Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Laws in Ohio, and pit bull violence in Cincinnati. "Bad rap" or simply more of the same?

This post is about laws and politics.  I expect it will wander a bit, even across state lines.

Ohio House

Some good news (I think), the long promised changes to Ohio law regarding dangerous dogs have appeared.  HB 541 is sponsored by Ohio Representatives Winburn and Blair.  Quick review, Representative Winburn was a co-sponsor of HB 14, the bill written by an out of state special interest organization (Best Friends Animal Society) to suit their tastes and agenda.  Representative Blair voted in favor of HB 14.   Since the passage of HB 14, the bill that was sold as "finally gives dog wardens the tools to deal with dangerous dogs" in 2012 seven Ohio residents have been mauled to death by dogs. In the previous 25 years Ohio had 6 fatal dog attacks.  History lesson over.

Here are some highlights of the proposed bill.  Sec. 109.73 (13)" Establishing requirements for the training of dog wardens and deputies for the purposes of division (E) of section 955.12 of the Revised Code."

Some tinkering has been done to the definitions of nuisance dog, dangerous dog and vicious dog.  Please feel free to review the entire proposed law, click here.

Moving along to 955.12 we find that wardens and deputies will now have the authority (if the bill passes) to make arrests.

In 955.13 the Ohio Attorney General is directed to establish and maintain a registry of this chapter and complaints regarding possible violations of it.  The registry will include any dog that is the subject of a complaint, by breed, color, hair type, registration number, and name, the name and address of the owner, gender and DOB.  The registry will also include details of the complaint or possible violations plus name, address, gender and DOB of victims. Descriptions of any enforcement action will be there.  Sternly worded post it notes left on a dog owner's door probably will not cut it. A new section 955.60 (c) states that after posting the the violation notice on the dog owner's door that dog owner must respond within 48 hours, with a bit of wiggle room built in as "reasonable".  Dog owners not responding will be fined $25 whole dollars, after 96 hours the fine jumps to $40 and after one week the courts may issue a summons or warrant for the arrest of the dog owner, keeper, or harborer.  Expect breed specific advocates to hate the registry.

Vicious dogs will be defined as any dog has killed a person or any companion animal (955.11 (6)(a).   If a dog has been determined to be vicious via the unwieldy process written into Ohio law by HB 14 and appeals are denied it will be euthanized.

Killing or serious injury of a person by a dog on a first offense will become a fifth degree felony and the dog will be humanely euthanized.  It would be a felony of the fourth degree if the dog owner has been cited previously. Killing or serious injury of a companion animal by a dog can be a felony of  the fifth degree if the dog owner has been cited previously.

As expected, the Toledo Blade is unhappy with HB 541.  The headline of a Blade article dated 6/2/2014 "Proposed law would demand 'vicious dogs' be put to death" the Blade whines " A proposed law introduced after the mauling death of a Dayton woman would create a statewide registry to track dog violations and complaints and give judges no choice but to order a dog destroyed once it’s been legally declared “vicious.”

This is a problem for the management of the the Blade?  No choice?  The Blade would rather return killer dogs to the community?  Or hustle them off to some other town with no disclosure of previous attacks?

Barbara Sears, sponsor of HB 14 voices her opinion on HB 541 “In some parts of the bill they seem to be broadening it and in other parts seem to be narrowing it down,” she said. “Somebody needs to explain that in more detail. I always knew when we did [House Bill 14 in 2012] that there was going to be a rule or jurisdiction that somebody would need to adapt. I’m much more a fan of letting the locals root those issues out.” Sears is reportedly not a fan of the registry which would track vicious dogs but somebody needs to track these things.  At least she has admitted that it is appropriate for "locals to root these issues out" because pit bull advocates meeting resistance to demands for changes in local law in Parma and Reynoldsburg have threatened to take their demands to the state legislature for a bill prohibiting breed specific legislation.  Good to know that Barbara Sears would not support that.   Interestingly, in the Blade article Representative Sears states that she does not own a dog and never has.  

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The City of Lima Ohio has revised the wording but not the intent of their local laws regarding pit bulls.  I find this quote notable " “We are adopting pre-aggression legislation.”  “The difference is we are not defining pit bulls as inherently dangerous, but we wanted to have something in place on a rational basis of what goes on in the city.”

Lima will continue to restrict pit bulls.  Last year in Lima there were 19 reported pit bull bites compared to the next closest with five bites by Shepherd breeds.  Per ,  Those concerns were amplified recently when two people suffered injuries from two 6-month-old male pit bulls and were treated at St. Rita’s Medical Center.

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Newark Ohio City Council passed a new law giving local judges discretion to order euthanization of a dog the first time it bites someone and causes serious injury.  Councilman Jeff Rath, sponsor of the bill stated "This is about protecting kids and holding irresponsible dog owners accountable."  Can't argue with that.  This brings us to Cincinnati Ohio.

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On June 4, 2014 six year old Zainabou Drame was attacked by pit bulls owned by a neighbor.   This attack occurred while the little girl was playing outside with her brother and other children.  Zainabou's injuries are so severe that until 6/20/2014 she was in a medically induced coma in Cincinnati Children's Hospital and homicide detectives were assigned to her case.  During the attack  Zainabou's mother ran from her home to defend her daughter with a baseball bat (note the sidebar article on Ft. Thomas, we are going there eventually) but was unable to drive the dogs away.  Police were called to the scene of the attack and the pit bulls turned on them as well,  both dogs were shot.  911 audio is available at the link (note the sidebar article on pit bull regulations in the Tri State area) we will get to that as well.  Dashcam video of police arrival and reactions are available here.

Reactions from neighbors may be seen at this link.  There has been no history of violence from these pit bulls and they were reportedly at large frequently. While some neighbors stated they were afraid of these it bulls this was the first documented "bite" from them. Cincinnati, having dropped their breed ban in 2012, allows every dog a first bite and this was a stunner.  Zaiabou's face was ripped away, her jaw was "basically ripped off", her tongue was so damaged that it had to be removed. one eye was sewn shut because the muscle below it no longer functions.  She is now alert and awake but has many surgeries ahead of her.  She will never speak without a tongue, how will she eat?  Her life is changed, who can give her back a normal life?

This attack has cost the City of Cincinnati a great deal of money to date,  police, paramedics, homicide detectives,  it is doubtful that the owners of the pit bulls has any insurance to pay for Zainabou's medical expenses, how many surgeries?  How much money?  The sky is the limit.  Rehabilitation costs?  The expenses don't end.  Zainabou will not be able to speak,  she will hear but not speak.  She will likely learn American Sign Language and will require an interpreter whenever she is in a hospital or medical facility and this cost falls to the hospital.  How about school?  Are schools required to provide interpreters?    My guess is yes and I have no problem with this, this child deserves the full protection of the ADA.

The owners of the pit bulls have been arrested on drug and gun charges.  Zontae Irby is a convicted drug dealer and is currently being held on $75,000 bond.  Police have been to the family home in the past.  Irby is the brother of Dierres Lee who admitted to killing a high school student over a drug deal gone wrong. Valores White has been charged with permitting drug abuse, a felony.  Per a judge's order, White is never to own dogs again.  The County is attempting to seize White's home as a public nuisance due to drug activity going back to 2007.  Given the speed of charges in Cincinnati, why is Dayton so slow to file charges against Custer and Nason, owners of the dogs that killed Konda Richey.   But, I digress.

These are exactly the type of people described in this 2006 research  "Ownership of High Risk (vicious) Dogs as a Marker for Deviant Behavior."     Please note that everyone involved in this research project is from Cincinnati, and participants from the Cincinnati SPCA are among them.  We may return to this research later.

               Zontae Irby                                     Valores White

A spokesman for the Hamilton County ASPCA blames neighbors for what he calls a "preventable tragedy." He stated that neighbors should have called in complaints about loose dogs.  How many unanswered "loose dog" complaints are made in Cincinnati?  This WKRC reporter indicates that it might take many complaints before action is taken.  Harold Dates of the Cincinnati SPCA makes a statement.

The Cincinnati City Council has responded to the near fatal mauling of Zainabou Drame by asking if state law might be strengthened to prevent drug dealers, gang members, and criminals might be prevented from having "those dogs."    A thoughtful city council member might read existing state law.  ORC Section 955.54 states

955.54 Possession of certain dogs by convicted felons prohibited.

(A) No person who is convicted of or pleads guilty to a felony offense of violence committed on or after the effective date of this section or a felony violation of any provision of Chapter 959., 2923., or 2925. of the Revised Code committed on or after the effective date of this section shall knowingly own, possess, have custody of, or reside in a residence with either of the following for a period of three years commencing either upon the date of release of the person from any period of incarceration imposed for the offense or violation or, if the person is not incarcerated for the offense or violation, upon the date of the person's final release from the other sanctions imposed for the offense or violation:
(1) An unspayed or unneutered dog older than twelve weeks of age;
(2) Any dog that has been determined to be a dangerous dog under Chapter 955. of the Revised Code.
(B) A person described in division (A) of this section shall microchip for permanent identification any dog owned, possessed by, or in the custody of the person.
(1) Division (A) of this section does not apply to any person who is confined in a correctional institution of the department of rehabilitation and correction.
(2) Division (A) of this section does not apply to any person with respect to any dog that the person owned, possessed, had custody of, or resided in a residence with prior to the effective date of this section.

Added by 129th General AssemblyFile No.75, HB 14, §1, eff. 5/22/2012.

Cincinnati is not finished with pit bull violence. On June 6th police responded  to a call about a street fight.  A man was using his pit bull to attack other people.  Police shot the dog.  On June 8th police shot another pit bull, it was menacing children but restraint was shown and a taser was deployed, it did not work so the pit bull was shot.

Cincinnati pit bull owners announced an event in response to the very public attack on a Cincinnati child.  The first thing that might come to mind is crowd funding for  Zainabou Drame's medical bills.  Anyone making that guess would be wrong.  The event was a Pit Pride Parade.  As an apparent afterthought a collection was taken and it was reported that $500 was collected to be used for Zainabou's medical costs.

Our next post will explain how Cincinnati's pit bull advocacy crosses state lines.