Thursday, July 26, 2007

OH- "Canton Adds Bite to Dog Law"

Canton adds bite to dog law document.title = "Canton adds bite to dog law"; Tuesday, July 10, 2007 By ED BALINT REPOSITORY STAFF WRITER CANTON In a move targeting pit bull owners, City Council toughened the dangerous and vicious-animal law Monday night. Council unanimously amended the ordinance on first reading- meaning the ordinance was introduced at Monday's meeting, but did not receive the two additional readings that most legislation receives before approval. Councilman Greg Hawk, D-1, said he believes the legislation will take effect upon the mayor's signature. With dog complaints more prevalent in the summer, Councilman Donald Casar, D-at large, said the revamped dangerous and vicious animal law should be implemented as soon as possible. Since proposing a stricter law aimed at pit bulls about a month ago, Councilman Joseph Carbenia, D-9, said he's heard more complaints about pit bull-related attacks. Carbenia decided against banning pit bulls outright. "This way they can have (pit bulls)," he said. "They just have to follow the rules." Plus, "outright bans are going to be challenged in the courts, and they're going to create obviously some legal issues that restrictions might not," Kris Bates, assistant city law director, said recently. The new law means that unlike any other breed of dog, a pit bull is now considered vicious simply because of the breed, Bates said, and doesn't have to engage in violent behavior. The owner of a pit bull can be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor if restrictions are not followed, including confining the dog to the backyard and carrying insurance, even if the pit bull did not attack another dog or a person, she said. The same penalty and conditions also apply to other violators of the dangerous and vicious animal ordinance. "It should be a good weapon to battle irresponsible pet owners," Bates said. VICIOUS ANIMAL RESTRICTIONS Under the law, which revises the existing vicious animals ordinance, a pit bull must be confined to a backyard with a six-foot fence. The pit bull can be walked only if on a leash and muzzled. And the owner must have $100,000 in liability insurance, a new requirement. Pit bull owners - and the owners of other animals considered vicious under the law - are entitled to a hearing before the safety director at which the owner can challenge the charge. A hearing was added to comply with an Ohio Supreme Court ruling on a vicious-dog case, Bates said. Without the hearing, Bates said she believes the law may not be enforceable. Pit bulls were not listed specifically in the existing law, passed in 1986, which says: "No person shall knowingly keep, maintain or have in his possession or under his control within the city any dangerous or carnivorous wild animal or reptile of wild, vicious or dangerous propensities." Under the revised ordinance, a dangerous and vicious animal means "any animal that belongs to a breed commonly known as a pit bull dog, whether full blooded or mixed breed." That's the new part. Dangerous and vicious always has meant: -- Any animal with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury or to otherwise endanger the safety of human beings or domestic animals. -- Any animal which attacks a human being or domestic animal without provocation. -- Any animal owned or harbored primarily or in part for the purpose of fighting or any animal trained for fighting. Animals on the dangerous-animal list already are banned and cannot be owned by a resident unless an exemption is granted through the mayor's office. No dogs, including pit bulls, were on the list. However, the law still bans baboons, elephants, gorillas, sharks and other animals. Carbenia said he wanted to zero in on pit bulls because, "You're more likely to get bit by a pit bull in this town than a coyote." And when pit bulls get loose and cause harm, their owners should be held accountable, he has said. COUNTY DOG WARDEN Evert Gibson, the county dog warden, said he sees "nothing wrong" with the city strengthening its dog laws. Gibson's office monitors owners of pit bulls to make sure they comply with state law by having adequate insurance and meeting other requirements. In the early '90s, a pit bull owner argued that the dogs cannot be considered a vicious animal simply because of the breed and that state law was too vague. But the Ohio Supreme Court sided with the state. According to Jill Rowland, an attorney on the research staff at the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, the court said the public knows what defines a pit bull based on behavioral traits, including the strength of its jaws. But in 2004, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled part of the Ohio's dog law unconstitutional, because it did not allow for a hearing for the owner of a dog that was said to have attacked a neighbor, Rowland said. State lawmakers have not revised the law, which makes its enforcement questionable, Rowland said. Reach Repository writer Ed Balint at (330) 580-8315 or e-mail:

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