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Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Policies needed to put more teeth in current St. Marys dog laws

By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS - The city has enough vicious dog laws; they just need to enforce them, one community member said at city council's safety committee meeting Monday night, the third meeting since the problem of dangerous dogs was brought before council in March.
Penny Young, a Beech Street resident, said that just recently two dogs approached while she was outside working in her own yard.
"One came in acting strange so I called the police - again. By the time they got there, another dog, a boxer from over on Vine Street, came in the yard. That one is running loose all the time. It's never chained," Young said.
She said the officer finally got the first dog in his car, as the boxer's owner appeared in person on the scene.
"The policeman called the owner by name so obviously he's familiar with calls on (the boxer)," she added.
Safety Service Director Tom Hitchcock pointed out the city police have handled 22 dog calls in the past 26 days.
Mayor Greg Freewalt commented that if there are issues with dogs they do need to go to the police.
"But we can't tie up the policemen's hands with all the dog calls ... There are other issues in the city they need to take care of," Freewalt said. "We need to get with the chief (Greg Foxhoven) and determine where the line needs drawn on dogs running loose."
For many weeks City Law Director Kraig Noble, who was unavailable for the meeting Monday, has been reviewing the current dog control ordinances to determine the best way to update and amend them.
In his notes to council, Noble said the city's animal laws closely follow the Ohio Revised Code. "The Ohio Supreme Court has stated that pit bulls are automatically dangerous dogs and may be regulated by council ... We need to amend the ordinance to create an administrative appeal procedure if we want to classify dogs, other than pit bulls, as dangerous dogs," he suggested in his notes.
Community member Randy Detillion offered several suggestions that the mayor said he will discuss with Noble and others. All suggestions centered on making the dog owner accountable and liable for the actions of the animal by adding more teeth to the city laws.
In summary Detillion's ideas focus on a strict warning system that include immediate fines and compulsory liability insurance. Also, dog owners would register their animals with the city and provide regular proof of insurance. The burden of responsibility needs to be with the animal owners, Detillion said.
Freewalt said he'll talk with Foxhoven and Noble to obtain more input and review the problem further.    However, the local problem could become moot if Ohio's House Bill 568 is passed. The bill would prohibit ownership, keeping or harboring a dog that "belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog."
The bill, which has generated extreme opposition from animal protection societies nationwide, would force all pit bulls to be turned over to animal control authorities. The dogs would be euthanized within 10 days of surrender. As well the bill gives authority to animal control officers to confiscate any dog known as a pit bull.

Animal society view:
The Best Friends Animal Society, a national advocate for responsible pet ownership, takes the position in the society Web site that laws should focus on specific cases of aggression and not an entire breed.
The society is in strong opposition to Ohio's proposed House Bill 568, which would require all pit bull dogs to be surrendered to authorities who would put the dogs to death within 10 days. In addition, the bill would allow pit bulls to be seized by animal authorities and euthanized.
A society spokesman has termed the proposed bill "unconscionable."
The society, based in Utah, believes one dog breed does not "address the overall issue of aggressive dog behavior. Statistics show this behavior is linked to how the dog is treated by its owner and not because of its particular breed, the group says.
Some of the society's statistics include: 81 percent of fatal dog attacks are by dogs that were isolated, neglected or not included as part of the family; chained dogs are 2.87 times more likely to become aggressive; attacks by dogs not spayed or neutered account for 90 percent of fatalities; and, finally, 82 percent of bite incidents are by dogs that are unconfined or not on a leash.
This organization has developed a free safety model to community and citizens, entitled Model Community Safety Program.
- Janie Southard
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