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Local pit bull owners support bill dropping 'vicious' label

Andy Ouriel • Feb 10, 2012 at 1:13 PM

Lawmakers who don’t know Zoey, a 1-year-old pocket pit bull, have unfairly labeled her as a terror and a threat.

Pit bulls are the only dog breed in Ohio considered vicious upon birth. State law defines a vicious dog as dogs with the ability to seriously hurt or kill another dog or human.

A vicious label means pit bull owners must take special precautions in owning one. This includes keeping pit bulls on a 6-foot, chain-linked leash while outside and purchasing liability insurance in case the dog attacks someone.

The label, however, could soon vanish.

House Bill 14, which awaits Gov. John Kasich’s approval, aims to:

• Remove the reference of calling pit bulls “vicious.”

• Create three labels to classify all dogs, which would be assessed to them based on an individualpooch’s past behavior.

A county’s dog warden or a judge would determine how hazardous a particular dog — from a basset hound to a sheltie — really is by using evidence such as biting history to classify the dog.

Police dogs are exempt from being classified as dangerous, vicious or a nuisance.

Today, no such ranking system exists.

Other than pit bulls, no legal recourse exists to punish a dog owner if the animal bites or attacks a person, said Jean Keating, president for the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates organization. Keating helped author the bill.

If a pit bull is running loose, for instance, the dog warden or police will charge someone with a misdemeanor. If any other dog does something similar, the owner receives a minor misdemeanor, a lesser charge.

If a pit bull bites or tries to attack someone, they could be put down because of the breed’s vicious label.

No other dog breed would face such a harsh, unfair penalty, said Keating, who owns two pit bulls herself.

“If you get bitten by a dog, and it’s not a pit bull, there is nothing you can do about it,” she said. “Instead of confiscating and killing pit bulls, now we can identify a specific dog as a problem before it hurts someone.”

Read more on this story and about how one local family feels about the bill in Friday's Register.

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