Dog mauling puts focus on vicious dog laws

State may review vicious dog law following Dayton woman's death

“Certainly cases like this often reignite an issue and reignite debate,” he said.

Richey’s body was found in the snow outside her home on East Bruce Avenue Friday morning by a passerby. When police arrived, two dogs, both mixed-mastiff breeds, charged at them, prompting the officers to shoot and kill them.

Ohio law used to automatically categorize pit bulls as vicious, which triggered higher insurance premiums. But legislators revamped the laws on dangerous dogs two years ago after pit bull owners objected to being charged more for homeowners’ insurance because of the breed of their pets, rather than the behavior of their dogs.

In February 2012, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law removing pit bulls from the “vicious dog designation” under state law.

“When I grew up it was the Doberman pincher, then it was Rottweilers, and then pit bulls. It changes decade-to-decade about what dog is vicious,” said State Rep. Roland Winburn, D-Harrison Twp., who co-sponsored the 2012 law. He said the behavior — not the breed — should determine if a dog is dangerous.

The new law, which took effect in May 2012, created three definitions for problem dogs — nuisance, dangerous and vicious — and removed pit bulls from the definition of a vicious dog. It also created a process for owners to appeal the designation of their pet as a nuisance dog.

Nuisance dogs are those who, without provocation and off their owners’ property, chase or menace someone or attempt to bite a person. Dangerous dogs have, without provocation, injured someone, killed other dogs or had three or more violations of regulations covering the confinement or control of dogs. Vicious dogs are defined as those who have, without provocation, killed or caused serious injury to a person.

The dogs in the deadly mauling last week did not have any of those designations, authorities have said.

The dogs were registered to Richey’s neighbor Julie Custer, 25. Custer and Andrew Nason, 28, who lived at 35 E. Bruce Ave., next to Richey, were questioned by police over the weekend and released on Sunday. No formal charges have been filed against them. Richey had sought a civil protection order against Nason, but it was denied.

There also were a series of 13 anonymous complaints to the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center and more than 20 calls — some anonymous and other either from Richey or affiliated with Richey’s phone number – to the Regional Dispatch Center complaining about the dog issues, drug use and fireworks.

The new state law also eliminated a requirement that dangerous dogs be leashed or tethered on their owners’ property and replaced it with a more generic requirement that the dogs be adequately restrained on the owners’ property, such as in a locked fenced yard or in a pen with top.

People convicted of violent felonies or certain offenses regarding animals, weapons, drugs or corrupt activity are prohibited from owning or living with any unspayed dog older than 12 weeks or any dog that has been designated dangerous. These restrictions apply to people convicted after May 2012 and apply for three years after their prison or probation release. And these dangerous dog owners must microchip their dogs for permanent identification.

Dayton City Law Director John Danish said officers are empowered to cite dog owners under either the city ordinance or state law, though he has not studied which regulations are more stringent. Dayton last revamped its dangerous dog ordinance in 2004, he said.

The state action in 2012 represented a comprehensive review of the nuisance dog laws.

State Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, voted against the bill, saying he was concerned about data showing a higher incidence of aggression in the pit bull breed. He noted that two pit bulls attacked a cyclist in Piqua, causing serious injury, around the time that the bill was being debated.

“I don’t know if there is anything in the bill that would prevent attacks,” he said regarding the death of Richey.

The 2012 bill that changed Ohio’s dog laws passed the Senate on a 27-5 vote and passed the House on a 69-29 vote. Miami Valley lawmakers were split on the matter.

The local lawmakers that voted for for the 2012 bill were: Winburn, State Sens. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering; Chris Widener, R-Springfield; Keith Faber, R-Celina; Shannon Jones, R-Springboro; state Reps. Terry Blair, R-Washington Twp.; Jim Butler, R-Oakwood; Peter Beck, R-Mason; Bob Hackett, R-London; Ross McGregor, R-Springfield and Ron Maag, R-Lebanon.

The local lawmakers that voted against the bill were Beagle, former state Reps. Jarrod Martin, R-Beavercreek, and Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, state Reps. John Adams, R-Sidney, Richard Adams, R-Troy, Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, and Mike Henne, R-Clayton.

State Rep. Fred Strahorn, a Democrat representing the district where Friday’s attack took place, said he is open to reviewing the dangerous dog law and seeing if any changes are needed.

“I’ll take a look at it. Obviously, that was just a terrible, terrible thing,” Strahorn said.

Winburn said, “First of all we need to look at the situation and get more investigation and facts around that particular situation, and then we need to look into the bill again. I don’t want to rush into anything.”

Lehner, who voted in favor of the 2012 revisions, agreed with Winburn.

“Any time you have a tragic death like this people want to know what happened,” she said. “I think it’s appropriate for us to wait for the results of the investigation.”

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