While we wholeheartedly support the amendment to Ohio’s HB 55 which would remove the designation of “pit bull” as a dangerous breed, we have some serious misgivings about some of the other provisions of the bill like court-ordered psych evals, particularly for minors, who violate certain provisions of the law. As such, we are only supporting HB 55’s amendment which would remove statewide BSL.
Victor Hugo said, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Apply that axiom to breed-specific legislation and Ohio specifically, and it’s about time that Ohio repealed its 1987 law declaring “pit bulls” as inherently vicious dogs (the only state law like it in the nation). After all, it’s known the world over now that breed-specific legislation (BSL) is unenforceable, ineffective, and prejudicial, and that there is no such thing as an inherently vicious breed of dog.
Like so much of BSL, Ohio’s law was passed capriciously in 1987 as the result of a dog attack. Instead of looking at the facts, Ohio went for the quick “fix,” which ironically fixed nothing at all. That’s why several brave Ohio representatives have this year and in years past tried to repeal Ohio’s statewide BSL. This year, Rep. Matt Szollosi seems to have gained the most momentum with his amendment to House Bill 55 which would strike the “breed” “pit bull” from Ohio’s definition of a dangerous dog. The bill has already passed the Ohio House and now heads to the Senate. Please take a moment to thank Rep. Szollosi and Rep. Barbara Sears (who also tried this session to get the “pit bull” dangerous dog designation removed from Ohio state law with her bill HB 79) for their efforts in righting this 23-year long wrong. And if you live in Ohio, please contact your representatives and senators and support this amendment to HB 55!
But, where there are heroes, there are also inevitably villains. Rep. Jeff Wagner (who voted against the amendment as did Rep. Bruce Goodwin), cited former Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon as the reason for his ‘no’ vote. According to the Toledo Blade:
Mr. Wagner noted that he was influenced by recent committee testimony from former Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon and a representative from Franklin County in opposition to repealing the breed-specific law.
Mr. Skeldon, who retired after a backlash over the Lucas County pound’s high dog-euthanasia rates, had testified on behalf of the Ohio Dog Warden Association.
“Both testified that these dogs have the highest rate of attacks and that this law should be kept intact,” Mr. Wagner said.
“I care more about people’s rights not to be bitten than a dog’s right.”
Skeldon still doesn’t get it. When talking about dog bite prevention, any discussion of prevention by breed is questionable since it has not been scientifically proven that there is such a thing as an inherently vicious breed of dog.
So it’s not about “people’s rights not to be bitten” since again, discussion of dog bite prevention by breed is dubious; it’s about people’s constitutional right to their property, their dogs, and their right to equal protection under the laws, which is why I noted in this post that Mr. Skeldon is a former dog warden for a reason. And as we say daily on this blog, “pit bulls” can’t have the highest rate of attacks because “pit bull” isn’t even a breed! The slang term “pit bull” has come to refer to a conglomeration of anywhere from 3-30+ breeds and their mixes. So who knows what a “pit bull” is?
Mr. Skeldon doesn’t seem to know what a “pit bull” is either. According to the decision in the Toledo v. Tellings trial,
[Mr. Skeldon] acknowledged that even if a dog was 50 per cent pit bull, if it did not look like a pit bull, the owner would not be charged. On the other hand, if a dog did look like a pit bull, it would be classified as a pit bull and the owner would be subject to the vicious dog laws. No definitive description of a pit bull was presented. The warden also acknowledged that there is really no way to tell if a dog is or is not a pit bull and the determination is made by his or a deputys subjective judgment.
So, by Mr. Skeldon’s estimation, any dog could potentially be a “pit bull” since he doesn’t seem to know how to define a “pit bull.” Like I said, Mr. Skeldon is a former dog warden for a reason. As such, it is shameful that any elected official would give ear to Skeldon.
And while the Toledo Blade notes that,
The Ohio Supreme Court in 2007 upheld the constitutionality of the state’s current breed-specific law and Toledo’s related ordinance, saying statistics have backed up the state’s contention that the ”pit bull” is more likely to do more damage when it attacks and is more likely to prompt police to discharge their firearms.
the public should also be reminded that there were accusations of evidence tampering at trial. In fact, evidence that would have negated the faulty premise that “pit bulls” do more damage when they attack or that they are supposedly “more likely to prompt police to discharge their firearms” conveniently went missing. Indeed, the Ohio Supreme Courts decision in the Tellings case was the first time that the public caught wind of the concept of a kangaroo court as pertains to BSL.
As a result of these and other accusations of shady doings, Ohio now has the unhappy task of remediation for the very bad light that Ohio’s BSL has put the state in. The amendment to HB 55, which would remove the “pit bull” dangerous dog designation, is a good start; an idea whose time has come. Now follow through Ohio and pass this amendment!