Supporters marshal forces to repeal pit bull ban
City's safety committee will hold further discussion at Nov. 4 meeting
Reynoldsburg City Council members were encouraged Monday to remember "a dog is a dog" by people who hope council will repeal breed-specific legislation that brands pit bulls as "vicious" and bans them from the city.
At least 30 pit bull supporters -- about 10 of whom live in Reynoldsburg -- showed up during Reynoldsburg City Council's Oct. 21 safety committee meeting, which was led by Councilman Chris Long.
On the agenda for discussion was a repeal of city ordinance 505.01, which brands pit bulls as vicious animals that must be removed from city limits.
Long made it clear, however, after listening to a number of supporters and a few opponents, how he felt about lifting the ban.
"I'm an animal lover," Long said. "This has never been about the pit bull itself, but about irresponsible dog owners. I would still be concerned if a pit bull lived next to me, but this is not just about me.
"I am charged with the safety of 36,000 people, so I have to take all of those people into consideration," he said. "I don't see that (further discussion) changing my mind."
Reynoldsburg residents Brad Hauser and Lori Schwartzkopf have presented information to council members and brought speakers to meetings since July, urging city leaders to discuss repealing the legislation that bans pit bulls.
A state law was repealed in May 2012 that designated pit bull dogs as vicious, but because some cities have home-rule authority, that repeal did not end breed-specific legislation throughout Ohio.
Hauser and Schwartzkopf are members of Pit Bulls for Reynoldsburg, which has a Facebook page with that title.
Hauser said the mission of the group is to educate people about the shortcomings of breed-specific laws (BSL) and to promote alternatives. He said 16 states actually prohibit municipalities from enacting breed-specific laws.
The group brought speakers from the Humane Society of the United States, Citizens for Humane Action (CHA) Animal Shelter and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to Monday's council committee meetings in Reynoldsburg.
Karen Minton, state director of the Humane Society, said her organization could help the city draft safe dog-management legislation.
"We agree with the state that breed-specific legislation does not work and we say there is no evidence that any particular breed is more dangerous than another," she said. "BSL ignores the true scope of the problem because it creates unrealistic mandates that take dogs out of homes and into shelters."
Minton said her organization rescued 200 pit bulls from a property that housed 500 dogs in a dog-fighting operation.
"The pit bulls we rescued have all become family pets," she said. "BSL takes the focus away from the people responsible for dog behavior -- the dog owners."
CHA volunteer Katie Stenman said the shelter conducts sociability tests on all dogs that are rescued or surrendered to the shelter.
"Pit bulls do as well as any other breed on sociability tests and are actually significantly more tolerant of handling than many other dog breeds," she said. "You have to realize a dog is a dog."
Vicki Deisner, state legislative director for the ASPCA, said the organization believes that BSL legislation "has no legal basis and that owners have a right to be heard and appeal."
"Your current law directs officers -- none of whom are required to have any training in dog breed identification -- to identify pit bulls and issue citations for their removal," she said. "The law also does not render due process to repeal a citation. It punishes responsible dog owners and fails to discuss the real problem, which is irresponsible dog owners."
Schwartzkopf said she gathered 72 Reynoldsburg police reports from 2010 to Oct. 10 this year. Overall, she said, the reports show that 33 dogs caused injury in that four-year period. She said 32 of the dogs were not pit bull-type dogs; they were shepherds, mixed-breeds, boxers and beagles.
Resident Sandy Westerwiller said she has concerns about the breed.
"I'm a dog-lover with two border collies," she said. "I think your research should include the severity of the bites. I think there are legitimate concerns about a pit bull's bites and the power of their jaws."
Hauser said it has been "scientifically demonstrated that pit bulls are not anatomically different than other dogs where their jaws are concerned."
"Every big dog has about the same bite pressure," he said. "The amount of damage pit bulls can do is the same as any other large-breed dog."
Resident Norm Brusk said he wants to see more research on how the dogs bite.
"Pit bulls shake their heads as they bite down, which causes a more severe bite," he said. "I think they are often unpredictable, too. I want to see more research on the severity of their bites. Is our ordinance proactive now, but if we change it, will we now be reactive?"
Council President Doug Joseph said he is interested in learning which cities have recently repealed breed-specific laws.
"A state law was changed and quite a few municipalities changed," he said. "I would like to move this discussion to the next committee meeting and hear from elected officials from a city that has repealed their breed-specific legislation."
Council members voted to delay the discussion for two weeks until the next safety committee meeting, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building, 7232 E. Main St.