Sharpen the teeth of Ohio law to lessen risk of dog assaults

The mauling death of a Dayton woman earlier this year exposes serious weaknesses in Ohio’s statutes on vicious dogs that a group of responsible state legislators is pushing to strengthen.

Between the end of 2011 and this February, law-enforcement and animal-control agencies in the Dayton area received about 60 complaints about a home where vicious dogs were terrorizing residents. On Feb. 7, that terror turned deadly. Two approximately 60-pound mixed-mastiff dogs lunged at Klonda Richey, 57, ripped her coat off, gnashed at her ruthlessly and left her mangled naked body lying on the sidewalk.

Four months later, a grand jury in Montgomery County is investigating the appalling case but has not yet brought charges against the owners of the murderous mastiffs.

The Richey case illustrates problems in timely response to complaints of vicious and dangerous dogs and in appropriate punishment for those who irresponsibly allow their dogs to become killing machines.

In the name of balancing the rights of dog owners with the public’s right to safety, two state representatives have introduced bipartisan legislation to the General Assembly that they hope will help lessen the number of incidents that rise to the brutality evidenced in the Richey assault. The legislation’s noble goals merit support of all responsible pet owners in Ohio.


House Bill 541, sponsored by state Rep. Roland Winburn, D-Dayton, and Rep. Terry Blair, R-Dayton, would enact harsher felony-level penalties against dog owners who do not control their pets, give dog wardens and their deputies arrest powers to avoid long bureaucratic delays in bringing negligent pet owners to justice and create a statewide registry to track dog violations, injuries and complaints.

The registry would give “a trail of activity to define the type of dog as it goes from a nuisance dog, to a dangerous dog in terms of biting and aggressive behavior, to a vicious dog, which involves killing or a serious mauling,” Winburn said.

Some, however, are questioning the need for a registry because of its cost and its potential to add another layer of bureaucracy to the state’s commitment to animal control. As Winburn and Blair’s legislation wends its way through the assembly, a cost-benefit analysis of the registry may be warranted.

But little additional analysis is necessary on the bill’s overall premise of ensuring maximum protection to victims and potential victims of dog attacks and of meting out more-stringent punishment for careless owners.

The legislation’s end game of reducing the number of dog attacks and serious injuries from dog bites deserves attention and speedy action. Dog bites, after all, take a shocking toll, particularly on young children, in our state and nation. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies:

Dog bites occur every 75 seconds in the U.S. Each day, more than 1,000 citizens need emergency medical care to treat these injuries.

Dog bites are the fifth-highest reason why children seek emergency care.

Dog bites caused more than 27,000 Americans to undergo reconstructive surgery in 2012.

Winburn and Blair’s legislation represents solid hope for reducing some of those numbers in Ohio. But time is running short. After summer recess, the legislation should get fast-tracked toward passage by Dec. 31.

If that window is too narrow to carefully weigh the pros and cons of a statewide dog registry, then strike the registry and reintroduce it as a separate measure in the new General Assembly in 2015. The bill’s overarching intent to add more bite to Ohio’s dog-control laws should not be stonewalled.

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