News » Courts
Article published Saturday, March
Pit bulls Toledo's vicious-dog
law declared 'unreasonable'
Celebrating the court victory
yesterday are, from left, Jody Offenburg with
Paul Tellings and Ms. Offenburg's daughter,
Alexandra, 2; Justice, a bulldog; Mr. Tellings;
Chance, a pit bull, Ms. Offenburg's sister Zita
Offenburg, 17; Paul, Jr., 5; and seated,
Jasmine, 6. |
( THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER )
vicious-dog ordinance restricting pit bull
ownership was struck down yesterday as
"unreasonable" by a 2-1 vote of the Ohio Sixth
District Court of Appeals.
Judge William Skow, who wrote the
majority opinion for the three-judge panel that
decided the case, also deemed unconstitutional
portions of the Ohio Revised Code upon which the
Toledo law was based.
The city ordinance allowed
residents to own only one dog considered vicious.
It relies on the state definition, which defines a
vicious dog as one that has bitten or killed a
human, has killed another dog, or "belongs to a
breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog."
"Since we conclude that there is
no evidence that pit bulls are inherently
dangerous or vicious, then the city ordinance
limitation on ownership is also arbitrary,
unreasonable, and discriminatory," Judge Skow
wrote. "If a citizen may own more than one
nonvicious dog of a particular breed, then
ownership of more than one nonvicious pit bull has
no rational, real, or substantial relationship to
a legitimate government interest."
Judge Arlene Singer joined
Judge Skow in the 2-1 ruling;
Judge Dennis Parish dissented, but filed no
written opinion with the court. He could not be
reached for comment last night.
Acting City Law Director John
Madigan said the city will appeal the appellate
court's decision to the Ohio Supreme Court. He
declined to speculate how yesterday's decision
would affect state law.
The appellate ruling is a
long-awaited victory for pit bull owners and
supporters, who have advocated punishing the deed
of an individual dog, not the breed. It overturns
a 2004 ruling by Toledo Municipal Court Judge
Francis Gorman that said the city's vicious-dog
law may be unfair but is not unconstitutional.
For Paul Tellings, the East
Toledo resident who brought the case to court, the
ruling meant that he could take his dogs - two pit
bulls and an American bull dog - for a walk
yesterday without breaking the law for the first
time in years. He said that pit bulls are like any
other dog and will be vicious only if raised or
trained that way.
"If you have somebody who is
beating a dog, or neglecting a dog, that's when
dogs get a temperament," said Mr. Tellings, 31,
who has two small children in the home with his
dogs. "My dogs are spoiled. If you treat your dogs
like family, they'll act like family."
The decision is a blow for the
Lucas County dog warden's office, which enforced
Toledo's ordinance. Yesterday, deputies were given
instructions to no longer cite owners who have
multiple pit bulls, who do not have insurance on
the animals, and who do not have them properly
contained whether in their yard or while walking
Dog Warden Tom Skeldon, an
advocate for breed-specific legislation, said that
the decision all but takes away his ability to
protect the public from vicious dogs.
"We're not in the pit-bull
business anymore. We're not in the vicious-dog
business anymore," Mr. Skeldon said. "They've
taken away our ability to enforce containment,
whether it's a German shepherd or a pit bull,
whether it has bitten somebody or not."
He added that the recent case
where a Presa Canario and American bulldog mix
attacked a 12-year-old Oregon girl would not be
affected by the ruling. Both breeds have been
determined to be "commonly known as a pit bull" in
separate rulings in Toledo Municipal Court.
The dog attacked the neighbor
girl Tuesday as she was standing by a cage its
owner was trying to place it in. The attack,
witnesses said, was unprovoked.
Mr. Skeldon said the dog was
surrendered to him by the owner and will be
destroyed after it is determined it does not have
The victim, Nicole Brown, was in
fair condition yesterday at St. Vincent Mercy
Medical Center. The dog warden said her legs were
severely bitten in the attack.
After reading the appeals court
ruling, Rebecca Zietlow, a law professor at the
University of Toledo, said Toledo's law "failed to
provide dog owners a meaningful opportunity to be
heard on whether a dog is vicious or dangerous."
"If Toledo wants to limit the
ownership of vicious dogs, it would have to enact
another law that doesn't have these procedural
problems and that doesn't single out pit bulls,"
Glen Bui, the vice president of
American Canine Foundation, said his organization
supported Mr. Tellings and his attorney, Sol
Zyndorf. He said his organization has long
advocated for stricter laws against dogs that have
proven themselves vicious but has fought laws
throughout the country that point to all pit bulls
Mr. Bui called yesterday's ruling
"monumental." He said attempts to create
breed-specific legislation have "gotten out of
control" across the country.
"This is the first time ever in
the United States that a published opinion has
ruled that breed-specific legislation is
unconstitutional," he said.
Mr. Skeldon said pit bulls who
are collected by his office because they are
running loose will still be subject to an
additional $100 fee beyond fees charged other dog
owners. That fee was approved by the county
commissioners, the dog warden said, and will
continue to be collected until the office is
legally told otherwise.
In spite of yesterday's setback,
Mr. Skeldon said he still intends to travel to
Ontario tomorrow to testify on behalf of
Contact Erica Blake
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