The state of Ohio is a few short steps away from dismantling a dog control law that has defined "dogs commonly known as pit bulls" as "dangerous and vicious" for the past twenty five years. House Bill 14 - which would remove the breed-specific definition from the Ohio state law and make much needed improvements to the dangerous dog law - was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday 1/10 and is expected to move through a Senate vote as soon as next week before heading to the governor for his consideration.
EDIT: The Ohio Senate approved HB14 on 1/31/12
EDIT: HB14 was signed into law by Ohio's Governor on 2/21/12
EDIT: The breed neutral state law begins on 5/21/12
The current law that singles out pit bulls for discriminatory treatment has been around so long that most animal care professionals and dog wardens we polled had no idea what caused it to end up on the books in the first place, but most everyone agrees that it's done nothing to reduce dog bites, decease shelter numbers or make communities safe from the deeds of irresponsible and reckless dog owners. Just the opposite: Pit bull popularity flourished after Ohio's state law condemned the dogs, shelters have stayed crowded, euthanasia rates are depressingly high and the dogs continue to cycle through some of the most irresponsible hands in Ohio communities. The outcry against the current law has been gaining momentum since notorious pit bull-hating dog warden Tom Skeldon resigned from his position as dog warden in Lucas County. Progressive voices agree: The current law is defective, it's discriminatory and it's gotta go.
Will breed specific legislation end in Ohio the minute HB14 becomes law? Well, no. HB14 is not a magic wand that will wave BSL away in cities that have it, and it won't stop municipalities from enacting it. Fighting those battles will take the usual blood, sweat and tears - one city council meeting at a time. But without the state mandated definitions that currently malign "dogs commonly known as pit bulls," it will make for a much easier fight.
So if it can't bump BSL, what's HB14 good for? Passage of this legislation will ring in a new era of common sense and will allow Ohio to tackle dog issues more effectively and without victimizing typey dogs and responsible owners. It will signal to the public, to local law makers, and even to our friend the media, that the state regards dogs as individuals whose behaviors cannot be pre-determined by breed make-up - All of which will make room for strategies that directly target the human element in dog ownership.
Insurance obstacles will be neatly removed. Without the dangerous/vicious label and its built-in liability factor, companies like State Farm will be able to fully embrace pit bulls and write non-discriminatory policies just as they do in the rest of the country, allowing more responsible homes to own the dogs. Shelters that have held off will finally get the green light to promote pit bulls for adoption, stealing business away from the backyard breeders who've been so busy all these years.
Right - This 17lb mixed breed adult dog was caught up in an Ohio shelter's pit bull adoption ban and set to be destroyed. Needless to say, Blink came back to Oakland with us after we met her. She's another reason that breed discriminatory policies victimize perfectly adoptable dogs whose only sin is being born with short fur and a blocky head.
An important piece of HB14 will give Ohio dog wardens more tools to seize and hold dogs whose behavior defines them as dangerous or vicious - regardless of breed type. Once this piece was added to the bill, the Ohio County Dog Wardens Association signed on with its support - an important endorsement for obvious reasons. It also restores the responsible dog owners' ability to enjoy their pets, comply with licensing requirements, and reclaim strays without fear of penalties, restrictions, or loss of insurance. New adoptions, increased licensing, more owner returns and fewer enforcement headaches will be a boost to dwindling animal control budgets.
Like a dress rehearsal for HB14, The City of Cleveland stuck their necks out last June by amending their vicious dog ordinance, removing its definition of pit bulls as "dangerous" and classifying dogs based on behavior rather than appearance. (News) Cleveland Councilman Matt Zone explained, "The breed of a dog is not an indicator of its personality. Any dog who is poorly trained and neglected can be vicious and a threat to our community. These revisions shift the focus from the type of dog to its behavior and neglectful actions of its owner." Animal pros in that town pushed the progress one step further when Cleveland Animal Protective League (CAPL) lifted its 20-some year ban on pit bull adoptions. Since they put their first pit bull on the adoption floor in June ('Joliette' - right), they've enjoyed steady adoption success with at least one pit bull type dog going home every week. Not bad for a shelter operating in the shadow of Ohio's discriminatory state law. CAPL tells us they expect to be able to save many more lives once insurance obstacles are removed through the passage of HB14.
Another shelter that deserves a big bow for embracing pit bulls is the
Humane Society of Greater Akron. They never wavered in their commitment to helping the neediest dogs in their community and have absorbed numerous victims of cruelty over the years, regardless of breed. They're also very excited about the prospect of easier adoptions when HB14 passes and insurance obstacles are removed.
We spent two of our most exciting weeks of 2011 in Ohio, working with CAPL to noodle best practices for their adoption program, meeting with city officials and later presenting to Ohio dog wardens in preparation for big changes ahead. This spring, we'll be back yet again to help another shelter take the leap and put pit bulls on their adoption floor. The invitations extended by these agencies reflect an encouraging optimism that a new era has indeed come to Ohio and especially, to the pit bull type dogs that have suffered and died for over two decades.
While we celebrate the progress made, it's important to remember that good news will come with an incredibly big workload for dog advocates in Ohio. Re-tooling shelter policies, re-educating the public, re-distributing the resources in a way that advances the cause of building safe humane communities will take ball-busting efforts. From our vantage point, Ohio's players are more than ready.
* Visit this site for a break down of dangerous/vicious definitions under HB14.