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ohio dog bite law

The big bad wolf…dog? Wolf hybrid and wolfdog laws in Ohio

Move over Pitbulls. The wolf hybrid, more recently known as the “wolfdog,” has become one of the most controversial canines in Ohio. A wolfdog is produced by breeding a domestic dog with a wolf. Once mixed, the wolf characteristics carry down through many generations of breeding. This produces categories of wolf “content.” Generally, wolfdogs can be categorized as high content, medium content, or low content depending on the percentage of wolf genes/characteristics they possess.

In the past, the term “wolf hybrid” was commonly used to refer to these animals. The term “hybrid” refers to a cross of different species. Wolf-dog crosses are technically not hybrid animals because dogs have been reclassified as Canis lupus familiaris, a subspecies the wolf, Canis lupus. Although the terms “wolf hybrid,” “hybrid wolf,” and “hybrid dog” are still used, the term wolfdog is more accurate and now preferred.

Wolfdogs are not classified as exotic animals in Ohio.
Ohio Revised Code Section 935.01(C)(2) specifically excludes hybrid wolves from the definition of “dangerous wild animal.” This definition was created as part of Ohio’s exotic animal ban, which was signed into law by Governor John Kasich in June 2012. Wolfdogs are generally treated as ordinary dogs for purposes of registration, etc. Wolfdogs can be declared a nuisance, dangerous, or vicious just like any other dog pursuant to O.R.C. Sections 955.11/955.22/955.222.

Wolfdogs are legal in most Ohio cities.

So, what’s the big deal?
Proponents claim wolfdogs make great companions. Wolfdogs are hailed for their superior intelligence, self-awareness, and loyalty.

Opponents argue that wolfdogs are dangerous and unpredictable. They argue that you can’t take the “wild” out of a wolfdog.

More poignantly, opponents claim wolfdogs present a health hazard because there is no rabies vaccine specifically approved by the USDA for use in wolves or hybrids. This means that even if a wolfdog is duly vaccinated, most health departments will consider the wolfdog a rabies risk. A wolfdog involved in a scratch or bite incident could be confiscated and euthanized for rabies testing, even if the wolfdog is up to date on its rabies vaccination.

Even though USDA Code of Federal Regulations Title 9 (CFR9), Section 113.209 indicates that rabies vaccines are tested and approved according to species, no vaccine has been “officially” approved yet. This places wolfdogs in serious danger of euthanasia in the event of a bite or scratch incident.

Further, it’s no secret that some pet owners claim their pet is part wolf even when no proof of that heredity exists. Pet owners usually don’t realize the consequences of making such a claim. Due to the state of rabies vaccine approval, claiming a dog is “part wolf,” acts or looks “like a wolf,” or even “howls like a wolf” can put a pet in grave danger in the event of a bite or scratch.

Our office has handled complaints from cities and health departments about rabies incidents. We have been successful at overturning euthanasia orders for these dogs. We have also battled claims that wolfdogs are inherently dangerous or vicious.

In most cases, education about these animals is severely lacking. To learn more about wolfdogs, please visit our friends My Pack of Wolves Sanctuary, a wolfdog rescue, sanctuary, and educational outlet located in Ohio.

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Dogs bite! When can you recover for a dog bite in Ohio?

In Ohio, there are two means of recovery for those who have suffered from a dog bite, attack, mauling, or other injury to themselves or their property (including their pets!).

(1) State Statute
Under Ohio’s state statutes, specifically Section 955.28(B) of the Ohio Revised Code, a dog’s owner, keeper, and/or harborer is strictly liable for any harm the dog causes unless the person who suffered the injury was:
-committing or attempting to commit criminal trespass or another criminal offense other than a minor misdemeanor on the property of the owner, keeper, or harborer;
-committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense other than a minor misdemeanor against any person; or
-teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog on the owner’s, keeper’s, or harborer’s property.

Further, the statute does not limit recovery to injury from just dog bites–recovery can be sought for any injury to a person or property that is caused by the dog (subject to the above exceptions).

(2) Common Law
Under common law, dogs essentially get “one free bite.” The injured person needs to prove that the dog’s owner knew the dog was vicious and that the owner was negligent in handling/keeping the dog. Thus, common law claims can be far more difficult to prove.

Fortunately, injured parties can pursue a case under either or both laws.

One major difference is that common law allows the injured party to recover money for “punitive damages” (money awarded to “punish” the dog owner) as well as compensation for injuries.

If an injured party pursues a case only under Ohio’s statutory law, the party cannot recover punitive damages.

Generally, noting the exceptions above, a person damaged by a dog bite is entitled to full compensation for their injuries under either theory. Compensation includes both payment medical bills, lost wages, related out-of-pocket expenses and scarring, “pain and suffering,” etc.

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