Change considered for dangerous-dog ordinance would specifically target the breed; animal-control officer's job may return
The city is working to put a leash on Sandusky's dangerous dog problem.
City leaders and the police department are working to bring back an animal control officer and amend city ordinances to specifically target pit bulls.
At the Erie County dog pound, a stocky white pit bull was recently brought in as a stray.
Wagging his tail and pushing his nose to the chain-link fence, the dog doesn't know he's on borrowed time; he will be euthanized within days unless his owners claim him.
For liability and safety reasons, the dog pound cannot adopt out an adult pit bull or pit bull mix.
With trimmed nails and nice collar, this particular pit bull doesn't look like a fighter, but he does turn aggressive with other dogs.
Erie County Dog Warden Barbara Knapp said she's heard about dog fighting in the area, and has seen pit bulls come in with the telltale scars.
"People tell me there is (dog fighting)," Knapp said. "I'm sure it's going on."
Knapp described how some owners condition the dogs to fight by tying heavy weights or bricks around the animal's neck to build up muscle.
"There's no doubt in my mind that it's happening here in Sandusky," Ex officio Mayor Dan Kaman said. He said the city needs a way to stop the cruel sport before the problem worsens.
To help combat the city's dangerous dog problem, city leaders are considering adding breed-specific language that would specifically target pit bulls into the already existing dangerous dog ordinance.
Breed specificity was removed from the ordinance in 2006.
In August, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that laws targeting pit bulls were constitutional.
Sandusky Law Director Don Icsman said the breed-specific language probably won't be placed back into the ordinance without a city animal control officer in place. The city eliminated its animal control officer position in 2005 as a way to save money.
Icsman met Friday with Interim City Manager Don Miears and Sandusky police Chief Kim Nuesse to discuss bringing an animal control officer back to Sandusky.
The city and the police department have already drafted updated dangerous/vicious dog laws and requirements that apply both to dogs who've been determined by a court to be "dangerous" or "vicious" and also to pit bulls and pit bull mixes. Whether or not the pit bull has attacked a person or another dog doesn't affect its status under the new ordinance if approved.
"It could be a pit bull mixed with a poodle -- it would still fall under the dangerous dog laws," Knapp explained, referring to the state law.
According to the drafted regulations, a pit bull owner must register the dog with the Sandusky police department and abide by a specific set of rules and restrictions.
Examples of the proposed regulations include that all dogs defined as a pit bull must be registered with the police department in addition to licensing through the county dog warden. The owner must have liability insurance which specifically covers the dog. The pit bull must also have an identifying microchip implanted by a veterinarian. A city-issued warning sign must be posted on the premises where the dog is kept. When a walking a pit bull, it must be muzzled and on a leash no more than six feet long.
Kaman also said it's important to have a city animal control officer in place to enforce new regulations before adding breed specific language to the ordinance.
"Hopefully that happens but the end of October," Kaman said. "We don't have to reinvent the wheel because we've already had an animal control officer."
Knapp said six out of ten calls she receives on any given day will be for the city of Sandusky.
She said it would certainly help her and the deputies if the city were to bring back an animal control officer.
WHAT IS A PIT BULL?
Many different breeds are lumped into the category of "pit bulls." Under state law the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Bulldog and American Staffordshire Terrier are all considered "pit bulls," though they are actually separate breeds, according to Knapp. Any mix with those breeds would also be included in the law.
Because of the dogs' powerful jaws, pit bull bites tend to cause more fatalities than those of other dogs, Knapp said.
Though pit bulls have a natural tendency to be aggressive toward other dogs and animals, they are not necessarily vicious. Pit bulls can be too powerful and strong-willed for some owners to properly handle, which makes them a danger. Training the dogs to be overly aggressive, such as conditioning them for dog fighting, also makes them extremely dangerous to handle.
Originally bred to be fighting dogs, pit bulls will often go for the throat of other animals and, unlike most dogs, will fight to the death.
"They were bred for fighting," Knapp said. "It's in their genes."
Distinguished by their wide set eyes, square head and stocky build, Pit bulls can range from 22-110 pounds but are usually between 35-45 pounds. The larger pit bulls have usually been mixed with other breeds.
There are currently 128 pure-blooded pit bulls licensed in Erie County, Knapp said. That number does not include mixes and unlicensed dogs.