By Dustin Ensinger
A pit bull activist told Reynoldsburg City Council that it could face legal action or a political challenge if it does not support an effort to overturn the city’s ban on the dog breed.
Lori Schwartzkopf, who has lead efforts to rescind similar laws in other communities, said a lawsuit is imminent if an ad hoc committee does not recommend a change to the law that is subsequently adopted by council.
“If our issues are not adequately addressed by this ad hoc committee…we will take you to court,” Schwartzkopf said. “We don’t want that kind of contention, but it seems to be where we’re going.”
Schwartzkopf said she would seek to remove from office those elected officials who continue to support the breed specific ban, calling those council members “hostile.”
“We know we can influence the 2015 election,” Schwartzkopf said. “If we can stop you from even getting there, that’s something we’re interested in doing.”
Schwartzkopf, who lives just outside Reynoldsburg, said the effort to overturn the ban is gaining steam amongst city residents due to greater awareness because “your police department has gone hog wild writing citations.”
“People are finding out about the ban, and they don’t like it,” she said.
Schwartzkopf pointed to 37 letters the city received from residents advocating a repeal of the ban. Just seven residents, she said, sent letters to the city asking officials to uphold the law.
The city has had breed specific legislation targeting pit bulls on the books since 1996. Owners of the breed are subject to a second-degree misdemeanor charge.
Stephanie Mather was recently cited for owning a pit bull and implored council to change the law, saying each dog should be judged based on its temperament. When she moved to the city in October with her pit bull, she said she believed she was in compliance with the law. She said she has everything that the state of Indiana and the state of Ohio required at the time.
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.
Not all residents want the city to follow the state’s lead and change the current law banning the breed.
Sandy Westerwiller said the law should be expanded to also include mix-breed dogs that have pit bull-like traits.
“Be leaders and not followers on this ban,” Westerwiller said.
Councilman Scott Barrett said the formation of an ad hoc committee does not mean the city will change the law.
“The ad hoc committee we are trying to form is to get more information,” Barrett said.
Council voted last month in favor of forming a commission to explore the matter. However, council failed to vote after approving an amendment to the legislation increasing the group from nine to 12 members.
Because council members Doug Joseph, Mel Clemens and Leslie Kelley were absent, the measure was not brought up for a vote.
The ad hoc committee council intended to vote on consisted of attorney Steven Smith, veterinarian Joel Melin, doctor Heath Joliff, dog trainer Scott Mueller, Director Franklin County Director of Animal Control Joe Rock, city residents Monica DeBrock and Mark McKenzie, former Reynoldsburg City Schools board member Ryan Brezezinski, Carrie Acosta and Bruce Sowell.
A similar committee, consisting of many of the same people, was formed in 2012 and disbanded just weeks later because some council members felt it was weighted too heavily towards pro-pit bull members.