By Dustin Ensinger
The ad hoc committee that reviewed the city of Reynoldsburg’s law banning pit bulls recommended the city revise the law and take a breed neutral approach when deciding to label dogs as vicious.
Ad hoc committee member Steven Smith, an attorney, said the group came to the conclusion the law should be focused on “punishing folks and animals that cause a problem in the city.”
“My impression was it was bad ownership that caused a lot of the problems,” Smith told Reynoldsburg City Council at its May 27 meeting.
If council adopts the recommendation, the city would be in line with state law. Until 2012, Ohio considered pit bulls vicious. The change in the law now reserves that label for any dog that injures someone or kills another dog without provocation.
However, the law still provides local governments with the autonomy to enforce breed specific legislation.
“The fact that it’s consistent with state law makes it easier to enforce,” Smith said.
In addition to moving to a breed neutral policy, the ad hoc committee also recommended the city strengthen penalties for those who do violate the city’s animal enforcement codes, including an added provision penalizing the keeping or training of animals for fighting purposes.
“I think a lot of it is going to come down to enforcement,” Smith said.
But not all members of the ad hoc committee agree with the recommendations.
Reynoldsburg resident Bruce Sowell said the recommendations were approved by a narrow margin at the ad hoc committee’s at its fifth and final meeting.
“Our law works,” Sowell said. “It has worked. That’s why you don’t see the bites.”
Sowell criticized the tactics employed by non-city residents in their effort to change the law.
“Instead of coming to the people and going to the ballot,” Sowell said, “they come in and bully council.”
Lori Schwartzkopf, who lives just outside the city and spearheaded the effort, implored council to adopt the recommendations. She said she is in the process of creating a website – Reynoldsburgdogs.com – to inform residents of the changes to the laws if adopted.
Dayton attorney Tammy Nortman said the city currently has been enforcing the law on the books in a fair matter.
Nortman said the city is targeting resident off the Brice Road area when enforcing the law against harboring a pit bull. She found that, through publically available police reports, the city has not had a single case of a pit bull bite in recent years. However, of the bite reports, not a single citation was issued.
While the owners of dogs that have bitten people have not faced criminal penalties, those cited with harboring vicious dogs have had their constitutional rights violated, Nortman said. Their rights to due process were violated when they were told they must get rid of the dogs in question within a week, she said.
“You cannot take their property away without giving them a right to a hearing,” Nortman said.
Police Chief Jim O’Neill said the lack of charges in dog bite cases is because there have been no serious injuries, and in those cases the victims are asked if they want to file charges. They often decline, he said.
O’Neill said the vast majority of vicious dog citations are complaint driven.
The matter has been referred to the safety committee for discussion at its June 16 meeting.
“Now it’s time for council to start making some decisions,” said Councilman Mel Clemens.