Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Progress in Ohio (HB14) - What could change?

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.


20 comments:

Dianne said...

One step forward for Ohio, where you can own lions, tigers, and bears oh my but nary a pit bull. Good morning left coast.

Donna said...

good morning, east side! :-)

Nora said...

I am so glad to hear good news for animals finally coming from Ohio. Thank you for all you tireless work on helping protect and promote proper ownership of a wonderful breed!

Rochelle New said...

On the home stretch!! Great news! My little blocky face girl and I are lucky to live in a state with no BSL, (Vermont) but we're still rejoicing and hopeful for Ohio!

Joan said...

Wonderful news! Thanks for explaining what it all means. I know you are fully aware it is a daily struggle to make it right for these dogs but again, as you well know, they are worth the effort. Like you said, common sense and compassion are becoming part of the picture for dogs in general now, thankfully, and now the focus is centering more on where it should have been all along, the human. The human is responsible for making a dog safe and being a responsible and compassionate and committed dog owner and breeder of dogs in general. It all counts. The speaking up for these dogs, volunteering, fostering, donating, keeping up with the laws and the bans and the dog fighting busts. It all counts to change a society for the better towards dogs in general and eventually all animals in general. More compassion and common sense.

Samantha Laine said...

I'm with @ Joan.
And I think I may be madly in love with BLINK!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for helping the Cleveland APL. I am a foster for them and a big Pit Bull advocate. When I saw APL adopting out Pit Bulls over the summer, I cried. My dog is a pit mix rescued from the streets of Cleveland. He and several of the other pits I have fostered have been some of the sweetest, most loving dogs I have ever come into contact with. Hopefully we can continue to educate the public and target bad owners.

Anonymous said...

When I moved to Columbus, OH last September I had to give up my insurance thru State Farm that I had for over 35 years. The rep told me that even if the BSL law changed she didn't think that State Farm would change. I am so grateful for Farmer's Ins. I am so excited that you are coming back. I am asking the shelter, here in Columbus, if they are inviting you....if they haven't, I'm going to insist. I want to be right there for the first Pit they want to adopt out. I was told they will do it when the law passes. By the way, I have not been able to find one word written about HB14 in the online local newspaper. Very bothersome to me. I am familiar with your organization. I went to a volunteer meeting when I lived in Castro Valley. My circumstances changed and I ended up leaving the bay area but not before I adopted my sweet Pit Bull. Thanks for all you do.
Cindy

Donna said...

Hi Cindy - Thanks for writing. After HB14 passes, State Farm won't have any reason to impose breed specific restrictions when they sell policies - but individual agents might need to be educated before it becomes common and normal to do so. Very glad to hear that Farmer's Insurance has been helping you out. We should find a way to give them major kudos for helping responsible dog owners like you during tough times.

If you're talking about Franklin County AC, we were just there last month --- It's where we found Blink! :-) We're planning to be in the Dayton area for shelter related work in the spring, but - who knows - maybe we'll end up back in Columbus again. Build it and we will come.

Anonymous said...

I volunteer at the Franklin County Dog Shelter. They have a brand new facility that opened last fall. Is that the one you went to? Lou told me that they will start adopting out Pit Bulls when the law changes. I can't wait. I want to be an important part of the change and start it off on the right foot. I have tried to find a Pit Bull rescue group in the Columbus area and the 2 I found have been unresponsive to my calls and emails to volunteer. Very frustrating so I am putting my efforts towards the shelter. I will send a wish to the pitty gods to make our paths cross again. I'm sure I could learn so much from you to help the shelter. Thanks, Cindy

Donna said...

Yep - that's where we were! Looking forward to happy transitions ahead.

lisagfromtheOC said...

Bravo!! One step at a time. Thanks for the excellent write up Donna!

PoochesForPeace said...

thanks for the update! I live in Ohio and have been a little bit out of the loop with all the details, although i have contacted my senator to suggest supporting this. But your post helps with the details, thanks!

Aria Milan said...

Thank you for this post. It's important to know what's going on in terms of laws regarding animals and pets. I like the comment earlier... so pit bulls aren't okay but owning lions, bears, and other clearly wild animals are?

Angie said...

We need this in PG County, MD.

leamaxwell said...

I'm glad that the Cleveland APL has started some pit bull adoptions, but in the 2 years I worked their, their arguement was centered around the logic that "no reasonable person would want to adopt a pit bull as a pet". (This included staff.) They were protecting the pit bulls from being adopted into fighting rings. That director has since left, so hopefully things are improving and for the right reasons.

Donna said...

Hi Lea - Yep, no need to think the worst of CAPL anymore. New ED Sharon Harvey is good people.

Antje Stobbe said...

GREAT write up... and a much better understanding about what follows HB14. I am hopeful other cities will follow (Miami/Denver/etc.).

Anonymous said...

Nice post, I found this on google

mojoluvrs6 said...

Donna my daughter picked up a copy of "The lost Dogs" for her summer reading through school, it was actually on the list!! I opened it and saw your name i am a believer in fate. That being said I am in much need of your organizations help. You see me and my family adopted our Mojo from a rescue, (we were told he was turned into the pound with duct tape marks still on his snout, he has scars from what appears he was used as a bait dog) shortly after it was announced that HB14 passed. Mojo is an amazing dog, but now we are facing major problems due to our city claiming "home rule". I would preffer to speak with you by email and I will explain why in detail there could you please email me at jhunt0012@zoominternet.net so I can seek some advice. I'm in a very unique position. Thank you very much.