2012-02-08 / Front Page

Drop Ohio Pit Bull Insurance Rule?

David Pugh
Buckeye Staff Writer

The Ohio vicious dog law requires owners of pit bulls to carry special liability insurance.

The requirement could change significantly soon.

But while the Ohio General Assembly debates changing the law, Archbold police still are citing owners of pit bulls who failed to meet the yearly registration requirement of the village vicious dog law.

The Archbold Law

Several years ago, Archbold Village Council adopted a new vicious dog law at the behest of Peter Skeldon, Fulton County dog warden.

At the time, illegal dog fighting was reportedly taking place in Fulton County.

Dogs, often pit bulls, would be forced to fight each other, sometimes to the death. Evidence of dogfights had allegedly been found in the county.

The new law defined three breeds of dogs, including the Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, and American Staffordshire Terrier, or dogs that had elements of those breeds, as pit bulls.

Such dogs are considered vicious, regardless of their behavior. Under the current law, they are, in effect, considered vicious from the day they are born.

In Archbold, owners of pit bulls are required to register with Archbold police every year and carry a $250,000 liability insurance policy on a dog considered to be a pit bull.

Mark Hagans, Archbold law director, said the pit bull insurance policies are “hard to find, and they are expensive.”

The current state law is similar, but requires only a $100,000 policy.

Starting Friday, Jan. 27, local police began looking for pit bull owners who had not registered their dogs for 2012.

They went to the home of a person in the 200 block of La Choy drive at 2:10 pm that day, but were unable to locate the owner.

Tamara Rupp, 28, Fox Chase, was issued a citation for failure to renew her vicious dog registration at 10:52 am, Monday, Jan. 30.

Police went to the home of Samantha Poling, 22, East Gardens, at 11:25 am that Monday, but did not locate her. She was issued a citation later.

Christopher Cook, 26, East Gardens, was cited at 11:44 am.

Change In The Law

Barbara Sears, state representative (R-Monclova Township), authored a bill known as House Bill 14, which takes away the breed-specific language of the bill. It does away with the pit bull liability insurance requirement.

Under the new state legislative district maps, Sears will represent most of Fulton County.

Jean Keating, Sylvania, president of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates and a member of the Lucas County Pit Crew, a pit bull group, said her involvement in the Ohio vicious dog law goes back more than five years.

She said she was a constituent of Sears when Sears was a member of Sylvania city council.

When Sears joined the Ohio House of Representatives in 2008, she introduced her first attempt to change the Ohio vicious dog law, House Bill 366.

When the bill failed to gain traction, Sears made another attempt, this time with House Bill 79. Keating said she and Sears worked on HB 79 for two years. It passed the Ohio House of Representatives, but didn’t make it out of the Ohio Senate committee.

Working with the County Commissioners’ Association of Ohio, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary of Utah, and Keating's coalition, Sears revamped HB 79 into the current House Bill 14.

Joe Russell, Sears’ senior legislative aide, said Sears is not a dog owner, “but she is a dog lover. The legislative calendar is not conducive to dog ownership.”

House Bill 14 has been approved by the Ohio House of Representatives. In the Senate, changes were made to the bill, which was then sent back to the House to approve the changes.

Russell said the bill could be on the desk of John Kasich, Ohio governor, by the end of this week.

Kasich can sign the law or veto it. If he does neither, the law automatically takes effect in 10 days.

Home Rule

While Sears’ HB 14 re- moves the “vicious at birth” distinction for pit bulls in Ohio law, it does nothing to dog laws in “home rule” communities.

“It respects home rule communities. If local communities feel stronger, breed-specifi c laws are needed,” the new Ohio law would not interfere, said Russell.

Because Archbold has a village charter, it is considered a home rule community.

That means that for the village vicious dog law to change, Archbold Village Council must approve it.

Horrible Law

Skeldon said he thinks Sears’ new vicious dog law “is horrible.

“I’ve seen people torn up by these animals. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

“I’m not saying I’ve not seen good pit bulls, but they’re bred for fighting and killing.

"A Rottweiler, a German Shepherd– they will bite and release. A pit bull will bite you and hang on. They were bred to take down wild boars.”

In a slow year, like 2011, Skeldon said the Fulton County Dog Pound gets 30 to 40 pit bulls.

“We’ve had pit bulls in here that were not bad,” Skeldon said.

“We’ve had others– we have sheet aluminum between kennels so the dogs can’t see one another. We’ve had pit bulls who will try to chew their way through the aluminum to kill the dog on the other side.”

Skeldon said the Fulton County pound policy is, “we don’t adopt out pit bulls. Will the policy change? I don’t think so.”

But Planned Pethood, a Toledo organization that rescues dogs and cats and offers them for adoption, has a different view.

Nikki Morey, executive director of Planned Pethood, said her organization’s standpoint is, “A dog is a dog. Breed does not indicate anything in regard to an animal’s behavior.

“I’ve never been bitten by a pit bull,” Morey said. “I have been bitten by a Chihuahua and a Cocker Spaniel. Are we going to ban Chihuahuas and Cockers? I don’t think so.

“It boils down to it’s not the breed, it’s the people. The root cause is the people in the dog fighting industry, and those who created the culture that says it’s cool to have these (fighting) dogs.

“Fix the root of the problem, the people, the culture. Don’t vilify the dog.”

Keating said as a member of the Pit Crew, she’s fostered over 100 pit bulls over the years.

“The bottom line is, any breed can be turned vicious by any human being,” she said.

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