Update Feb. 21, 2012: In a signing ceremony held today, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed H.B. 14 into law. This means it is no longer required by state law that dogs "commonly referred to as pit bulls" are deemed "vicious" regardless of behavior. Ohio has repealed the breed discirminatory law that has meant the deaths of thousands of innocent family dogs that were or may have looked like "pit bulls". The new law also makes substantial improvements in the state’s dog laws.
This does not mean, however, that there is no more discrimination in Ohio against pit bulls or dogs that look like them. Many local governments have laws patterned after the now repealed breed discriminatory law or worse, outright bans against dogs based on breed or appearance. Hopefully, with a new state law many local governments will follow suit and eliminate breed discrimination in their city or county.
For more on the new law, read Animal Law Coalition’s reports below.
Update Feb. 9, 2012: Yesterday, the Ohio House of Representatives voted to concur in or approve the Senate amendments to H.B. 14. This means the Ohio legislature has voted to repeal the breed discriminatory law that over the years has caused the death of thousands of innocent family pets, dogs that were or may have looked like "pit bulls". The bill, H.B. 14, also makes substantial revisions in the state’s dangerous dog laws. For more, read Animal Law Coalition’s reports below.
Update January 31, 2012: The Ohio Senate voted today 27-5 to approve the Senate Committee Substitute version of H.B. 14. The repeal of the law that defines "vicious" dogs to include "pit bulls" regardless of the dog’s behavior, is almost complete! The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives for a vote on the Senate version. The House is not expected to take up the amended version before February 8. The amended version is described below in Animal Law Coalition’s January 11 update. In the meantime, if you live in Ohio, find your state representative here (just put in your zipcode), and call or write (faxes or letters are best) and urge your state rep to vote YES on H.B. 14 as amended by the Senate.
Update January 11, 2012: It’s on to the full Ohio Senate for a vote on H.B. 14. The bill has now been approved by the state senate Judiciary Committee with amendments. The committee heard testimony this week from proponents who related the difficulty of trying to identify dogs by appearance, that it is not the breed of the dog that determines danger, but the owner’s treatment of the animal. Under current Ohio law, dogs commonly known as "pit bulls" are deemed "vicious". It is left up to the dog warden to determine whether a dog is a "pit bull". H.B. 14 would repeal the law that states pit bulls are automatically condemned as vicious; the bill also makes a number of other improvements to the state’s dangerous and vicious dog laws. For more information on the bill’s provisions, read Animal Law Coalition’s reports below.
The committee did amend the bill to limit the time people convicted of certain crimes are prohibited from living with or keeping dogs declared "dangerous", dogs over 12 weeks of age that are not spayed/neutered, or dogs that are not micro-chipped. The committee also approved an amendment to make clear that the burden to prove a dog is "dangerous" or "vicious" is on the dog warden and not the owner. Here is a list of other amendments.
Find your Ohio senator here. (Just put in your address in the form on the top right of the page.) Write (letters or faxes are best) or call and urge your Ohio state senator to vote YES on H.B. 14. Don’t wait. The bill could come to a vote as early as next week.
Update July 1, 2011: H.B. 14 as passed by the Ohio House of Representatives, is now pending in the state senate Judiciary Committee.
For more on this bill, read Animal Law Coalition’s reports below.
Update June 28, 2011: A committee substitute version of H.B. 14 has passed the Ohio House of Representatives by a vote of 69-29! The bill would repeal the state’s breed discriminatory law and make improvements in the dangerous dog law.
The bill now goes to the state Senate. For more on this bill, read Animal Law Coalition’s reports below.
Update June 20, 2011: The Ohio House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee has issued a substitute version of H.B. 14.
H.B. 14 no longer simply eliminates the breed discrimination from Ohio law. The Committee Substitute version also amends other provisions of the state’s dangerous dog laws.
The bill could be voted on at any time by the House of Representatives.
What the Committee Substitute Version Says
Under the committee substitute bill, "dangerous" dog no longer includes dogs that have without provocation "chased or approached a person in either a menacing fashion or an apparent attitude of attack or has attempted to bite or otherwise endanger any person." Instead of being labeled as "dangerous" for behavior that does not injure anyone, these dogs would instead be called "nuisance" dogs.
But a dog could still be labeled as "dangerous" if the owner has on 3 occasions failed to keep the dog confined or on a leash under Sec. 955.22 (C). (That would seem to constitute more of a nuisance than a reason to label the dog as dangerous.)
A dog would be otherwise categorized as "dangerous" if the dog has done any of the following without provocation:
(i) Caused injury, other than killing or serious injury, to any person; or
(ii) Killed another dog.
A "vicious" dog would be limited to those dogs that have without provocation caused "serious injury" to or killed a person. Under current law a dog can also be labeled as "vicious" for causing any injury to a person or injury or death to another dog, or if the dog "belongs to a breed commonly known as a pit bull".
Police dogs would be excluded from these designations.
The definition of "without provocation" would remain the same: It "means that a dog was not teased, tormented, or abused by a person, or that the dog was not coming to the aid or the defense of a person who was not engaged in illegal or criminal activity and who was not using the dog as a means of carrying out such activity." A dog is also not considered "vicious" if the injured person "was committing or attempting to commit a trespass or other criminal offense on the property of the owner".
The bill would add a definition for "serious injury":
(a) Any physical harm that carries a substantial risk of death;
(b) Any physical harm that involves a permanent incapacity, whether partial or total, or a temporary, substantial incapacity;
(c) Any physical harm that involves a permanent disfigurement or a temporary, serious disfigurement;
(d) Any physical harm that involves acute pain of a duration that results in substantial suffering or any degree of prolonged or intractable pain.
Basically, though it is not clear, a dog deemed "vicious" must be ordered to be euthanized. A dog that causes "serious injury" while at large but is not ordered to be euthanized would be called a "dangerous" dog.
Persons responsible for dogs that kill someone while the dog is at large would be charged with a felony of the fourth degree. Persons responsible for dogs that cause serious injury while at large would be charged with a misdemeanor of the first degree.
The confinement requirements for "dangerous" dogs would remain the same except that tethering or chaining would no longer be an option. There are a number of new identification, registration or certification, and notification requirements involving dangerous dogs and criminal penalties for violations of some of these.
Unfortunately, the liability insurance requirement would be extended to owners of "dangerous" dogs as well as those found in violation 3 times of the at large or leash law. There would be no minimum limit, however, as there is under the current law, unless a dog at large has caused serious injury to a person in which case the minimum requirement would be $100,000. Insurance requirements like this are expensive and hard to meet; dogs are often simply surrendered because owners cannot find or afford the insurance.
It would be up to the dog’s keeper to contest a determination that a dog is a "nuisance", "dangerous" or "vicious". The municipal or county court would have jurisdiction to hear the case. There are no criteria, however, other than the definitions, for a dog warden, for example, to decide whether a dog is a nuisance, dangerous or vicious. There is no particular evidence, behavioral assessments and the like which must be considered in making the initial determination or which the court must take into account in making a decision. The court’s decision would be appealable.
A dangerous dog could not be devocalized. It would be illegal for anyone to devocalize a "dangerous" dog or a dog the person has reason to believe is "dangerous". It would also be illegal for anyone to possess a devocalized "dangerous" dog or falsely attest to the veterinarian performing the procedure that the dog is not "dangerous". The current law applies these prohibitions only to "vicious" dogs. A violation would be a felony in the 4th degree and the dog would be impounded pending a final determination and then euthanized.
Persons convicted of felonies involving violence or violations of animal cruelty and certain other laws would be prohibited from keeping or living with any dangerous dog, dogs over 12 weeks old that are not spayed/neutered, or dogs that are not micro-chipped. A violation would be a misdemeanor of the first degree.
A "nuisance" dog whose keeper violates the at large or leash law would be charged with a minor misdemeanor on a first offense and a misdemeanor of the 4th degree on subsequent offenses, but the dog would be registered as "dangerous" after the 3rd violation. The offender could also be ordered to "personally supervise" the dog and attend dog obedience training classes. There are already similar options that can be ordered for people with dangerous dogs who violate confinement requirements. Under the bill the option of ordering personal supervision of the dog or requiring training classes would apply only to people with dangerous dogs that violate the leash law.
It is not clear what else is expected of people with "nuisance" dogs or how the law or dog wardens would use that designation to make or encourage people to take responsibility for their dogs before a serious injury occurs. It does not appear a dog can ever escape the "nuisance" or "dangerous" designations even after years of good behavior.
The bill also has provisions for requiring owners to post security to cover the cost of care for dogs impounded in violation of these provisions.
For more on the original bill, read Animal Law Coalition’s original report below.
Original report: Ohio State Rep. Barbara Sears has re-introduced the bill to repeal the state’s breed discriminatory law. In the 2009-2010 session the bill passed the state House of Representatives but did not come to a vote in the state Senate.
H.B. 14 would repeal the provision that defines "vicious" dogs to include dogs that "belong to a breed commonly known as a pit bull".
A hearing was held on the bill by the House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee on Feb. 2, 2011. At that time Rep. Sears urged committee members to pass the measure. She explained, "The person who wants to have a "pit bull" for what it’s intended to be, a family pet, …should be allowed to do that". Sears pointed out condemning all "pit bulls" as "vicious" was too broad and targets dogs based on a general description rather than their behavior.
Rep. W. Carlton Weddington countered, "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".
But Sears stated the definition of "vicious" would still apply to dogs based on behavior.
Ohio is the only state with a statewide law that singles out "pit bulls" for discriminatory treatment.
The Ohio state supreme court has upheld this discriminatory law. For a look at that Ohio Supreme Court decision, go here: Ohio Supreme Court Upholds Breed Discrimination
Under current law as well as the proposed H.B. 14, a dangerous dog with some exceptions is defined as "a dog that, without provocation, …has chased or approached in either a menacing fashion or an apparent attitude of attack, or has attempted to bite or otherwise endanger any person, while that dog is off the premises of its owner, keeper, or harborer and not under the reasonable control of its owner, keeper, harborer, or some other responsible person, or not physically restrained or confined in a locked pen that has a top, locked fenced yard, or other locked enclosure that has a top."
A"vicious" dog under the new law would be defined with some exceptions as "a dog that, without provocation and … meets either of the following: (i) Has killed or caused serious injury to any person; (ii) Has caused injury, other than killing or serious injury, to any person, or has killed another dog." A "vicious" dog would no longer be defined to include pit bulls.
It should help reduce the spread of BSL throughout Ohio if state law does not define a pit bull as automatically "vicious" because of its breed.
Go here for a look at testimony presented in support of the bill during the last session.