Banned In Cincinnati

My dog was banned in Cincinnati


This article's title may sound cute, but it relates the reality of a nightmare I now live with daily. We own a nine-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier with a CDX. She is in training for a Utility Dog title and is also registered with Therapy Dogs International and was part of a regular dog visitation therapy program. For seven years, we worked with doctors, nurses, therapists, and patients at Children's Hospital and various nursing homes throughout the city.

We were involved, but no longer. Cincinnati passed an ordinance, and now it is illegal for us to attend obedience classes or to do our therapy work.

On September 8, 1983, an 11-year-old boy was killed by a dog identified as “the family pit bull.” The headline “Pit bull kills child” covered the front page of every local newspaper. The truth was buried on a back page a few days later — the boy's father had purchased a male pit bull on the street to breed to the female he kept in the back yard. The male had been stolen and beaten to turn him into a fighting dog; when the owner advertised a reward, the thief sold the dog for $50. The father brought the dog home and put him in the back yard; the boy discovered the dogs in the act of breeding and began to hit them with a stick. The male attacked and killed the boy.

On September 24, an unlicensed, unvaccinated, unrestrained “pit bull” bit a child riding a bicycle, and three more loose dog bite incidents followed. The headlines read “pit bull”; an obscure sentence on a back page revealed that the three offending dogs were mixed breeds.

Soon any biting dog was labeled “pit bull.” Most Cincinnatians had never seen a “pit bull,” but they were sure the dogs weight 500 pounds, had blood in their eyes, and walked around with teeth bared looking for a throat to bite. People used to ignore my little 35-pound AmStaff when I walked her; suddenly I was treated as if I was pointing a loaded gun.

On September 28, Cincinnati City Council seemed intent on passing an ordinance to solve the city's “pit bull problem,” but concerned dog owners got it postponed.

At the time, Cincinnati had no leash law. However it did have a dangerous dog ordinance that defined as vicious “any dog who attacks or chases a person or domestic animal.” This law would have adequately addressed the problems, but no one was cited.

On October 11, city council presented an ordinance that specified American Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers or their mixes as “pit bulls,” and labeled them as innately vicious. In the discussion that followed, council members toyed with including other breeds on the list. German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks (“any breed that attacks lion must be vicious”) were mentioned, but council decided to limit the law to AmStaffs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.

Cincinnati Kennel Club, Clermont County Kennel Club, Queen City Dog Training Club pooled their resources and hired a lawyer. Council was bombarded with letters, facts, and statistics. The ordinance required identification of the breed by a veterinarian; three veterinarians testified that they were not qualified to determine or verify a dog's breed.

The Board of Health provided council with a list of all dog bites in Cincinnati for 10 months in 1982-83. There were 917 reported dog bites: 143 (16 percent) were mixed breeds and 112 (12 percent) were German Shepherds; 37 (less than one percent) were “pit bulls.” From 1975-1980, there were 74 dog-related deaths in the country; none were attributed to “pit bulls.”

The ordinance was postponed again until Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin, a breeder and trainer of AmStaffs and an animal behavior expert, could fly in to testify. He explained to council that an entire breed is not vicious by nature, and individual dogs regardless of breed can be vicious. Witnesses also cited the number of locally-owned “pit bulls” involved in obedience and therapy work.

On November 1, the city solicitor told the council law committee that he thought a law naming specific breeds of dogs may be unconstitutional.

Then a woman holding a three-year-old boy approached the committee. She pulled a bandage from the boy's face to reveal that he had lost an eye.

“A pit bull did this to my son,” she said.

The ordinance was forwarded to city council for passage a few days before the election. In January 1994, council introduced a law to ban the dogs from the city altogether. This law is patterned after the vicious dog ordinance; it targets AmStaffs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers and their mixes as “pit bulls” but does not mention a generic pit bull dog or pit bull terrier. Thus owners of registered dogs are guilty even if their dogs never cause a problem and owners of pit bull types are innocent whether they act responsibly or not.

The law was challenged in court but was declared constitutional; as a result, several other area communities now have “pit bull” bans that target these breeds.

Since this ordinance was passed, the State of Ohio has decided that dog wardens can identify the dogs, which eliminates the need for veterinarians to do so.

The Foremans moved out of Cincinnati to Clermont County. They have another AmStaff now; Kitty is 12 years old and has been commended by Therapy Dogs International for her long years of service in therapy work.

(Excerpted from an article for Off-Lead Magazine)

[Dog Owner's Guide Profile: American Staffordshire Terrier]

Dog Owner's Guide Profile: The American Pit Bull Terrier

Ozzie Foreman

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