Article published February 01, 2010
Toledo leaders appeal judge’s ruling on vicious-dogs law
By IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The city of Toledo’s controversial vicious-dog law is back in court again.
City officials yesterday filed an appeal in the 6th District Court of Appeals over a Toledo Municipal Court judge’s recent ruling that said parts of the vicious-dogs law and “pit bull” ownership restrictions were unconstitutional.
“We are appealing it, not necessarily on the basis of the dog law itself,” Deputy Mayor of Operations Steve Herwat said yesterday. “It’s more of a larger concern that anytime our home-rule power is challenged, we believe we need to stand up for the city’s rights to appeal.”
The Lucas County Dog Warden’s office stopped enforcing the law and the restrictions on so-called “pit bulls” after Judge Michael Goulding, in a Jan. 20 opinion, found that the city’s ownership restrictions were in conflict with home-rule doctrine as the requirements go above and beyond state law.
Judge Goulding’s ruling involved the case of a Toledo man, Hugh Smith, who was charged last fall with 13 violations of the city’s dog laws.
Judge Goulding dismissed all but three charges related to the owner’s failure to immunize for rabies.
City Law Director Adam Loukx said the city would fight to preserve its home-rule authority.
“The Ohio Constitution grants the city extensive power of home-rule and within those powers are the right to make reasonable laws that address local issues in matters local concern,” Mr. Loukx said. “We believe of the city’s code regarding vicious dogs was a valid exercise of home rule.”
Mr. Herwat said the Bell administration would ask the Lucas County Dog Warden Advisory Committee, formed a year ago to review the practices of former Dog Warden Tom Skeldon, to examine the city’s law.
The 11-member group last month rejected a request from Toledo Councilman Joe McNamara to do just that, but it could undertake the task this time, committee chairman Steve Serchuk said. What I personally want to see is a dangerous dog ordinance that deals with all dangerous dogs and how they need to be kept when off someone’s property, and what are the penalties against owners whose dogs either bite another dog, person, or damage property,” Mr. Serchuk said.
The city is also considering a new citizen-led committee to rewrite the now-contested law. It could set up a committee or form a subcommittee of the county’s existing dog warden advisory committee.
Toledo City Council is scheduled to vote today on the establishment of a Toledo Dog Policy Advisory Task Force.
Ohio law singles out “pit bulls” as inherently vicious, but it does not set muzzling or ownership number restrictions, or lump certain mixed-breed dogs with “pit bulls.”
The city’s law limits city residents to owning just one “pit bull” or “pit bull” mix and requires that owners keep their animal leashed and muzzled when it’s away from home. A violation is a misdemeanor offense.
Dog warden deputies have ventured onto the properties of Toledoans to seize dogs that look like “pit bulls,” and have taken those dogs that appear to violate the city ordinance.
Such enforcement action has stopped, said Lucas County Administrator Michael Beazley.
The city of Toledo has a contract with the county dog warden to enforce its local laws. Last year, the contract was for up to $146,882.
The contract calls for the city to pay the dog warden’s office $100 for every citation issued against a “pit bull” or “pit bull” mix.
Toledo City Council President Wilma Brown said she is in favor of the Bell administration appealing the judge’s ruling so the city can control the “pit bull” population.
“I am so worried about our service people who are out there,” Ms. Brown said. “Even if a ‘pit bull’ might be gentle, they still have that violence inbred.”
*Petdefense note: Note that “they still have that violence inbred” is a ridiculous statement which indicates a lack of knowledge of animal genetics/breeding. Home Rule means that a jurisdiction can implement laws which would be otherwise illegal according to the State law. For example, Denver CO has the breed ban against pitbulls. That was possible via Home Rule, because they claimed that the “issue” of the canines was a “local” concern. Only a “local” concern can create the exemption for Home Rule exemption.
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