Pit bulls may lose ‘vicious’ label due to bill

Senate OK’s bill that will not immediately label any dog as ‘vicious.’

The bill, passed Tuesday, also would eliminate problems that for decades have hampered animal control efforts involving other dog breeds, according to Mark Kumpf, director of Montgomery County Animal Resource Center.

“It basically levels the playing field for all breeds of dog,” Kumpf said Wednesday. “Other than the one dog, we’ve had our hands tied.”

The Senate voted 27-5 to rewrite the state’s vicious dog law, passed in 1987 and weakened by a 2004 Ohio Supreme Court ruling.

The Supreme Court found the law failed to provide due process — the right to a court hearing — for other dog owners, discouraging animal control officers from issuing citation for first infractions.

Unless it was a pit bull mix, “your dog had one free bite,” Kumpf said.

Kumpf was part of a group involved in rewriting the bill introduced last January — for the second time — by Rep. Barbara Sears, R-Monclova Twp.

Next the bill is headed back to the House of Representatives for final changes.

If signed by the governor, the law would allow animal control officers to designate any dog as “nuisance,” “dangerous” or “ vicious,” regardless of breed. Violators could be fined or face felony sanctions.

Regardless of breed, the vicious dog classification would apply to dogs that, without provocation, badly injure or kill a person. Such dogs are often seized and euthanized.

For now, Ohio remains the only state which only classifies pit bulls as vicious, a distinction that has divided victims of pit-bull bites and those who love the mixed breed.

The existing law also discourages some pit bull owners from licensing their pets or picking them up from the pound, Kumpf said.

Under the new law, their owners would no longer need liability insurance.

Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, said pit bulls were involved in bad-bites cases and used by drug dealers.

“Unfortunately, pit bulls in this county have had a lot of bad cases with children and drugs,” Hughes said. “Drug dealers use these dogs to go after police.”

Last month in Dayton, a pit bull mauled two people, including its owner, sending both to the hospital. It was the latest in a series of bad-bite cases involving pit bulls reported in the area.

A 2011 Dayton Daily News examination of dog bites in Montgomery County found pit bulls led all breeds in the number of reported dog bites since January 2009. But boxers, German shepherds and Labradors collectively had more bites reported. All told, 83 percent of the reported bites did not involve pit bulls.

“The majority of the pit bulls we deal with are not aggressive animals,” said Eric Hancock, a dog warden in Warren County.

The law will have no effect on communities, including Xenia, Hamilton and Cincinnati, that place special restrictions on pit bull mixes. Dayton prohibits ownership of any dangerous or vicious animal.

The House is expected to make changes on Feb. 8.

Amendments suggested by Gov. John Kasich’s office have already been added, Kumpf said.

“It’s probably got several weeks before it sees the governor’s desk,” he said.

The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2261 or lbudd@Dayton DailyNews.com.

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