The trustees in Union Township, (Clermont County, Ohio), approved a resolution that restricts dog owners to five pets and effectively limits new kennels in its jurisdiction. Proposed by Trustee Tim Donellon and passed unanimously on September 24, the resolution allows existing kennels and breeders to stay in business and excepts those who raise guide dogs and hearing-aid dogs; breeders who have a litter that temporarily brings the numbers above five, new veterinary clinics with boarding facilities, and hunters.
Donellon said that the township has received complaints about noise and odors that can be tied to numbers of pets. The township has a barking-dog ordinance, but Donellon said that it can be interpreted to mean that a single bark is unacceptable.
Dog limit laws are popular but have been ruled unconstitutional in two recent cases. In March 1994, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled that a five pet limit is unconstitutional. The court decided that the ordinance did not require the city to determine that a nuisance exists if an owner has five pets and that, if multiple-pet ownership is in fact a nuisance, there are more reasonable ways to handle it than a limit imposed on all pet owners.
“What is not an infringement upon public safety and is not a nuisance cannot be made one by legislative fiat and then prohibited,” the court quoted from an earlier case. “Further, even legitimate legislative goals cannot be pursued by means which stifle fundamental personal liberty when the goals can otherwise be more reasonably achieved.”
The second ruling on dog limits came in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, in August. The city had imposed a two-dog limit with permits available to own up to four dogs. Owners of more than four dogs when the ordinance passed were required to get permission from all neighbors within 100 feet of their property lines in order to keep their dogs.
[More on the Sauk Rapids, Minnesota case]
Dog limit laws are also easy to circumvent unless neighbors complain, leading dog owners to scoff at the laws and avoid licensing their dogs.
On Monday, September 23, Fairfield (Ohio) City Council passed a ban on American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and any other dog identified as a pit bull terrier. The vote came a month after council tabled the proposed ban to give its new dangerous dog law an opportunity to solve any problems with aggressive or vicious canines. The ban was not on the agenda, and citizens who opposed it were not notified of the new vote.
On August 26, two Fairfield residents told council of being menaced by a “pit bull,” and several residents spoke against a breed-specific ban as an appropriate way to deal with problems caused by dogs running loose in violation of already existing laws. Faye McCreadie presented a petition against the ban signed by 24 of her neighbors, and veterinarian spoke against breed-specific ordinances.
Ohio Valley Dog Owners urged council to use strict enforcement of nuisance laws against irresponsible dog owners and to give its dangerous dog law a chance to deal with the situation instead of targeting breeds.
With Councilmen Jeffrey Holtegel and Terry Senger in opposition and two councilmembers absent, Councilman Ron D'Epifanio did not have the votes necessary for passage. The ban was then tabled indefinitely.
On September 23, D'Epifanio presented council with petitions carrying more than 200 signatures in favor of the ban. Senger and Holtegel voted no; the ban was approved.
Two days after the ban was passed, Fairfield police chief Gary Rednour said that the offending dog — a young puppy who chased children in an attempt to play — had already been removed from the city. He said that there are perhaps a handful of “pit bulls” left in Fairfield, and that owners have until October 24 to move or send their dogs elsewhere. If any “pit bulls” are found in Fairfield after that date, their owners will be arrested, he said.
Citizens who oppose the ban can gather signatures to place a referndum on the ballot. They have until October 23 to gather about 900 signatures. If the petitions are approved, the law will be put on hold until the voters decide the issue.
Breed bans are an emotional response to a nuisance problem that can be solved by other, less punitive means. Ohio Valley Dog Owners has compiled this list of reasons to oppose breed- specific ordinances and to replace them with laws and programs that educate all citizens and target irresponsible dog owners instead of the breeds they own.
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