Monday, May 28, 2012

The Toledo Blade

The Toledo Blade must be considered a major force in the push to deregulate pit bulls in Ohio. The Blade has relentlessly promoted the breed but interestingly, does not admit the breed exists. Any article in the Blade that deals with the breed will always refer to them as "pit bulls." Checking the Blade's website, if one enters "pit bull' in the site search you will find 99 pages of articles and each page lists 9 or 10 articles dating back to 11/21/2002. Using a generous 9 articles per page, this gives the Blade at least 891 pit bull articles in the last ten years. All of the Blade's coverage of pit bulls is strongly pro pit, some is mind numbingly so.

A recent article titled "Many Shelter Dogs Mislabeled" describes DNA testing on six 'pit bulls,' with DNA test kits purchased from the Mars Company, maker of the Mars Wisdom Panel DNA test. The Blade paid for the test kits. The Blade is not reporting news, it is attempting to create it. The article is simply silly, using a test that does not test for what you are looking for, so you might claim that it does not exist is not worth the time and money the Blade invested.

DNA testing is adored by pit bull advocacy. I am going off on a short tangent to talk about DNA testing. Please bear with me. It is a matter of controversy if these tests are an accurate diagnostic test or simply a vanity for the owner of a mixed breed dog. Accuracy is highly suspect. The companies producing the kits are reluctant to get into the pit bull controversy. They do not desire liability for an analysis that might result in the euthanasia of a particular dog, or vouching for the safety of a dog that might cause serious injury or death. It must be noted that the Mars test does not identify pit bulls, they are not on the list of breeds in the database. This statement is taken from their website "Due to the genetic diversity of this group, we cannot build a DNA profile for the Pit-bull." One could test every dog in Toledo and not identify a pit bull, the DNA is simply not in the data base. The tests did, however, identify the DNA of Black Russian Terriers, Chinook, Glen of Imaal Terrier, Border Terrier, Catahoula Leopard Dog, American Eskimo Dog and Dogue de Bordeaux, along with breeds that one might expect to find in an urban environment.

A search of the Classified ads for registered puppies available in the AKC Breeder Classifieds, found on the AKC website on May 27, 2012 gives us a snapshot of exactly how rare these breeds are. For the Chinook, there are zero litters in a nationwide search. For the Black Russian Terrier, there are currently two litters available in a nationwide search (12 pups). For the Glen of Imaal, zero litters available nationwide. The Border Terrier shows 8 litters in the United States (36 pups). The Dogue de Bordeaux shows 5 litters (31 pups total) in a nationwide search. The Catahoula Leopard Dog is going to be a problem for a determined buyer, zero litters nationwide are listed. American Eskimo dog? Two litters (9 pups). Contrast this with Labs at 331 litters available, Golden Retrievers with 175 litters and German Shepherds with 269 litters. This comparison is not exact, we know that top breeders do not need to advertise their dogs, they have waiting lists and all pups produced are expected to land in show homes. This comparison does, however, indicate rarity. Given the numbers of pups available, how many of these rare breeds might be roaming the streets of Toledo, randomly spreading their very expensive genetic material? The cost for Mars DNA tests run between $69.99 to $95.00, so these tests cost the Blade between $419.94 and $570 . The Blade would have made a better investment if it had simply made a cash contribution to the Lucas County Pit Crew.

The Blade's owners and editorial staff brought considerable power to relentless efforts at changing both local and state laws. The Blade's animal rights reporter JC Reindl wrote endless articles on the issue, working very closely with former Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop in an effort to drive Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon from office, remove Toledo's BSL, and allow adoption of pit bulls from the County Shelter.Reindl and Konop were a regular feature in the Blade, the professional and personal attacks on Skeldon were brutal. The effort was eventually successful. Pit bulls were no longer regulated, Skeldon retired and was replaced with mild mannered Julie Lyle.

The Blade was as proud as a new father, gushing over the success. A January 31, 2011 article written by JC Reindl summarizes the first year of the new "kinder and gentler" Toledo dog regulations. The article titled "County dog euthanasia falls considerably" included this quote "Service calls to the dog warden rose last year to 5,427, a 162 increase from 2009. The number of attack investigations rose to 434 from 357." It is difficult to find increases in the number of attacks and service calls as a positive. As a side note, both Reindl and Konop left Toledo shortly after the change in local law.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Laws created to suit dog advocacy sometimes fall short

The Toledo Blade recently updated the public on the adventures of Mr. Hugh Smith, of Toledo. In October of 2009, the Lucas County Dog Warden seized what the Dog Warden classified as three pit bulls from Mr. Smith after one of them attacked another dog while Smith had them out for a walk. Smith was charged with 13 violations of Toledo law. Toledo had, at that time, a law that limited households to just one pit bull and required a leash and muzzle when off the owner's property. Mr. Smith responded that his dogs were not pit bulls, but rather cane corsos, and also argued that Toledo's vicious dog laws "were unconstitutional anyway." The case was heard in the Toledo Municipal Court by Judge Michael Goulding.

Judge Goulding threw out 10 of the charges, and went on to state that the Toledo muzzle rule, and the limit of one pit bull per household rule were unconstitutional as they conflict with home-rule doctrine. This is difficult to understand because Ohio Home Rule, as pertains to dogs, gives communities the right to regulate dangerous dogs. The Judge also stated "While the state statute does not specifically permit ownership of more than one dog 'commonly known as a pit bull,' it does not specifically prohibit it either." It is true that State statute did not prohibit owning more than one pit bull dog but Home Rule allowed Toledo to pass and enforce this law. This was Toledo's right per the Home Rule Doctrine.

The Judge went onto state that a provision of Toledo law that included pit bull mixed breed dogs in the same category as pit bulls was also unconstitutional. At that time, Ohio law did include pit bull mixes as dogs commonly known as pit bull dogs, this law was found constitutional in 2008.

Mr. Smith was represented by Daniel and Kristi Haude of Cleveland. Kristi Haude and Toledo resident Jean Keating are co-founders of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates. At the time of Judge Goulding's ruling, Ms. Keating was quoted in the Toledo Blade "What we formed this group to do is to help people like Hugh. Otherwise those dogs would be dead."

The dogs were eventually released to Mr. Smith. This case resulted in the repeal of Toledo's Breed Specific Law. The city revised the laws to remove any breed specific references and will focus on demonstrated behavior (a victim will already have been created) . The law went from proactive to reactive.

Fast forward to January of 2012. The Lucas County Dog Warden's office again seized four of Mr. Smith's dogs. This time Mr. Smith was charged with failing to immunize his dogs against rabies, and failing to confine or restrain the dogs on his premises to prevent escape. The dogs were found around the corner from the Smith home. Additional charges were filed later, two counts of failing to register a dog or kennel, four counts of permitting his dogs to run at large and two counts of failure of the duties and responsibilities of a dog owner by permitting any dog to trespass upon the property of another.

This case will return Smith to Judge Goulding's court, Smith will again be represented by Daniel Haude and will plead not guilty. This time Judge Goulding ordered the dogs to be held by the Lucas County Dog Warden until trial. Mr. Smith has stated that his due-process rights were violated.

Mr. Haude has stated "At the time of seizure, the dog warden did not have the seizure order or any paperwork to show the defendant indicating that any type of seizure order had been issued or the basis of the seizure order." "No hearing was scheduled prior to the seizure of his dogs, nor was the defendant given notice or opportunity to present evidence prior to the seizure of his dogs." Mr. Haude goes on to state that the court lacks the authority to order the seizure of the dogs, even if Smith is convicted of the charges against him.

Mr. Haude has filed a motion asking for return of the dogs, which Smith states are two cane corsos and two mastiff mixes.

Local law was changed as a result of Mr. Smith's 2010 case. Was it worth it? In a "Twilight Zone" moment, Smith will return to the same courtroom, with the same judge, and the same lawyer. Will the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, who "formed this group to help people like Hugh" reconsider their support? Will Judge Goulding consider the safety of Mr. Smith's neighbors THIS time? As this case clearly shows, owners of problematic, or violent dogs feel that it is their right to keep their dogs in their possession until all legal options have been exhausted. The Due process written into HB 14 is so convoluted and complicated that dangerous dogs will probably be returned to the community with no safeguards to protect the public.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The players, part 2

The Ohio County Dog Wardens Association has traditionally opposed any change to Ohio's laws as written, regarding dogs. This opposition blocked previous efforts to remove Ohio's designation of pit bulls as vicious dogs. The old guard members of the Executive Board had term limited out and a new President of the organization was elected for 2011. This was young and ambitious Matt Granito. Granito has a long history of mutual admiration with Best Friends. (link #2)

Granito traveled from rural Ohio to to Oregon to appear as featured speaker at the April 22 - 24, 2005 Seminar held by Best Friends in Portland, Oregon. Granito's history with Best Friends is documented to 2005.

Also a favored contact of Best Friends is Mark Kumpf , Montgomery County Dog Warden and member of the OCDWA Executive Board. Kumpf made the trip to Best Friends Sanctuary in January of 2007 for a conference. Kumpf made influential friends at that conference and was visited by the retired Best Friends CEO Paul Berry in 2009. Here is Berry's account of that visit, it is a love letter.

Thank you to Best Friends for thoroughly documenting their long standing, warm, working relationship with Granito and Kumpf. This warm relationship was critical for passage of HB14.

During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on December 6, 2011, Matt Granito began his remarks with these words "My name is Matt Granito and I am the President of the Ohio County Dog Wardens Association, whom I represent here this morning. Our association agrees with Representative Sears that alternative legislation can fulfill the dual goals of insuring community safety and ending breed specific legislation. Our members want fair and balanced legislation...." Please remember that Granito states he speaks for the members of the OCDWA, we will get back to that a bit later.

Dog Warden Kumpf testified in that same hearing. He began his remarks with these words "There has been a great deal of testimony regarding this bill and most speakers emphasizing the same points: the current legislation is defective, discriminates against a specific breed, and is due for a change. I believe all parties agree on those points." Dog Warden Kumpf might have spoken with officials of the Dayton Health Department prior to his testimony, it is unlikely that they would agree with his characterization of "discrimination" against pit bulls . The city of Dayton is located in Montgomery County, Ohio. Dayton keeps bite statistics by species and breed. The number one biter in Dayton is the pit bull with 117 of 736 recorded dog bites during the period of 6/28/2010 to 6/28/2011. The next highest was mixes of all breeds with 64 bites.

Granito and Kumpf threw the support of the OCDWA solidly behind HB14. This point was heavily emphasized to Legislators, however during the final hearings it was found that the rank-and-file members of the organization had never been consulted, had never been given the opportunity to voice their thoughts on the bill, never voted on it. Ohio Legislative Services Commission (part of Ohio State Government) created a list of proponents and opponents to HB14. On that list of opponents there were two county dog wardens, one a member of the OCDWA Executive Board. The OCDWA membership had never even been given information on hearing dates. A County Dog Warden did appear to testify against the bill because he had seen a notice about the hearing... on the news.

Apparently Granito was not elected to a second term as president of the OCDWA, possibly a lack of faith from the membership. A President Elect is named on the organization website. County Dog Wardens acknowledge the expected result of HB 14 will be an increase in pit bull attacks. Insurance is no longer required for pit bulls. Victims will pay for their medical treatment, in serious attacks the sky is the limit for medical bills. More about insurance later.

Next time we will talk about the Toledo Blade, and the Breed Specific Advocate.

Note - Elected officials will be identified by name and position, organizations will be identified by name, professional pit bull advocates will be identified by name and organization. Private citizens will not be named.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Part one, the players.

To understand the politics of pit bulls, one needs to identify the players. In the case of Ohio HB 14, there is a rather long list.

First is Representative Barbara Sears, who worked tirelessly for the passage of the bill. Rep. Sears is Ohio House Assistant Majority Leader, she brought the power of the majority party to the issue. Rep. Sears has no identifiable link to the world of dogs but she does represent the area served by the Toledo Blade. The Toledo Blade is arguably the most pit bull friendly publication in the United States. More about the Blade later.

Senator Mark Wagoner also represents the area served by the Blade. There is also no known link to the world of dogs. When the bill was sent to the Ohio Senate for hearings, it was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Senator Wagoner. The question might arise, is it ethical to send a bill to a committee headed by a legislator elected from the same district as the House proponent of the bill? Is it ethical to send a bill to a committee headed by a very vocal proponent of the bill?

A not-so-major character in the creation of HB 14 is Joseph Russell, Senior Legislative Aide to Representative Barbara Sears. Russell is a Statehouse insider, works closely with Sears, and he generated a great deal of correspondence on the bill in his own name. Russell is the most honest of the proponents of HB 14. The original HB 14 simply removed designation of pit bull as a vicious dog from Ohio law. Russell's responses to the repeated complaints by the Legislative Agent of the Ohio Association of Animal Owners and questions about the individual responsible for the change that included the due process which appears in Sub HB 14 give a great deal of information.

On June 30, 2011 Russell writes "Rep. Barbara Sears is responsible for the Sub bill as its sponsor. The original Bill would not have passed because there were too many groups against it, and it would have died in the Senate for the third time. Rep. Sears wants to insure that this bill see(s) the light of day, so changes needed to be made so that we could get the needed support for it to become law."

On July 7, 2011, Russell says to the same individual "I understand your issues with some of these provisions. However this bill is better than what we have now, even if nothing changes. It would be a shame is you wouldn't support the bill because of small discontents. Would you rather have BSL? Simply removing the definition of pit bull as a vicious dog will not get the support of the majority. If we didn't replace BSL with a due process the current law would stand."
Russell has clearly stated that the due process is simply paper to wrap around an unpassable bill, a bill that has died in committee or in the Senate many times.

Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah based PAC and animal sanctuary. Best Friends was founded in the 1970s as The Process Church of the Final Judgement but quickly found that donations increased when potential donors were told their money would go to protection of animals. Since that shift Best Friends has turned into a multi million dollar a year PAC with an animal sanctuary in Kanab Utah. The organization has taken an extremely pit bull proponent position since they discovered that pit bull advocacy is very profitable. Best Friends received 22 of the Vicktory pit bulls, each one of these dogs came with a dowry of about $18,000 (in total nearly $400,000) as part of the settlement with Michael Vick. This money was to provide for the care of each dog for its lifetime. Despite an order from the Federal Government that was part of the deal to release the dogs to Humane groups that they NOT be used as fund raisers, Best Friends has shamelessly promoted these dogs for profit. Please note the final paragraphs in this Best Friends blog post for their acknowledgement of the agreement, followed by a "please donate" button. If one clicks on the BF page for one of the Vicktory pits, this donation form appears. For a time Best Friends sold wine with artist portraits of the individual Vick dogs on the labels.

Best Friends runs a breed specific program headed by Senior Legislative Attorney Ledy Vankavage (more about Vankavage later) called the Pit Bull Terrier Initiatives. The Pit Bull initiatives pushes pit bulls into communities that may not desire them and in fact have written laws to regulate them in response to vicious pit bull maulings and deaths. Best Friends PAC spends a great deal of money fighting any attempt at regulation of pit bulls.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


This blog will deal with the politics of pit bulls. It will deal heavily with Ohio, virgin ground since the passage of HB 14. Ohio law, which did not ban any dog but did require pit bull owners to contain and insure their dogs, did a pretty fair job of protecting residents, but has recently been changed to suit the desires of breed specific advocacy. HB 14 was passed in February and effective May 22nd.

Ohio has already had its first pit bull mauling death since the passage of the bill. A three day old infant was killed by the family pit, raised and loved by the family. Predictably, this family has been thrown under the bus by other pit bull owners. This child had not yet been buried but organized pit bull advocacy held a celebration over the passage of the bill. An award was given to the perpetrator of the bill, Representative Barbara Sears.

HB 14 would not have prevented this tragedy but will promote more of the same. Without insurance requirements, there is no disincentive to breed more pit bulls, filling shelters and wandering the streets. Shelters will promote these dogs as family pets, "they are just like any other dog". As has been seen in other states, the standards for adoption of pit bulls are very low. Without containment requirements, peaceful people going on about the peaceful details of their lives will meet pit bulls, and suffer the consequences. These dogs are no longer required to be insured. Victims will pay their own medical bills.

Ohio will be carefully watched for statistical purposes. A proactive law has been removed and a reactive law has been substituted. This reactive law was written by Ledy Vankavage, Senior Legislative Attorney for Best Friends Animal Society. The same Ledy Vankavage who wrote the Illinois law that has come to be called Anna's Law. Anna's law was promoted as the answer to animal over population in that state, and to protect the public from dangerous dogs. Anna's Law has proven to be a failed experiment. It protects nothing but violent dogs and their owners. Residents of that state are attempting to remove it, but this will be a long and difficult process.

Pit bulls and pit bull owners in Ohio have a clean slate, it will be interesting to see what they do with it. This blog will watch the new day for pit bulls in Ohio, and may, from time to time, look at other states as well. You just never know. The next post will deal with some of the "how did this happen" on HB 14.
For more on the impact of Anna's Law on Illinois residents please click here