Bill revisits pit bull issue

The lawmaker says pit bulls are no more vicious than any other breed.


COLUMBUS — A lawmaker from southwestern Ohio hopes to remove pit bulls from the state’s definition of vicious dogs.

Rep. Shawn Webster, a Republican from Hamilton and a longtime veterinarian, told members of the House Infrastructure, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs Committee this week the Ohio Revised Code change is needed because pit bulls are no more inherently vicious than any other breed.

Singling them out in state law, he said, likely is part of the reason the dogs have become so popular among “the criminal element of society — the gang bangers, the drug dealers. That’s their breed of choice. … What has resulted is a proliferation of pit bulls.”

According to an analysis compiled by the state’s Legislative Service Commission, current state law places requirements and prohibitions on the ownership of vicious dogs.

The definition for the latter includes “a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog” — the only specific breed mentioned.

Webster’s House Bill 366 would remove the pit bull section of that definition and allow local governments to adopt ordinances that more broadly define dangerous or vicious dogs.

Webster told committee members that he has worked as a veterinarian for 34 years and is owner of a small animal practice.

He said he frequently (about once a week) treats pit bulls that are family pets. None of the scars he carries from animal bites were inflicted by the breed.

“I can tell you that you’re going to hear all kinds of horror stories about pit bulls,” he said. “… But I’ve got to tell you that I don’t think any breed of dogs is inherently vicious.”

He added, “I think it’s ridiculous to throw a net across Ohio and punish people who have dogs who are really good family pets. … They are no different than any other breed as a family pet.”

In Youngstown, among the requirements for having a legal pit bull is liability insurance of at least $100,000, a state requirement. City officials said there is an escalating problem in Youngstown involving pit bulls, including dogfighting contests and attacks toward people and other pets.

Most of the pit bull terrier legislation approved in September by Youngstown council mirrors state laws on the breed, such as keeping the dogs securely confined, carrying liability insurance and registering each dog with the county dog warden. The city law requires pit bulls to be on a leash no longer than 4 feet but the state allows the breed on leashes no longer than 6 feet.

There has been debate on who will enforce the ban, Youngstown police or the county dog warden’s office.

Ohio cities with pit bull bans include Girard, Lakewood and Warrensville Heights.

Girard has had a ban on pit bull ownership and ownership of any other “vicious” dog for more than a decade. Once the dogs’ owners are notified of the city’s ban, they can either deny that the animal is a pit bull, forcing the city to have a veterinarian determine the dogs’ breed. Or, they can object to the city’s ban and be summoned into court.

U.S. cities with pit bull bans include Denver; Council Bluff, Iowa; and Delta, Utah. There are also county bans in Miami-Dade, Fla., and Prince George’s County, Md.

In August, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a Toledo ordinance restricting one pit bull per one household was constitutional.

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