For Lori Schwartzkopf, the City Council vote last week to repeal Reynoldsburg's ban on pit bulls marked the end of a long crusade.
Schwartzkopf, a member of Citizens for a Breed Neutral Reynoldsburg, first asked council to reconsider the pit-bull ban in 2013.
"We are elated that this long fight with the city to remove the ban is over," she said. "Residents can now bring home any dog they choose, regardless of the way it looks, and the city still has enforceable 'dangerous and vicious dog' laws in place to deal with owners of dogs that behave badly."
Council's 4-2 decision Feb. 26 lifted a ban that had been in place since 1996. A possible 10-day wait to see if Mayor Brad McCloud would veto the ordinance was eliminated when council President Doug Joseph -- as acting mayor while McCloud was out of town from Feb. 27 to March 2 -- signed it into law Feb. 28.
Council members Stacie Baker, Kristin Bryant, Caleb Skinner and Marshall Spalding voted for the repeal, while Barth Cotner and Brett Luzader voted against it. Councilman Mel Clemens was absent.
According to minutes of the meeting posted on the city website at ci.reynoldsburg.oh.us, Luzader and Cotner said they know too many residents who believe the ban should remain.
"Without a better plan in place, to just eliminate and change (the law) right now -- I'm not comfortable with that," Cotner said.
According to Bryant, the number of citations issued -- for "harboring" pit bull dogs, not because the dogs had bitten anyone or behaved badly -- went from five in 2012 to 24 in 2013, then 45 in 2014.
After that, she said, the Reynoldsburg Division of Police stopped enforcing the law.
A number of residents who had been cited for owning the dogs took the city to court and most of the citations were dismissed.
Council asked an ad hoc committee to study Reynoldsburg's animal ordinance in early 2014. The committee spent months studying the issue and presented a list of recommendations in July 2014, all of which were rejected. The recommendations included removing breed-specific language from city code and instituting stricter leash and tethering laws.
Darlene Russ sued Reynoldsburg when she was cited for owning a pit bull. After a Licking County judge ruled in the city's favor, she took the case to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, which ruled in February 2017 that the city's law was in opposition to Ohio Revised Code Section 955. That section abolished the practice of identifying any one breed of dog as "vicious." The judge ruled that Ohio residents may keep or own any breed they choose.
"Essentially, given the combination of the police ceasing enforcement of the law and the Fifth District's opinion in the Russ case, we felt there was no choice but to repeal the ban," Bryant said.
She said council members want to revisit the animal code to see how it can be improved and would discuss hiring an animal control officer.
Spalding said Reynoldsburg spent more than $50,000 on legal expenses trying to defend the ban on pit bulls, then police officers were instructed not to enforce it.
"If we are not going to enforce it, then it should be removed," he said.
He said other cities, including Columbus, Dublin, Bexley and New Albany, lifted similar bans on pit bulls, particularly because the breed is hard to identify, even by veterinarians.
"The focus should be on the behavior of the animal, not the breed," Spalding said. "Our law does that very well. We should not send mixed messages to our police: Pass a law but do not enforce it because if we do go to court, we will not win."
"Essentially, given the combination of the police ceasing enforcement of the law and the Fifth District's opinion in the Russ case, we felt there was no choice but to repeal the ban."
-- KRISTIN BRYANT
Reynoldsburg City Council