Whitehall News

City looks to mirror state on 'vicious dogs' laws

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Whitehall City Council likely will abolish the city's dangerous-and-vicious-dogs appeals board and amend its code concerning the definition of dangerous and vicious dogs to mirror state laws.

Legislation abolishing the board and amending city code was expected to be introduced and receive a first reading during the July 16 meeting of Whitehall City Hall.

The legislation, introduced during a July 9 committee meeting, is expected to receive three readings. The legislation has emergency language and would be effective upon its passage, which is expected Aug. 20.

"We are marrying Ohio Revised Code with our local code," said Mayor Kim Maggard, who requested the change.

Whitehall city attorney Mike Shannon said July 15 that the legislation is intended to address redundancy and to ensure that Whitehall's city codes and ordinances remain aligned with state laws.

"Ohio Revised Code puts a different definition (on vicious dogs) than Whitehall does, and we want to be the same as Ohio's law," Maggard said.

Last year, Gov. John Kasich signed legislation to amend Ohio law concerning the criteria for which dogs are to be classified as vicious.

"We took time we needed," Maggard said, to craft new legislation to best serve the city's residents.

Ohio law is more specific than Whitehall's codes, setting apart definitions in three categories: nuisance dogs, dangerous dogs and vicious dogs.

If a Whitehall resident is cited for owning or harboring a nuisance, dangerous or vicious dog, the owner must appeal to the Environmental Division of the Franklin County Municipal Court.

"We now have a citizen-based appeals board whose members might not be up to date on any continuing changes in state law, (so) those cases need to be heard by (Franklin County)," Maggard said.

Whitehall will maintain its own policy concerning the harboring of dangerous or vicious animals.

State law requires owners to maintain liability insurance and a minimum-height fence.

Whitehall will continue to require a 6-foot fence, in excess of the minimum state requirement.

The definition and regulation of vicious dogs have a historic controversy in Whitehall as former City Councilwoman Jacqueline Thompson, in 2009, proposed failed legislation to ban pit bulls in Whitehall.

Council instead adopted legislation, based on Ohio Revised Code, defining vicious dogs and requiring owners of such dogs to adhere to a strict set of conditions, including muzzling the dog when moving in public, adhering to a minimum height requirement for fences and maintaining liability insurance.

In 2012, Kasich amended state law concerning vicious dogs, effectively removing an automatic assumption that pit bulls were vicious dogs by virtue of their breed.

City service director Ray Ogden said July 15 that his department, which oversees enforcement of animal control, is in the process of reviewing the proposed legislation and would be ready to follow its orders Aug. 20.

Two Reynoldsburg residents, Lori Schwartzkopf and Brad Hauser, on July 8 asked their city leaders to revise the city's vicious-dogs law to be breed-neutral. Reynoldsburg's ban on pit bulls has been in effect since 1996.

Reynoldsburg council member Chris Long confirmed that he "flat-out refuses to bring the issue to committee, saying that he can't stop people from making these dogs aggressive so he has to ban the dogs."

Hauser said he has a Facebook page supporting the issue, called "Pit bulls for Reynoldsburg." As of July 15, the page had 428 likes.

ThisWeek staff writer Pamela Willis contributed to this story.

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