‘Vicious’ cycle: State, local officials disagree over new law

In light of a recent pit bull attack on its owner in Celina, an Auglaize County official says state legislators may have acted irresponsibly by eliminating the “vicious dog” label on pit bulls in a new state letter.

The Ohio General Assembly passed a bill in light of public opposition the Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), which had labeled pit bulls as a vicious animal. The state’s Judiciary Committee, which did fact-finding into the legislation, recommended the law change to remove pit bulls from the vicious dog label. The bill was approved by the House and Senate and was signed into law Feb. 21 by Gov. John Kasich. The law officially takes effect May 22.

However, the Ohio Dog Warden Association recently released a three-year study showing pit bull attacks dropped significantly since stricter regulations had been placed on pit bulls. They suggest those numbers will again increase as the ban is lifted. Bailey said he felt those numbers were believable.

“It does take off some of the burden that a dog warden faces in regulating pit bulls,” Auglaize County Dog Warden Russ Bailey said, “but I don’t know that that is necessarily a good thing.”

Advocates for relaxing the regulations claimed pit bulls were discriminated against because of their breed when calling for the law change. They claimed owners are more responsible for the behavior.

However, a 15-year study completed by Texas physicians titled “Mortality, Mauling and Maiming by Vicious Dogs” completed in April 2011 revealed of 228 cases investigated, pit bulls were associated with a higher median injury severity scale score, a higher risk of an admission Glasgow coma scale score, higher hospital charges and a higher risk of death.

The main changes seen by the law will be the vicious dog label will be removed from pit bulls. Pit bulls will fall under the same legislation as any other pet.

Currently, pit bulls are automatically assumed as vicious. Owners must carry a $100,000 insurance policy and must be enclosed in an outdoor cage with a roof.

Bailey admitted he was once on the side of many of the advocates.

“I have been a certified canine handler since 1982,” Bailey said. “When I started at this job I thought the legislation was a little harsh. However, based at what I have seen, I have changed my opinion.”

Friday’s pit bull attack in Celina lends some credence to claims of pit bulls being vicious, officials said.

Celina police officers responded to a call of Douglas Thomas, 55, 214 Elm St., Celina, being attacked by a pit bull at 4:22 p.m.

The attack was ongoing as officers arrived at the scene and had the victim pinned into the corner. An adult female pit bull was hanging on the victims leg with three other pit bull mixed pups attacking.

Due to the enclosed area, weapons could not be discharged and the dogs had to be restrained by pepper spray so the victim could be tended to by an emergency squad.

Thomas suffered bite injuries to his left lower leg, right ring finger and left forearm. The injuries included puncture wounds and severe skin and tissue removal. Police photos released revealed an approximately 2 1/2 inch of Thomas’ fibula being exposed. Thomas is currently in Lima Memorial Hospital recovering from his wounds.

The mother pit bull involved in the attack had been a family pet for several years since it was a pup and had not shown signs of aggression before.

A fourth pup had just been returned to the home after being treated by a veterinarian. The pup had been placed in a cage to recuperate and the adult female pit bull was attempting to remove the pup from the cage by chewing on the cage. As the victim approached the cage to keep the dog away from the cage when the dogs attacked without further provocation.

Bailey said the problem is not specifically with the breed of the dog, but the damage they can do.

“If a pit bull bites you, you are at their mercy,” Bailey said. “They are going to let go when they want to. The basic thing is the amount of damage they can do. Once they have attacked and established themselves as an alpha dog, they will have a higher tendency to do so.”

Under the new legislation, pit bulls will not be able to be tagged as “vicious” unless they attack, effectively establishing a “one free bite” rule. If a pit bull attacks it will be held to a 10- day rule in which owners can appeal and have the dog returned.

If the animal is returned, owners will have to obtain a second “vicious dog” license with further specifications on the pet. They will also have to be spayed or neutered.

Bailey said the dogs will now no longer be held to the enclosed with a roof policy and will be able to run loose on the property just like other dogs and the $100,000 insurance policy will no longer be able to be enforced.

“I am not saying they are more likely to attack,” Bailey said, “but common sense shows that the number of serious attacks will go back up.”