Toledo’s Breed Neutral “Reckless Owner” Ordinance

dogOhio Coalition of Dog Advocates has worked for months to encourage the Toledo City Council to adopt a breed neutral ordinance that will encourage responsible dog ownership. And, on October 12, 2010, by a unanimous vote, the Toledo City  Council adopted just such an ordinance.

In the introduction to the ordinance, the City Council observes "In recent year the adequacy and effectiveness of the City of Toledo’s "vicious dog" law, Section 505.14, have repeatedly been questioned. Recently, Section 505.14 was found by the Toledo Municipal Court to be unconstitutional. While the Court’s ruling has been appealed, questions about the adequacy of the City’s current law remain unanswered."  For more on the Municipal Court’s decision…..

Following the Municipal Court decision as well as the resignation of long time Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon, the Lucas County Dog Warden Citizens Advisory Committee was convened and made recommendations for changes in the City of Toledo’s code concerning dogs. Jean Keating, founder of Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates is a member of the committee. Keating contacted Animal Law Coalition for ideas for new ordinances and the two organizations submitted proposals to the Committee. Many of these proposals were eventually adopted by the City Council on October 12, including the provisions for Level 1 or Level 2 threat designations, including de-classification; a provision allowing an experienced trainer make determinations about dog behavior, a strong nuisance ordinance, a prohibition on felons owning or possessing dogs that may present a threat to public safety, anti-tethering, mediation of neighbor complaints about dogs, and penalties that include requirements for owners to attend training or perform community service.

The idea is for owners and caregivers to take responsibility for their dogs before there is a serious injury. 

The new Toledo dog law

The new law provides that dogs can be designated as Level 1 threats if they have "without provocation, …has chased or approached a person, including a person on a bicycle, upon the streets, sidewalks or any public or private property, other than the dog owner, keeper or harborer’s property 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 or some other responsible person, or not physically restrained or confined in a locked pen which has a top, locked fenced yard, or other locked enclosure which has a top. A level-one threat dog may also be one who has repeatedly exhibited a propensity, tendency or disposition to attack, without provocation, or otherwise threatens the safety of humans or domestic animals."

A Level 2 threat dog is one, with some exceptions, "which, without provocation…has killed or caused serious injury to any person; or has killed or caused serious injury another dog".

In determining whether a dog poses a threat, whether Level 1 or 2, the "Dog Warden, Commissioner of Health and/or Chief of Police can obtain an evaluation of a dog’s behavior from a person who has been trained or certified and has experience as a dog trainer or dog behaviorist." There must be a written report of the evaluation regardless including the bases for the conclusions. The person determining the dog’s status must "consider the observations and testimony of others about the dog’s upbringing, training, behavior, the owner, keeper or harborer of the dog, and other relevant evidence. These observations and testimony must be provided by witnesses who personally observed the behavior. These witnesses must sign a written statement attesting to the observed behavior and agree to provide testimony in a hearing, if necessary."

The label of Level 1  or 2 can actually be removed through a declassification process. Level 1 dogs can be de-classified if 2 years have passed without further incident or violaiton of any regulations or orders; the dog – and owner – have satisfactorily completed a training course and the dog has been spayed/neutered. A Level 2 dog can be de-classified after 5 years without incident or violations of law or orders if the owner has satisfactorily completed a training course and the dog is spayed or neutered. The dog must, however, always be kept in a secure enclosure when on the owner’s property. Unfortunately, the owner must also continue to maintain $100,000 in liability insurance for any damages caused by the dog. Ohio law requires owners of "dangerous dogs" to maintain the insurance. 

Also, for 10 years from the date a convicted felon is released from imprisonment or, if imprisonment was not ordered, then from the date of conviction, he or she is prohibited from owning, having custody or possession of a "dog that has not been spayed/neutered or that has been determined to be a threat to public safety."

There are requirements for secure enclosures for Level 1 or 2 dogs as well as leashing and muzzling them when they are off the owner’s property. The dogs must be identified with a permanent marker such as a tattoo, micro-chip, photograph or special collar or tag. No person can keep more than 2 Level 2 dogs at a time.

The ordinance contains an appeals process for dogs determined to be Level 1 or Level 2 threats to public safety.

The ordinances adopted include a strong nuisance ordinance that focuses on holding owner’s responsible for managing and controlling their dogs. Notably, dogs found running at large more than once must be spayed/neutered. Dogs cannnot be left tethered outside for more than one hour "unless the dog’s owner, keeper or harborer is present in the yard where the dog is tethered, or within direct line of site. No dog shall be tethered for any length of time while the owner, keeper or harborer is not present at the residence." Dogs cannnot be tethered within "500 feet of a school within one hour before commencement of the school day or within one hour of the end of the school day or other times in which children would reasonably be expected to by traveling to and from the school."

Abuse, neglect, leaving a dog unattended for more than 24 hours, "[u]tilizing a dog as a weapon in the commission of any crime, including the use of a dog to intentionally harass, menace or intimidate any person; and [p]ermitting a dog, without provocation, to bite or otherwise inflict serious injury to a person or companion animal" are all defined as public nuisances under the new ordinance.

Dogs whose owners or keepers are in violation of the law can be seized and impounded. The new law contains a scheme for civil and criminal penalties. There is discretion to refer complaints about dogs for mediation. Penalties can include  restitution, tough fines, and other monetary sanctions and jail time as well as requirements to "take steps to prevent a recurrence …including by providing kennels, fencing, spaying/neutering, micro-chipping, or other care and treatment in compliance with applicable laws"; training and/or responsible pet ownership classes, community service with an animal welfare organization, or forfeiture of all rights to the animals involved.

Owners can be declared to be "reckless owners" if they are "convicted of one or more violations … on three separate occasions in a twenty-four …month period, or [their] dog has been determined to be a Level-One or Level-two threat to public safety and [they] ha[ve] failed to comply with the requirements of this Ordinance pertaining to Level-One or Level-two threats to public safety". A "reckless owner" must surrender all dogs within 24 hours and is prohibited from owning or residing with any dogs for at least 48 months.

Ohio law

Ohio state law defines dogs that "belong[] to a breed commonly known as a pit bull" as inherently vicious. ORC Sec. 955.11   The state has a number of requirements for owners of these dogs. ORC Sec. 955.22 A bill pending in the Ohio legislature, H.B. 55, would repeal the definition of "vicious" dog insofar ias it includes "pit bulls". Go here for more information and how you can help pass this bill. Also, go here to see Animal Law Coalition’s BSL Watch and take action to stop breed discriminatory laws that result in the deaths of thousands of innocent pets! 

One thought on “Toledo’s Breed Neutral “Reckless Owner” Ordinance”

  1. I just suggested to the dog warden here in Wooster,Ohio this law that is effect for Toledo and said that there was good reports on this and asked how I can propose this to Wayne co,Is there any advice you can give us on how to bring this befor the city?Our dog was forcefully removed from our home last week and we had to find a new place for her to live.I want to stop this from happening to anyone else and know that it will if I don’t try to do anything to change the law

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