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Pit bulls again legal to own - and cast off to the pound

Aug. 5, 2013
Pitbulls predominate at SPCA kennels.
Pitbulls predominate at SPCA kennels. : A video of dogs available for adoption on a recent morning at the SPCA facility in Northside.
Danny Kaiser pets his pit bull, Nala. / The Enquirer/Amanda Davidson

Vicious dogs

The city of Cincinnati still has a ban on vicious dogs. Now, a vicious dog is defined as one that has been trained for fighting, is kept for fighting or “without provocation has inflicted severe injury on a person.” In May 2012, it dropped the clause which also included “a dog commonly defined as a pit bull.” Citations for vicious dog ownership have dropped significantly since the change.

July 1, 2010-June 30, 2011: 16 citations
July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012: 13 citations
July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013: 3 citations

Looking to adopt a dog?

Find dogs in need of a home at SPCA Cincinnati.
Hours: Noon-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; Noon-5 p.m. Sunday
Locations: Northside – 3949 Colerain Ave.; Sharonville – 11900 Conrey Road
Contact: Call 513-541-6100 or online at

What makes it a pit bull?

There is no pit bull breed. Dogs called pit bulls are typically one of three breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.


A trip to the pound is an American tradition. Moms and dads bring their children to interact with the animals, certain that the right pet will appear, that a bond will begin to form.

That’s as true now as it has ever been, except the dogs have changed. Today’s local pounds are filled with pit bulls.

It has been nearly 15 months since Cincinnati repealed its ban on pit bulls, deciding no longer to label the dogs as vicious by definition. So people can own pits – and they can also get rid of them.

A walk through the kennels at the SPCA’s Cincinnati facilities in Northside and Sharonville is a walk past pen after pen of pit bulls with their short hair, muscular bodies, powerful jaws and expressive eyes.

At the end of July, at the Sharonville facility, SPCA President and CEO Harold Dates identified 62 of the 90 available animals as appearing to be possibly pit bulls or pit bull mix. The results were similar in the SPCA facility in Northside on a recent visit, when 41 of the 48 dogs up for adoption appeared to be pit bull breeds, which have a fairly distinct look.

Dates said the pound has been through this with other animals. German shepherds and rottweilers filled the cages for a while, but now it is pit bulls.

Many dogs of other breeds are adopted quickly or picked up by rescue groups that concentrate on placing certain types of dogs like retrievers or poodles or weimaraners.

Low adoption fees, just $20 now, mean more universally loved dogs go quickly.

“Puppies and small dogs go fast now because the fees are so low,” Dates said. “The harder-to-place dogs are all that is left.”

Pit bulls have a complicated reputation. Many people adore the dogs, and rightfully so. Pit bulls, properly socialized and trained, are renowned for their loyalty, their desire to please and their intelligence.

The AKC describes the Staffordshire Bull Terrier as a nearly perfect pet, calling it “courageous and obedient, highly intelligent and affectionate with a sense of humor. This, coupled with its affection for its friends, and children in particular, its off-duty quietness and trustworthy stability, makes it a foremost all-purpose dog.”

Still, these dogs can bite, same as any breed. Each year, dogs bite 4.7 million people in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of them, 800,000 require medical attention; half of these are children. Of those injured, 386,000 require treatment in an emergency department and about 16 die.

Dog-bite data and breed data are complicated to sort out. The CDC numbers are good, a look at a 20-year period of bites, but they are also 15 years old. And dog breeds are often difficult to determine. Many dogs are mixed. People often report a dog’s breed based on familiarity or fear of a breed.

Still, pit bulls accounted for more than 26 percent of all dog bite-related fatalities during the CDC study. These factors, plus the dog’s nature, attentive but somewhat demanding, may be part of why there are so many pits at the pound.

“They were bred for baiting bulls and then for fighting. They are built with athleticism,” Dates said.

Some people end up not liking or being able to handle their pit bull. People bring them to the pound, Dates said, with a few standard excuses: a move, a divorce, declining health.

“We hear about moves a lot,” Dates said. “A lot of people must be moving.”

But a person willing to work with his pit bull, Dates said, will end up with a fantastic pet. “They need exercise, they need discipline, they need training. You do that, you have a terrific dog.”

Not everybody can, seemingly, give them what they need. So a pound like the SPCA, which has a policy to accept all dogs, can fill with pits.

“People looking for the right dog for them, patience and knowledge are keys,” Dates said. “We can’t specialize.”

Jim Tomaszewski can specialize. He is on the board of directors for Cincinnati Lab Rescue, which rescues, fosters and places Labrador retrievers, including some from the SPCA pounds.

Tomaszewski, in fact, admires all dogs – pit bulls, too. He is also on the board of directors for SPCA (formerly the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and was a strong voice in the effort last year to eliminate Cincinnati’s ban on the breed.

There are, at any given time, as many as 35 rescue organizations taking dogs from the SPCA facility. While that may limit the options for people looking for a family pet at the pound, it is a necessary procedure.

The rescue groups get their dogs for free, but they pay for all costs affiliated with the dogs after that. They also make room for more animals. Without this help, the SPCA could not run as it does on its budget. Dates says the rescue groups “help us tremendously.”

In 2012, the SPCA took in 12,897 cats and dogs. It euthanized 40 percent of them, an improvement from the past.

Tomaszewski says it is not fair to say there are only pit bulls at the pound. “Yes, pit bulls are disproportionally represented. But you are not going to see a pure-bred poodle or lab languishing there. You just aren’t. We always tell people they need patience.”


After years of media reports about vicious attacks by pit bulls – some with debatable accuracy – the animals remain feared and loathed by many. Danny Kaiser says this is unfair.

Kaiser is one of the founders of Adore-A-Bull Rescue, which finds homes for pit bulls. The organization also tries to educate people on the benefits and responsibilities of pit bull ownership. Kaiser would know because, when he got his first pit, Nala, four years ago, he did just about everything wrong.

Nala is a terrific dog. She is smart and curious and well behaved, and Kaiser is a dedicated owner. But at the beginning, he was just an 18-year-old kid who wanted a pit bull. He didn’t know much about the breed, had not educated himself and bought her for a few dollars out of a box from a backyard breeder when she was just a few weeks old.

This type of purchase is part of the problem. An uninformed owner, an impulsive decision and a careless seller. But Nala was lucky. Kaiser began to love and respect his dog. He exercised her and trained her and praised her and disciplined her.

Still he could see the fear his dog inspired when he would take her for a walk. “As she got older, she started looking more ‘pit-y.’ People would scatter away and be scared,” Kaiser said.

Now he is an ambassador for the breed and spends much of his free time volunteering with Adore-A-Bull Rescue. He visits pounds regularly and typically has 20-25 pit bulls in foster homes waiting for a home.

“There are so many pits in these pounds. Sometimes it’s 80-85 percent in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky,” Kaiser said. “There are fewer in the other counties.”

Kaiser is desperate to find them homes, but he knows an appreciation of the dogs is a necessary first step.

“This is a bold breed, an athletic breed, when it comes to fight or flight, they are going to fight,” Kaiser said. “These dogs are not for everyone. It takes a responsible person who is going to respect the breed.”

And this, Kaiser said, is the hard part. For years some people have been attracted to pits for wrong reasons. They wanted the dogs as a display of bravado or toughness. Vicious behavior was encouraged.

Adore-A-Bull Rescue is now one of the breed-specific groups that go to the SPCA pounds and picks up dogs to be placed in foster care. This helps the SPCA keep its costs down and helps to ensure that a pit bull ends up with the right person or family.

“We will hold the dog until we can find the right person,” Kaiser said. “The adoptions we are doing now are all to really nice families. Doctors, lawyers. We just placed a dog with a Reds player.” ⬛

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