens of breeds with little or none of the DNA of pit bull type dogs.Â
That means a lot of dogs condemned by BSL, like Mr. Smith’s dogs,Â are not even "pit bull" breeds.Â Â Â Â
BSL is a very costly negative for a community and state and will create a climate where dogs are viewed as enemies rather than family members requiring proper care, management and love.Â Â Go here for ways to improve relations in the community with dogs and also how to address the reasons dogs bite and keep communities safe.Â