In 2012, Ohio joined 49 states and nearly every country in the world when it removed its breed-specific language from state law. “Pit bull” type dogs were no longer considered “vicious” from birth. Today, the Ohio Revised Code defines a “vicious dog” as a dog that has killed or caused serious injury to any person without provocation.
However, the new law did not overturn municipality pit bull bans, like those in Warrensville Heights, Lakewood, Parma, and Garfield Heights. Other cities, such as Cleveland Heights, label all pit bull type dogs as “vicious” and impose certain keeping requirements on the breed(s).
In Ohio, municipal corporations (cities and villages) have certain powers granted to them in Article XVIII of the Ohio Constitution. This is called “home rule.” Article XVIII, § 3 of the Ohio Constitution provides that “[m]unicipalities shall have authority to exercise all powers of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations, as are not in conflict with general laws.” The new state law did not interfere with home rule, allowing cities to create and enforce breed-discriminatory language.
Breed-discriminatory laws raise questions about the protection of dog owners’ Fourteenth Amendment rights (due process and equal protection). In addition to lawsuits based on constitutional issues, lawsuits have been filed by owners who claim their dog was incorrectly labeled as one of the banned breeds. About half of all dogs in the United States are mixed breeds, making visual breed identification highly inaccurate.
Recently, residents of Ohio towns enforcing breed-specific legislation (BSL) have renewed their fight to overturn these bans and enact breed-neutral laws. Last month, a grassroots group named “Animal Guardians for a Prosperous Parma” began lobbying Parma’s City Council to repeal its long-standing ban on Pit Bulls in favor of breed-neutral dog regulations that place responsibility on reckless owners. Similarly, in Lakewood, citizens have been fighting the city’s Pit Bull ban since it was first enacted in 2008. Voters are considering a petition to put the ordinance on the ballot for the May 2014 election.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control, which monitors dog bite activity, has commented that discriminatory breed bans are “largely ineffective” and “often a waste of public resources.” The CDC recommends a community-based approach to prevent dog bites. Their message is clear–any dog can bite, regardless of its breed. Educate yourself and your children about dog behavior and proper interactions with dogs, learn to recognize aggressive dog behavior, and properly train your dog by socializing it with people and other animals. Dog bites are best prevented without reliance on inaccurate breed stereotypes.
Read more about this approach via the AVMA here: A community approach to dog bite prevention.