Members of an ad hoc committee charged with evaluating Reynoldsburg's animal ordinance expressed diverse opinions about pit bulls at their first meeting March 27, but "safety" seemed to be the word of the day when they talked about possible changes to the law.
That fit with the instructions council President Doug Joseph passed along in a memo, asking the committee to consider "the efficacy of the legislation in promoting citizen safety; consistency with state law; comprehensive coverage of all aspects of responsible dog ownership; provision of clear, firm penalties and enforceability of the legislation."
Franklin County Dog Warden Joe Rock said his opinion of pit bulls, which are currently banned in Reynoldsburg, has changed in the past 15 years. Rock said he has handled well over 100,000 dogs, including several thousand pit bulls.
"Fifteen years ago, I never thought I'd own a pit bull, but now I do and it is a family member," he said. "It's true that the popularity of these dogs in the criminal element is large, and that is a concern. But I have an open mind going into this, if someone can convince me that this one breed of dog is causing a problem.
"If you are a responsible person and can act responsibly as a pet owner, then you should be able to have any kind of dog," he said.
Resident Bruce Sowell disagreed.
"There's a reason for the large number of pit bulls clogging dog shelters," he said. "People get these dogs and then can't deal with them."
He claimed deaths from pit bull attacks have gone up since state law was made non-breed-specific.
"I'm here to speak for the victims," he said. "A lot of people like me live in Reynoldsburg and they are speaking up now. I came here to listen, but my mind is made up. I will speak out for these folks."
Scott Mueller, a Reynoldsburg-area professional dog trainer, said education of owners is most important.
"It is all about safety for me," Mueller said. "We have to decide what is right for the community and for the dog owners.
"Regardless of breed, if puppies are not socialized in the first 16 weeks, people will have problems with at least half of them," he said. "Aggression is not breed-specific. About a dozen high-caliber breeds could prove potentially dangerous. Maybe all the high-caliber breeds could go through temperament testing."
Resident Carrie Acosta said she liked the idea that certain breeds of dogs should have to be evaluated by experts if people want to keep them in the city.
"I have struggled with this issue and what concerns me is, I believe there is a reason this dog is chosen by the criminal element," she said. "I worry that if we repeal this, there could be a mushroom-cloud problem of more people wanting to own these dogs."
Dr. Joel Melin, a Reynoldsburg veterinarian, said city laws regarding animal ownership "should be set up for safety, regardless of the breed."
"I think owners should bear full responsibility for their pets," he said. "The goal of the ordinance should be to rewrite it to keep the community safe."
Reynoldsburg resident Mark McKenzie said he thought the ordinance should be easier to understand.
"This ordinance also has to be enforced, so we should help to make it more easily understood," he said.
Committee Chairman Stephen J. Smith, an attorney with experience prosecuting canine cases, said members should go through the current city ordinance line by line before the next meeting Thursday, April 3, and be prepared to share ideas at that time.
City resident and former council member Monica DeBrock also asked for "facts, statistics and data" from Reynoldsburg Mayor's Court and the police department on dog bites and other animal reports. Rock said he could provide Franklin County data about dog bites.