Faber backs vicious change

A state politician disagrees with the opinions of local dog wardens of the effect new legislation regarding “vicious” dogs will have on the number of attacks at the hands of pit bulls.

State Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, said the state’s new legislation to remove the automatic labeling of pit bulls as a “vicious dog” was based on overwhelming evidence presented to Ohio Judiciary Committee members during fact-finding. Faber, who is a Celina attorney, is a member of the committee. The committee is chaired by state Sen. Barbara Sears, R-Sylvania.

“We heard from plenty of experts and technicians,” Faber said. “We looked at the conduct of the dogs.”

A spark to the latest debate comes 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 special legislation to control the animals can argue that 59 percent of fatal attacks in the United States between 2006 to 2008 were inflicted by pit bulls or pit bull mixed breeds.

Auglaize County Dog Warden Russ Bailey said it has never been made an issue that pit bulls are more likely to attack.

“The difference here is the amount of damage the dog can do,” Bailey said. “You get bit by a cocker spaniel, you can fend it off. When you are attacked by a pit bull, you are at its mercy.”

The issue has been brought to the forefront again with the second local attack in the area.

Douglas Thomas, 55, of 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 severe skin and tissue removal which included an area of about 2 1/2 inches of his fibula being exposed.

On Jan. 7, 2011, a pit bull attacked a young adult and a teenager on West Benton Street in Wapakoneta in an incident handled by officers with the Wapakoneta Police Department. Bailey said the Jan. 7 incident was not the first time he had responded to a call where a pit bull had turned on the family that raised it.

Mercer County Dog Warden Tom Powell said the removal of the classification of pit bulls as a vicious dog was “an ill-conceived idea.”

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

In some areas, 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 documents 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. to name a few.

The new law removes pit bulls from the vicious designation but establishes guidelines for all dogs. 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 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. They will also have to be spayed or neutered.

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.

The new legislation in the state will not override city ordinances already in effect. St. Marys, Celina, Wapakoneta and Lima are among local cities with breed-specific legislation that will remain in effect.

Powell and Bailey have said they suspect that reported attacks by pit bulls will now creep back up.

Faber disagreed with that statement.

“I don’t know that I agree with that,” Faber said. “The fact is that big dogs have potential to do harm. We have a former veterinarian in the state Senate who said there is much more reason to be afraid of terriers or poodles than there is of pit bulls.

“The key is that we still have a dangerous dogs law,” he said. “The difference is that now it will be based on behavior instead of breed.”