One constant in seven years of FOI documents relating to HB14, and previous attempts to remove regulation from pit bulls in Ohio is Jean Keating. There is never a point where Keating introduced herself by letter, no "Dear Legislator, my name is Jean Keating and I would like to share my thoughts with you." She turned up regularly with letters, pit bull advocacy material, and forwards of news stories on attacks by any other breed, but never comments on actual pit bull mauling deaths. Keating is a tremendous favorite of the Toledo Blade, she is frequently quoted and photographed. It is impossible to conceal her identity by simply calling her "the breed specific advocate" her public profile has been too high for too long. Keating is a co-founder of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates and President of the Lucas County Pit Crew.
Keating is friendly with Barbara Sears, this is clear. Keating addresses Sears in letters as "Dear Barb." Some letters begin with business and end with status updates on Keating's children and mother. From the correspondence, it is not clear whether these two women have been friends in the community or their friendship is purely political. Keating wrote on several occasions "I will do anything to get this law passed." She pretty much did just that.
A letter to Representative Garrison, dated April 10, 2009 gives insight into what drives Keating. "I am a law abiding citizen and responsible dog owner, as such, I should have the right to own any breed of dog I believe I can properly care for. The failings of others should not restrict my rights. People can smoke and drink alcohol, even while pregnant. Those things have been proven to kill at alarming rates. There are millions of dogs in this country and less than 30 deaths per year from all breeds combined. That makes dogs remarkably safe. So why can't I own the dog of my choosing? I recognize that even though I am a responsible dog owner, others may not be. Why does their behavior destroy my rights?"
A letter to Sears dated April 13, 2009 gives additional thoughts. "Where does all this leave a responsible dog owner? Personally, it infuriates me and causes me to look through the real estate pages of neighboring Michigan. My own family dog has been Canine Good Citizen certified, has a microchip and is never taken into Toledo for fear he would be killed. As an AKC registered American Staffordshire Terrier, he isn't even a pit bull. (note - An AKC American Staffordshire Terrier may be double registered as a UKC American Pit Bull Terrier, obviously they are one and the same) However, according to the ORC he is vicious, he has never displayed a single aggressive behavior and yet I am subjected to restrictions that other owners aren't. My own son was bitten by a dog a few years ago and that dog's owner has no restrictions. Where is the sense in that? I think that is the nonsense that has caused Ohio citizens great grief. The experts know why dogs bites (sic), why aren't we listening?"
Early 2009 is the start of advocacy overdrive for Keating. Many letters and forwards of information taken from breed specific advocacy websites, comments on attacks and bites from different breeds, but no mention of serious pit bull maulings or deaths. It should be noted that in the United States there were 14 pit bull mauling deaths in 2009, but Keating had no comment on them. See notes below for an update on pit bull fatality statistics since 2009.
In a letter to Sears dated February 21, 2009 Keating wants the removal of the designation of vicious for pit bulls (which removes insurance and containment requirements). Due process was not a concern for Keating. (A bit later we will get to the reason for the due process addition to proposed changes in Ohio law.) Keating complains that despite the strong breed specific law in Toledo at that time, bite counts are going up so obviously the law is not working. A document provided by Lucas County and found in Barbara Sears records showing dog bite counts from 2001 to 2008 gives a different perspective.
In 2001 there were 697 dog bites recorded by the county
in 2002 there were 617 bites
in 2003 there were 550 bites
in 2004 there were 526 bites
in 2005 there were 432 bites
in 2006 there were 428 bites
in 2007 there were 329 bites
in 2008 there were 403 bites.
The trend is steadily downward for the period with a single year, 2007, as an outlier with a more significant drop in bites. In the setting of County dog bites, Keating's complaint looks dishonest. It must be noted that during the entire period covered by the table, Tom Skeldon was Dog Warden in Lucas County. Tom Skeldon was driven into retirement by personal and professional attacks from the Toledo Blade, and Keating's organizations. Attacks and service calls increased dramatically in the first year after Skeldon's retirement, as reported in the Toledo Blade. A January 31, 2011 Blade article by reporter JC Reindl states Dog Warden service calls increased to 5,427, up 162 from 2009. Dog attack investigations increased to 434, up from 357 in 2009.
In an additional letter to Sears, with the same date 2/21/2009, Keating gives her thoughts on changes to Ohio law. "There are also some states, like Virginia, that require "vicious dogs" to be registered differently and they pay higher license fees. I don't believe that people are going to like that, but it could be a concession later to appease some folks. If you search the Virginia Vicious Dog site, it lists the address, owner, breed, and offense the dog committed. That is harsh but it has created a safer state."
Keating does not think "people" will like to pay higher license fees for legally declared vicious dogs and a public listing of those dogs is "harsh"? What does Keating think about the medical bills generated by those legally declared vicious dogs? Without insurance the victims paid them, not the dog owner. A public listing of the dogs is "harsh"? That public listing allows neighbors to be aware of dangers in their neighborhood, it helps protect children. This is "harsh" for the dog owner? Has breed specific advocacy ever considered the rights of the peaceful public?
In a letter dated 3/19/2009 from Keating to Sears, Keating announces statements of support for HB79 (an earlier version of HB14) from Best Friends and the AKC. " I have put out requests to about 15 more national organizations asking for support. I should be able to give you a list by the end of the week of the responses I receive." It stuns me that a private citizen has taken it upon herself to negotiate Ohio law with special interest groups.
On April 2, 2009 Keating writes to Sears Legislative aide about a "letter writing party." "Annie, we had the first of our scheduled "letter writing parties" tonight. We had a great turnout and got coverage from two TV stations. I have about 150 letters to stuff in the mail." Were legislators made aware that the letters that were turning up in their mail were not spontaneous letters of support, but were generated wholesale, at the request of Keating?
A revealing letter from Keating, undated, but the letters she supplies were dated April 2009, gives additional insight into Keating's unbounded advocacy. "Some of the kids at the school where I work are doing a government project. They are upset that I don't bring my dogs to school anymore. I explained why to them and they wanted to help. Their teacher helped them but didn't understand that Barb introduced the bill. They worked so hard on their letters I said I would send them. Thanks, Jean" Jean Keating is using her job at a school to influence children to write to legislators in support of her own pet project. Were the children's parents aware of the manipulation of their sons and daughters?
Keating is the connection between Representative Sears and Best Friends Animal Society's Senior Legislative Attorney, Ledy Vankavage. In a Toledo Blade article dated 11/6/2009, "Dog Advocate says 'pit bulls' are unfairly demonized. Canine Profiling cited as ineffective approach" Blade writer Carl Ryan states that "Vankavage is Senior Legislative Analyst for Best Friends, the group that rescued disgraced NFL player Michael Vick's approximately 50 "pit bulls" which have been rehabilitated and adopted out." This statement is clearly not factual, Best Friends had little to do with the seizure of Vick's dogs. Best Friends took 22 of the dogs, most were to be lifelong sanctuary dogs. Reporter Ryan goes on to say "Ms. Vankavage was in Toledo at the invitation of Jean Keating and her organization The Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates." Barbara Sears attended this meeting at the invitation of Keating.
I am going to digress a bit here, Please hang in there with me. Best Friends signed a contract as part of the process to receive the 22 high profile Vicktory pits bulls. One of the terms of contract stated that the dogs were not to be used for fund raising purposes but Best Friends has used these dogs in shameless solicitation of donations. A 2012 revision of Best Friends Terrier Initiatives page has removed acknowledgement of their agreement with the Federal Government not to use the Vick Dogs for fundraising and has removed the "Donate Now" button. The contract may be read here, the non fundraising clause is located on page 5 under Indemnification and Publicity, section H. Records are difficult to come by but it appears that only a few of the dogs taken by Best Friends have been placed but Best Friends has a new marketing program for some of the aging Vick pit bulls. Best Friends has put the Vicktory pit Layla on Petfinder. In the Petfinder ad Best Friends states that Layla is aggressive, should be the only "pet" in the household, and that she has Babesia, a communicable disease common in fighting pit bulls. Just what every neighborhood needs. The contract between Best Friends and the United States Government has this stipulation "The Rescue Organization will be prohibited from transferring the dog or dogs to another rescue organization without the written consent of the United States Department of Agriculture. This stipulation is located on page 8 of the document. Has Best Friends obtained the consent of the Federal Government to offer an acknowledged aggressive dog with a communicable disease on Petfinder? But I have strayed too far from my original story.
A letter dated 11/30/2009 from Vankavage to Representative Sears begins "It was a pleasure to meet you at the presentation on canine profiling...... As promised, here is a first draft of an amendment for HB79 (an earlier bill introduced by Sears to deregulate pit bulls) that might enable you to garner more support from urban legislators. (The addition of due process) Lauren Gallagher, our new public service attorney crafted the amendment. ... Please let me know if you need any more help. If you need me to come to testify at any hearings do not hesitate to call me." The attached document is an early form of HB 14. The article, letter, and document make it clear that Representative Sears worked with the Utah based animal rights PAC as early as 2009. Sears allowed an out-of-state animal rights PAC to write Ohio law, to suit the agenda of that PAC.
Keating was also the go-between to pass on the 2011 version of Ohio law, as written by Best Friends Animal Society to Barbara Sears. On February 17, 2011 Keating sends this to Sears "Barb, I am attaching comments from Laura Allen on Best Friends draft of Ohio's Dangerous Dog law for your review. Laura Allen is the founder of Animal Law Coalition and is an attorney who specializes in animal issues. She is also reviewing the due process language. Thanks, Jean Keating" Keating, a private citizen, appears to be working independently of the Ohio Legislature to negotiate changes to Ohio law.
We have looked at a great deal of background on the major forces behind HB 14. I will close this post with the story of Wendy the "Service Pit Bull in Training." Wendy made a personal appearance at the December 6, 2011 Senate hearing on HB 14. She was brought into the hearing room by Jean Keating. There was nothing subtle about Wendy's entrance, it was "enthusiastic" for lack of a better word. The white pit bull made a bee line for the row of seated pit bull advocates. She was welcomed by each one of them, it appeared that each one of them had food for the dog. Keating began to speak, Wendy paid no attention to her whatsoever.
"I have brought Wendy with me today. Wendy is being trained as a service animal for a young child with post-traumatic stress disorder, sensory integration dysfunction, low muscle tone, and panic attacks. Wendy was chosen because she has the temperament and physical characteristics to perform the work needed to assist this child in leading a more normal life. Those same physical characteristics currently identify Wendy as a vicious dog under Ohio law. The American Staffordshire Terrier, which is a breed commonly referred to as a pit bull type is a popular choice for a service animal because of some unique qualities. They are hardy, athletic, and very socially connected dogs. They are also very easy to train as they are eager to please."
During Keating's testimony Wendy stood at the end of her leash and looked about the room, wandering a bit and returning to her line of friends, and their handsful of food. Wendy proved to be such a distraction that Keating was unable to remain in the hearing room after her testimony. She took Wendy out into the hall, where Wendy killed time by barking.
Interestingly, this was not Wendy's first appearance at a Statehouse hearing. Wendy accompanied Keating to a hearing in the Ohio House in June of 2011. Actual service dogs in training are taught to remain quiet, lay down upon command, not seek attention or food from strangers, and focus attention on their handler. Wendy had none of these skills in December, what kind of "training" did she receive in the previous six months? This dog was chosen because she was "easy to train and eager to please?"
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Updated fatality statistics.
In 2009 there were 32 dog mauling fatalities in the United States. Of this total 14 were due to pit bulls, 44%
In 2010 there were 33 dog mauling fatalities in the United States. Of this total 22 were due to pit bulls, 67%
In 2011 there were 31 dog mauling fatalities in the United States. Of this total 22 were due to pit bulls, 77%
In 2012 there were 38 dog mauling fatalities in the United States. Of this total 23 were due to pit bulls, 61%
In 2013 from January 1st to March 1st there have been 5 fatal dog maulings in the United States. Of this total 5 were due to pit bulls, 100%