Pit bulls may be freed of ‘vicious’ label

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    The Dispatch's John Futty has the complete story.

By  Jim Siegel

The Columbus Dispatch Wednesday February 1, 2012 6:08 AM

File Photo

Under the bill passed by the Ohio Senate, this pit bull wouldn’t necessarily be classified as “vicious.”

Pit bulls no longer would be classified as “vicious” animals under a bill that soon should be headed to the governor’s desk, and the Ohio Senate is expected to vote today on a separate measure designed to crack down on abusive puppy mills.

Ohio is the only state that classifies a specific breed of animal as vicious, but a bill that passed the Senate 27-5 yesterday should change that.

Sen. Mark Wagoner, R-Toledo, said Ohio law discriminates against a specific breed. “In doing so, it discourages responsible dog owners from complying with licensing requirements. Canine profiling is expensive, ineffective and infringes on property rights.”

Classifying pit bulls as “vicious” has led to, among other things, the need for liability insurance.

Instead of Ohio’s 25-year-old law labeling pit bulls vicious, the bill, which still needs final House approval of Senate changes, wouldn’t classify dogs that way in advance. Should behavior problems arise, dogs could be classified in one of three categories: “nuisance,” “dangerous” or “ vicious.”

The latter classification would be for a dog that, without provocation, seriously injures or kills a person. Those animals often would be seized and euthanized.

Owners of a dog placed in one of the three classification would face penalties ranging from fines to felony charges.

All five “no” votes against the bill were from Republicans, including Sens. Jim Hughes of Columbus and Kevin Bacon of Minerva Park.

Bacon said current law has problems in how pit bulls are identified, but this is not how Ohio should fix it. “I think there are some dogs that are more inherently prone to being aggressive, and they should be classified differently,” he said.

Hughes said he talked to Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. and a local judge about cases before them. “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.”

Meanwhile, a Senate committee endured another day of talks and changes yesterday before voting on a bill, sponsored by Hughes, designed to regulate Ohio’s large-scale dog breeders and end the state’s reputation for some of the nation’s most-lax laws related to dog treatment.

Senate Bill 130 would create a new Commercial Dog Breeding Oversight Board inside the Ohio Department of Agriculture. It would set new minimum standards of care for large-scale breeders and determine how inspections are conducted once every two years.

“When you have a bill that is this emotional and impacts a lot of people, you have to give and take,” Hughes said. “We still have a good product here that is maintaining the intent of regulating puppy mills and getting the bad breeders out of business.”

A full Senate vote is expected today, which would send the bill to the House.

Kellie DiFrischia, president of Columbus Dog Connection, called it a fair compromise. “We are going to have inspections, and that doesn’t exist right now,” she said. “It will be a tremendous day when we can have that kind of oversight.”

The Ohio Veterinary Medical Association also spoke in support of the bill, saying the bill has alleviated past concerns that standards of care could harm good breeders.

The bill was sidetracked temporarily when the Ohio Farm Bureau surprised some supporters on Monday night by expressing strong opposition, even telling lawmakers that it would be considered a key vote for the organization. Hughes and Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, the committee chairman, worked for hours on final revisions, such as removing a new fee structure from the bill.

By the end of yesterday, a Farm Bureau official said changes to the bill had alleviated immediate concerns.

Even Abe Miller of the Ohio Professional Dog Breeders Association, a consistently strong opponent of the bill, told the committee: “I can go home and tell my fellow breeders this is a good bill.” One change gave a seat on the oversight board to a dog-breeding organization.

jsiegel@dispatch.com

 

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