Two weeks after Reynoldsburg City Council voted to reject all recommendations to change the city's animal ordinance, a local veterinarian who was a member of the ad hoc committee named to study the existing laws is wondering if it "was a sham."
Council voted 5-1 July 28 to uphold a citywide ban on pit bulls and also rejected all of the committee's recommendations to improve the existing animal ordinance.
The group met every week, studying Reynoldsburg's animal ordinance line by line for nearly three months.
Dr. Joel Melin said his initial reaction to the council action was "surprise."
Melin said he thought council would "at least go for changes related to leash laws, owner responsibility and penalties, even if they left BSL (breed-specific language) in place.
"It seems their minds were made up and research and fact were irrelevant," he said.
Fellow committee member Monica DeBrock, a former member of city council, said she was frustrated by the vote.
"The ad hoc committee worked to create recommendations that were fair and enforceable, focusing on both animal owners and the rights of people who fear animals," DeBrock said.
"The committee believed, with appropriate animal legislation, Reynoldsburg could promote responsible animal owners that not only mandated adequate pet care, but also required 'being a good neighbor' with your pet."
Besides Melin and DeBrock, committee members included attorney Stephen Smith; Scott Mueller, founder of the national K-9 Learning Center; and residents Carrie Acosta, Bruce Sowell and Mark McKenzie.
Smith said the committee did its job.
"I do not have any issues whatsoever with council's decision," he said. "I appreciate the opportunity to serve on the ad hoc committee. The committee was charged with making recommendations to council, which we did. Council, not the committee, was elected to serve and make decisions on behalf of the citizens of Reynoldsburg."
The committee recommendations included dropping breed-specific language to follow the state's lead in allowing pit bulls. Most cities in central Ohio, except for Bexley and Reynoldsburg, have breed-neutral laws that allow any breed of dog to be kept, with some restrictions.
Ad hoc members also thought city leaders should establish anti-tethering and solid leash laws, plus remove outdated language from the ordinance. That language includes a section that deals with riding horses on city streets and another section that seems to indicate it is lawful to poison an animal with the consent of the owner.
Specifically, the current code says: "No person shall maliciously, or willfully and without the consent of the owner, kill or injure a dog, cat, or any other domestic animal that is the property of another."
The ad hoc group also thought the city should allow people to keep chickens within city limits, with restrictions.
Melin said it seemed the majority of council members "had no real interest in updating the codes, or improving how the city handles animal-related matters."
He said the nearly unanimous vote "suggests that the ad hoc committee was a sham."
"There is more to the safety of residents than simply BSL," he said. "So it is a little disappointing that they would have the committee go through the process and time we did when they were not at all interested in any of the committee's recommendations."
Melin said he is unlikely to volunteer to help with any similar study in the future.
"It certainly will make me less likely to try to provide my time to help council in the future and I would state that to anyone who might consider volunteering their time to the city," he said.
DeBrock said serving on the ad hoc committee was an educational experience that helped her understand why Reynoldsburg needs better leash and tethering laws, why underground fencing doesn't work for some dogs and families, and why animal/dog education is important to reduce dog bites.
However, she said, the situation surrounding the formation of the ad hoc group should be a "wake-up call" for residents.
"While I'm frustrated city council chose not to approve any of the recommendations," DeBrock said, "I hope this is a wake-up call to residents regarding city government, because anyone wanting to bring a topic to city council shouldn't have to work as hard as the breed-neutral advocates just to get the topic on city council's agenda."