Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A question answered

In my post on Ohio's Breed Specific Advocate I questioned the relationship between Representative Barbara Sears and pit bull advocate Jean Keating.  Were they personal friends or was this a friendly relationship brought about by working on legislation they both felt strongly about?  I recently got the answer to this question, directly from Barbara Sears.

This post is going to go in several directions and will link to previous posts and to future posts.  We will start with mention of a "documentary" titled "Guilty Til Proven Innocent" produced by Cleveland area resident Jeff Theman.  Another post will be dedicated to this production but in the promotional material posted on the documentary's Facebook page Jeff Theman links to video of a celebration of the passage of HB 14.  Several videos are available and this one is on the  bottom row on the left side.

When you view this video watch the participants in the celebration and award ceremony.  There is no hint of discomfort.  On May 17, 2012 three day old Makayla Darnell of Monroe Township Ohio was killed in the family home by her grandmother's pit bull, this death was not acknowledged by Barbara Sears or Jean Keating.  The ceremony took place on  May 19th, the baby had not yet been buried.  I find the ceremony itself,  and the joy of the participants obscene, Makayla has not yet been buried but she sure has been forgotten.  

In the video, a joyous representative of Best Friends Animal Society presents a plaque commemorating the passage of the bill to Sears.  Jean Keating presents a large photo of a pit bull, wearing a red ribbon on its head, to Sears.  Sears happily accepts this photo and promises to hang it in a prominent location in her statehouse office.  At three minutes and fifty seconds into the video Sears speaks of her relationship with Keating.  They have been longtime personal friends. They met when their college age sons were small and played soccer together.  Barbara Sears changed Ohio law as a favor to a personal friend.

In reading the FOI documents on HB 14 one reads a great deal of information and opinion from Ohio residents, pro and con.  Material in favor of the bill is furnished by Keating, and other breed advocates and is not questioned.  It should have been, this material comes only from breed specific websites and advocates. Interestingly, Sears does not respond at all to information that does not support the bill, or to criticism of the bill, with only one exception and that exception is revealing.   

The letter, turning into a series of emails, that stirred Sears only response came from an Ohio pastor. She is hostile and condescending to this educated man who voices his logical opinion.  I will furnish the text of these letters because I feel that Sears responses illustrate her thought pattern and how deeply she is into unquestioned acceptance of the material presented by her friend. These letters are shared exactly as written but I do not include the pastor's name or location in Ohio.

On 11/23/2011 the pastor writes
"Hi Barbara,
I'm a Republican from xxxx Ohio, have 5 kids, and lead a church of 3000+ people. As a community leader I am really disappointed that you would use your political influence to try and change Ohio's vicious dog law, removing pit bulls from the list.  Do you know what might happen to your sons if an irresponsible neighbor has a pit bull?  Please do not use your influence to push a change to a valid state law.  I will do everything in my power to speak against any such move, and will contact pastors in Toledo to speak against your position.  Please reconsider this wrong-headed move.  Thanks!
signature xxxx"

Sears could have ignored this email, as she did with all other emails or letters questioning the wisdom of changing a law that was protecting Ohio residents, but she did not.  

Barbara's first response dated 12/10/2011
"Dear Dr. xxxxx
Thank you for contacting my office in regards to HB 14; legislation that makes reform to Ohio's vicious dog laws.  This bill does remove pit bulls from the vicious list inherently because of their breed, but it does so much more.

Ohio's current law, called Breed Specific Legislation  discriminates against "pitbull" types and mixes.  The issue is that "pitbull" is not a breed, so identifying these sorts of dogs is widely inaccurate and wholly subjective.  Like humans, I do not believe that dogs are inherently evil or vicious.

In addition to removing pitbulls from inherently being vicious, the bill puts in place a due process for adjudicating all dogs.  So whether a dog is a boxer, pitbull, or yorkie, it will be adjudicated on behavior.  This does a much better job of protecting the public than the current law.  In fact,  the last person killed in Ohio by a dog was killed by a husky. (*see note below)

Additionally, this bill prevents criminals from owning vicious dogs. I assure you this bill goes much further to protect the public than current law.  That is why the dog wardens support the bill. (**see note below)

Please do not hesitate to contact my Legislative Aide Joe Russell with further questions, concerns or need of assistance.

Barbara Sears
Assistant Majority Floor Leader"

*Before proceeding it must be noted that Sears claim on the Husky mauling death is  totally false.  At the time Sears wrote this the last Ohio resident killed by a dog was Michael Winters of Lorain Ohio. On 6/15/2010 Winters was killed by his own pack of dogs including five bullmastiff mixes, three pit bull mixes and one rottweiler mix.  Prior to Winters death was a five year lull in Ohio mauling deaths.  On June 15, 2005 Ernie Assad of Parma Ohio died, he had been mauled by two dogs, a pit bull and an American bulldog owned by Chicago Bears tight end Darnell Sanders and cared for by local resident Natalie Gruttaderia.      In 2009 three week old Olivia Rosek was killed by her family's husky but Olivia lived in Bourbonnais IL.  In 2010 Robert D. Hocker, 11 days old was killed by his family's Husky but Robert lived in Independence MN.  The Husky death in Ohio simply did not happen.
**It also must be noted that the membership of the Ohio County Dog Wardens Association was not consulted on this bill.  The President Matt Granito, and  the Treasurer of the organization, Mark Kumpf, both with close personal ties to Best Friends Animal Society supported the bill but the membership never had the opportunity to voice their concerns or vote on HB 14.  

Back to the letters.  On 12/12/2011 the pastor writes
"Dear Barbara (&Joe)
Thanks for your response; I really appreciate you getting back to me on an issue that is of such importance to families who want to raise their kids without fear.

Personally, we've had neighbors who on three occasions have mistakenly allowed their pit bulls to get loose and roam the neighborhood.  These are great neighbors who are not criminals, simply negligent in the care of their dogs.  Barbara, I can assure you the the entire neighborhood fearfully kept their kids inside until an Animal Warden was able to corral the dogs.  I know you have two sons, and I believe you would respond like the parents in our neighborhood if a similar occurrence happened in your area.

Do you truly believe that there are no dogs who by nature are more likely to attack humans?  A simple search  on the internet (make sure you check graphic images/pictures) will convince you otherwise.  I'm not simply concerned about humans being killed as you mention; I've seen children disfigured because of malicious pitbull attacks. It is the height of disregard to fight for a law that allows all non-criminals to have these dogs in their possession.  EVEN if the rest of the community is opposed.

You think we are safer with the law you are pushing?  You think that wardens are on your side?  I doubt that, and I know for a fact that the Animal Warden in xxxx disagrees with you, no doubt many others do as well.

Again, I will do whatever I can to stand against your push for new legislation.  I will plan on writing letters to the editor of your local paper, and mobilizing others to do the same.  Why are you so intent on protecting the rights of pit bull owners when so many residents of Ohio are opposed to you?  If you have any intent to seek other elective office, this issue will come back to haunt you.

Thanks for your consideration,

Sears response, dated 12/19/2011 and time stamped 2:44 p.m.
"Dear Dr. xxxx,

Thank you again for writing regarding HB 14.  I have read your response and respect your viewpoint.

First, HB 14 puts protections in place to deal with irresponsible dog owners.  They will be counselled on their responsibilities as a dog owner, and even punished if they continue to be irresponsible.  This is not something that happens currently.

I appreciate that you too are concerned about the effects of this bill, but the fear that you exhibit does not reflect the facts.  Studies show that pit bull breeds are not the most likely to bite, and are not the most aggressive.  I do believe that this bill better protects the public. That is why the dog wardens support HB 14.  I worked closely with the County Commissioners Association  (the organization that represents wardens) who even helped me write the bill.* So yes, they do support this bill.

I certainly respect your right as a citizen to advocate for or against any issue.  But I think that what you will find is that there are more people that support this than do not.  The reason is because this bill does a better job protecting the public than the current law.  The out pouring of public support for HB 14 is a testament  to the bill's necessity and purpose.

Thank you again for your feedback.  Please do not hesitate to contact my Legislative Aide Joe Russell with further questions, concerns, or need of my assistance.

Barbara Sears
Assistant Majority Floor leader"
*Please note that HB 14 was written by lawyers in the employ of Best Friends Animal Society and forwarded to Sears by Jean Keating .On February 17, 2011 Keating sent the material to Sears with the note "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."
It should be noted that Best Friends also wrote an earlier version of an Ohio Dangerous Dog Law, HB 79, which was sent direct to Sears by Ledy Vankavage and dated 11/30/2009.  HB 79 failed.  Sears appears to be unaware, or not care that the "outpouring of support" for HB 14 was generated by anti-BSL websites, and emailed pleas for letters to legislators.

The pastor, not intimidated by Sears bluster responded 12/19/2011 at 4:59 p.m.
"Hi Barbara--

Since this has already passed the House, I have called my State Senator and will focus on on persuading more of those members to not vote for this bill.  I realize you are very committed to this since you sponsored the bill Barbara.  However, it is difficult for me to not view this as a favor to pit bull breed owners at the expense of the other 95% of us (non-pit bull owners) who would like to enjoy peace and security in our neighborhoods.

I don't think you can honestly tell me, Barbara, that if a collie and pit bull came running after one of your boys on his bike, you would feel equally about his safety from both dogs.  To say that "it depends on the dog's history" is a bogus argument, in my mind.  But, I know we disagree and I appreciate you getting back to me.

May you have a Merry Christmas,

In order to have the last word Barbara responded 12/19/2011 at 5:15

"Thank you again.  I do not blame you for  raising an argument based on fear.  The environment surrounding these animals has largely been routed in fear just as Rottweilers were in the 1990s, Dobermans in the 1980s, and German Sheppards's (sic) in the 1970s.   The fact that we prop-up an argument based on fear only propagates more fear.

The House and now the Senate has heard much testimony about these animals and how this law will make the lives of dog wardens easier.  It is true that the law helps pit bull owners but the law also makes our community safer. In fact, the last person killed in Ohio by a dog was killed by a Husky (which had been exhibiting dangerous behavior for years).  Besides, most pit bull owners are responsible and loving.  They do not own the type of dog that has been portrayed by an image routed in fear.

My best suggestion for you is rather than be scared by this bill I recommend that you read the bill.  You will see that it is good public policy.  Why would the dog wardens support this bill if it didn't help them do their job better, or if it would harm the public, they would not.

Thank you again for your feedback.  I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas.

Barbara Sears
Assistant Majority Floor Leader"

Reading over this exchange of opinions it stuns me just how perceptive the pastor was. He was aware that dog wardens did not support the bill.  He asked why she was to totally committed to pushing a law that has proven to be a disaster.  He was aware that the bill is a gift to pit bull advocacy.  He told her that her actions would come back to haunt her, and should have haunted her during the celebration.

Remember the five year lull between the deaths of Ernie Assad and Michael Winters?  In the first nine months after the passage of  HB 14 there were three dog mauling deaths in Ohio.   The passage of HB 14 has not brought peace or safety.   Since the passage of the bill, three day old Ohio resident Makayla Darnell was killed by her grandmother's pit bull in her grandmother's home on May 17, 2012, just two days prior to the celebration and plaque presentation.  Ohio resident Ronnel Brown, age forty, was killed by his own designer dog-pit bull mix on July 11, 2012.  Ohio resident Dawn Jergens was killed September 1, 2012 by her own two cane corsos.

Sears told the pastor that "I do believe that this bill better protects the public."  Fact does not bear this out.


Good times, May 19, 2012

Image above was deleted. Thank goodness for screenshots.