New Ohio law would doom ‘vicious’ dogs

A proposed change to state legislation regarding vicious dogs would give judges no option other than euthanasia for dogs deemed vicious under the law and would create a statewide registry of nuisance, dangerous and vicious dogs and their owners.

Currently, it is rare for a judge to order a dog put down unless specifically requested by someone in law enforcement, said Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy Kelly McGilton, the county dog warden.

“Judges have options now. The officer basically has to request for the dog to be put down,” said McGilton of serious dog bite cases that go to court.

The new law would change the factors which can lead to a dog being labeled vicious. Deadly attacks against companion animals would be added as a qualifier for a vicious dog label. Dogs that cause serious injury to a person or companion animal would no longer be listed as vicious. Rather, it would be seen as dangerous under the proposed new classification system.

While McGilton said she agrees with the proposed change, there could be complications with enforcing the law, she said.

The city of Belpre already has a dog ordinance similar to the proposed Ohio law which allows for euthanasia of dogs that kill another animal, said McGilton.

When a Belpre woman’s dog attacked and killed another dog on her property, McGilton recommended the dog be put down and was about to take the case to court when the dog apparently came up missing, she said.

“If people know their dog is going to be euthanized no matter what, they’re going to try to find a way around that,” said McGilton.

However, some dog lovers also agree that euthanasia is the best option for dogs whose attacks go so far as to kill a person or pet.

“I think as far as euthanizing vicious dogs, I think that’s the only fair thing to do for the animal,” said Marietta resident Carol McKitrick, an owner of three dogs.

Belpre City law director Tom Webster said the city has traditionally tried to find options other than euthanasia when such cases appear in Belpre Mayor’s Court.

“In Mayor’s Court we handle them on a case-by-case basis, and the mayor tries, when possible, not to euthanized dogs. Sometimes you can put together a system of restraint that will allow the dog to remain lives the owner,” he said.

More often than not, the family will make the decision to euthanize a dog that has caused serious injury, said McGilton.

“We’re fortunate in this area. When you have dogs that bite, owners take it upon themselves to do the right thing the majority of the time,” she said.

In fact, sometimes McGilton talk owners out of putting down a dog, instead informing them of options to send the dog to a more suitable home. For example, dogs that have showed signs of aggression will often do better in homes where no children or other pets are present.

The proposed change would also include a statewide registry which lists nuisance, dangerous and vicious dogs. The registry would include information on the dog’s owners, other complaints against the dogs, as well as characteristic information on the dogs.

McGilton keeps track of dogs labeled as such. However, only nuisance dogs are listed with the county. Currently, there are no such dogs in Washington County, said Holly Webb, who oversees dog licensing through the county auditor’s office.

While McKitrick can see the logic behind such a registry, she said she would want to know such a system is feasible and easy to maintain before throwing her support behind.

“If they create a law, you want to it to be doable,” she said.

As in the current law, a dog’s breed plays no role in its classification as vicious. Up until a change in May 2012, pit bulls were deemed vicious in Ohio regardless of their behavior.

McGilton, McKitrick, and a host of others families with canine behavior agree that breed is a poor indication of how dangerous a dog is.

The majority of dog bite cases McGilton investigates involve Labradors, she said.

“I think putting a stigma on a breed is wrong,” said McKitrick. “There’s not any kind of dog that’s not capable of being mean. It’s not the breed; it’s what they’re trained to do.”

The proposed change, which is in response to the killing of 57-year-old Klonda Ritchey of Dayton by two mixed mastiffs, will not likely see any action until lawmakers return from summer recess.