Changing Times in Ohio

May 8, 2012  

StubbyDog chats with two Ohio pit bull advocates about the passing of House Bill 14

By Lisa Vinney and Chad Millar

(The governor of Ohio signing HB 14)

Back on February 21, 2012, animal-welfare history was made in the state of Ohio when House Bill 14 (HB 14) was signed into law by Governor John Kasich. This bill essentially repeals the legislative language that referred to pit bull type dogs as inherently dangerous and/or vicious, regardless of behavior. In addition, it strengthens the state’s “dangerous dog” ordinances in a way that punishes an individual dog’s behavior rather than judging it based on appearance. The passing of this law effectively ended a 25-year reign of statewide breed-discriminatory legislation in the state of Ohio. In fact, Ohio was the only remaining state to enforce a statewide policy of labeling any pit bull type dog as vicious or inherently dangerous. This bill will officially go into effect on May 20 (90 days from when it was signed into law). StubbyDog wanted to provide some perspectives from local pit bull advocates and animal welfare workers who have played pivotal roles in the passage of HB 14. Here are some thoughts and reflections from Chris Hughes, founder of Rowdy to the Rescue and Therapits, and Jean Keating, president of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates.

Q: What is your background with pit bulls?

CH: We have always had dogs and understood the plight of the pit bull. They have always been my [dog] of choice because I understand what they go through so to speak. I was a competitive power-lifter, and people would always say that they wouldn’t want to come across me in an alley. People say that about pit bulls all the time.

JK: My son asked if we could rescue a dog from a friend because she was afraid her boyfriend was training their dog to fight. Since we always had lots of foster dogs in our house, I said no problem. Little did I know then [that] my life was about to change. When I met Capone for the first time, I thought he was incredibly handsome. He was a beautiful gray color with a muscular white chest and white feet. He was a handful, and I discovered very quickly how athletic and energetic American Staffordshire Terriers can be. Within a few days I was head over heels in love and have been ever since. Capone was the easiest dog to train, and he quickly went from out of control to AKC Canine Good Citizen certified. Amstaffs are amazingly people focused, and I love that about the breed. It didn’t take long before I found myself advocating day and night for these wonderful dogs. The thought that he could be taken from me for no other reason than his appearance kept me awake many nights.

Q: What prompted “pit bulls” to be labeled “vicious dogs” in the first place?

JK: There were two deaths within a very short period of time attributed to pit bulls in Ohio. The change in the Ohio Revised Code was a knee jerk reaction by the legislature to convince the public they were doing something to keep them safe from dangerous dogs.

Q: How did HB 14 get started?

CH: HB 14 was introduced by Rep. Barbara Sears. The entire state of Ohio owes a huge thank you to BADRAP, Animal Farm Foundation and Best Friends Animal Society for their help in getting this passed. They spent so much time here helping us and securing a better future for Ohio pit bulls.

JK: Ohio Rep. Shawn Webster had attempted to overturn breed discrimination in Ohio through HB 366. He was not only a representative, but also a veterinarian and knew the problems associated with breed discrimination. After an unsuccessful legislative run for HB 366, Dr. Webster was termed out and returned to private practice. Around the same time, Barbara Sears was elected as an Ohio house representative. Having known her and her family for a number of years, I turned to her for help. I knew she was a dog lover and supported local rescues. We discussed the issue, and she agreed to sponsor a bill that became HB 79. It died in the senate when the legislative year came to a close. Our organization made tremendous progress under HB 79 educating the public and legislators about breed-neutral dangerous dog laws. Rep. Sears was re-elected and I approached her again. She was behind this law change 100 percent and introduced HB 14. The rest is history.

Q: What do you think has changed that made the passing of this bill successful when it failed in previous years?

CH: I believe that legislators finally realized that Ohio was the only state with this law, and some states even went as far as making it illegal to discriminate against breeds. We had a tremendous amount of support from amazing groups all over the country, and with all that support and all the new programs that were being introduced, legislators realized it was time to make a change.

JK: The data speaks for itself. Educated people were finally willing to listen to the experts and realize that the media hype was about selling papers and not about keeping people safe. I believe the Vicktory dogs played a large role in opening people’s minds as well. Their recovery and rehabilitation was very, very public and extremely successful. The dogs were finally seen as victims and not mythical monsters. If the “most dangerous dogs in America” could become therapy dogs when placed in the right hands, how could we continue to focus on breed as the root of aggression?

Q: Who is to thank for the passing of this bill?

CH: We had a lot of public support from pit bull owners throughout the state. We also had a tremendous amount of support from rescue groups around the country, such as BADRAP, Animal Farm Foundation and Best Friends.

JK: Ledy VanKavage and Best Friends Animal Society were behind us 100 percent of the way. Without their guidance and support, we would not have accomplished this incredible feat. Ledy is an amazing person, and I am so lucky to have gotten to know her through this endeavor. She is a strong advocate and so willing to share her knowledge and expertise with others. I will be forever grateful.

(Ledy VanKavage of Best Friends Animal Society, Jean Keating and Dawn Stretar from OCDA, and Rep. Barbara Sears)
Q: Have you heard any reactions from local Ohioans about the change in law?

CH: We have heard mixed feelings. People realize that in most cases it is not the dog but how they [are treated], but there are still a lot of people who buy into everything they hear in the media and are very fearful.

Q: Are there specific districts that you know of in Ohio that have breed-discriminatory legislation related to pit bulls despite the change in state legislation?

CH: Lakewood and Parma are the local ones that have not changed anything.

JK: Within the next year, I believe most communities will adopt the new state law. It is an excellent law, and when people really sit down and read through it, they will recognize how much safer their community will be once it goes into effect.

Q: In recent weeks, there have been significant moments in the fight against BDL. Do you think Ohio is partially to thank for this small (but significant) sea of change?

CH: I think it has something to do with it, but I also believe that this has been coming from a long ways away. With all of the positive groups and programs out there it was only a matter of time before legislators started taking notice and making the correct changes.

JK: The change in Ohio has sparked discussion all over the world. If the only state in America with statewide breed discrimination can move to a breed-neutral dangerous dog law, one has to stop and look at the research.

« « Max and Delilah | Trinidad and Tobago Law Targets Pit Bulls » »

Comments are closed.