Dog law ‘a mistake’

A new state law permitting dogs “one free bite” is more restrictive and creating more red tape for dog wardens, one county official says in criticizing the law which took effect May 22.

“In my opinion, this law was a mistake,” Auglaize County Dog Warden Russ Bailey said. “There are some state officials who have predicted we will see a steady increase in pit bull attacks.”

Since the new vicious dog legislation took effect May 22, six people in Auglaize County have been bitten by dogs. Of the six cases in the county since May 22, four have involved pit bulls or pit bull-mix breeds.

One of the recent cases in Auglaize County involved a 4-year-old who was bitten by a pit bull in Cridersville. The dog has been put down.

The new state law, supported by state Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, removed pit bulls from the vicious designation but established guidelines for all dogs.

Under the new legislation, dogs, including pit bulls, will no longer be tagged as “vicious” unless they attack, effectively establishing a “one free bite” rule.

If a dog 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. If a dog attacks, it will also have to be spayed or neutered.

There are also lower classifications for other dogs that show aggressive behavior, such as any dog approaching in an aggressive behavior but has not bitten can be determined a “dangerous dog.”

Advocates of the legislation, including Faber, have reasoned that the new law bases problems on behavior rather than breed. Many scientific studies have stated pit bulls are much less likely to attack than many other breeds.

Humane Society of Auglaize County Director Sandra Harrison said she is in support of the new legislation.

“We feel the new legislation is more correct,” Harrison said. “I don’t think it is fair to label one breed of dog. There are many breeds of dog that bite. If they can label one breed without a dog performing a vicious act, would’t that be like profiling? I think it is very much like profiling, and we shouldn’t do that in this country.”

The biggest sparks of the debate come from the likelihood of an attack and the amount of damage the pit bull can do if it does indeed attack. While a study by the American Canine Association indicated that only one in approximately 83,000 American pit bull terriers do indeed attack, supporters of legislation to control the animals argue 59 percent of fatal attacks in the United States between 2006 to 2008 were inflicted by pit bulls or pit bull mixed breeds.

Breed specific legislation has made obvious improvements in decreasing the amount of attacks by pit bulls. In Council Bluffs, Iowa, the city had 29 documented pit bull bites in 2004 and 19 in 2005.

After enacting a ban in 2005, the city saw the numbers decrease to seven in 2006 and two in 2007. They had no documented cases from 2008-2010.

Several other cities claimed significant decreases in pit bull bites after enacting pit bull laws, including Omaha, Neb., San Francisco, Springfield, Mo., and Reading, Pa.

St. Marys and Wapakoneta have breed-specific legislation. Buckland and Cridersville both are currently discussing the passing of legislation to restrict or ban specific breeds.

Waynesfield Police Chief Nathan Motter said he is considering making a proposal in the future at a Waynesfield Village Council meeting.

Bailey and Mercer County Dog Warden Tom Powell said safety tends to get lost in the argument when considering which animals attack more.

“I hated to see it done,” Powell said, referring to the law change. “It wouldn’t have made a difference in preventing this recent attack, but it shows there is a need for special guidelines.”

Powell was referring to an attack in Celina when Douglas Thomas, 55, 214 Elm St., Celina, was attacked by a pit bull that had been a family pet for years.

The attack caused severe injuries to Thomas’ left lower leg, right ring finger and left forearm. The injuries included puncture wounds and resulted severe skin and tissue removal which included an area of about 2 1/2 inches of his fibula being exposed.

Three pups belonging to the mother that attacked Thomas also became aggressive.

Powell said it is not as important to consider the likelihood of attack as it is to consider the possible damage.

“Most bites are not your larger dogs,” Powell said. “They are usually smaller dogs, but in my experience it is the bigger dogs that do the most damage.”

Advocates of the new law have also claimed that how dogs are raised are a larger contributing factor in an attack, but Bailey disagreed somewhat with the statement.

“There was one in Cridersville that was quarantined after a bite and the animal showed no signs of abuse,” Bailey said. “Another one in Buckland that was quarantined showed no signs of abuse.

“I’ve handled dogs since 1982,” he said. “I have completely changed my opinion in this matter based on what I have seen since I have been dog warden. The dogs in our area that have been involved have shown no signs of abuse.”

Bailey said if a poodle, cocker spaniel, or other smaller breed of dog attacks, a person can fend off the attack. He said the same is not always possible with a pit bull.

“If that prey drive kicks in and a pit bull attacks, you are at its mercy until it decides to stop,” Bailey said.

While Bailey and Powell have said they were not agreement with the new legislation, they said time would tell if the new legislation provides ample protection to the public.

The Auglaize County commissioners felt that the issue will again need to be revisited in the future.

“People are very passionate about this issue,” Commissioner John Bergman said. “I think at some point this will be revisited again.”

“I was very naive coming into this position on this subject,” Commissioner Doug Spencer said. “I was very surprised of the law change. I have learned from first-hand accounts that there are more severe bites involved with some breeds.”