The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that cities trying to regulate the number of pit bulls under one roof is constitutional.
This decision upholds a Toledo ordinance which limits dog owners to only one pit bull per household and sets requirements on confining pit bulls. When a pit bull is out, he must be muzzled and be on a specific kind of leash. The ruling also validates a state law that defines pit bulls as a “vicious dog.”
In an unanimous decision, the court reversed an appeals court ruling that said Toledo’s ordinance was unconstitutional.
Animal rights groups say that the laws should be focused on owners who train their dogs to be aggressive instead of singling out specific dog breeds.
The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by former Toledo resident, Paul Tellings, who owned three pit bulls in violation of the cityâ€™s ordinance limiting households to one. The laws also impose liability insurance requirements and require the animals to be muzzled or otherwise confined when off their home property.
Tellings entered a plea of not guilty and then challenged the laws saying that they were unconstitutional. He challenged the part of the law that defines a “vicious dog.”
From Fox 19:
The trial court had extensive hearings, then rules that as a breed, pit bulls are not more dangerous than other breeds, but evidence supported the city’s claim that pit bulls are dangerous in an urban setting.
Based on that finding, the municipal court ruled the laws were constitutional. Tellings appealed to the 6th District Court of Appeals, which reversed the municipal court’s decision. The city appealed to the Supreme Court, and today’s ruling allows the laws to stand.
In the court’s opinion, Chief Justice Moyer wrote:
“The trial court cited the substantial evidence supporting its conclusion that pit bulls, compared to other breeds, cause a disproportionate amount of danger to people. The chief dog warden of Lucas County testified that: (1) when pit bulls attack, they are more likely to inflict severe damage to their victim than other breeds of dogs; (2) pit bulls have killed more Ohioans than any other breed of dog; (3) Toledo police officers fire their weapons in the line of duty at pit bulls more often than they fire weapons at people and all other breeds of dogs combined; (4) pit bulls are frequently shot during drug raids because pit bulls are encountered more frequently in drug raids than any other dog breed…. The evidence presented in the trial court supports the conclusion that pit bulls pose a serious danger to the safety of citizens. The state and the city have a legitimate interest in protecting citizens from the danger posed by this breed of domestic dogs.”
Chief Justice Moyer’s opinion was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger and Robert R. Cupp.
Justice Maureen O’Connor concurred in judgment only, and entered a separate opinion expressing her “disapproval” of the provision of state law classifying all pit bulls as “vicious dogs.” She wrote that data cited by the trial court regarding pit bull attacks did not reflect inherent violent characteristics of the breed but rather arose from deliberate efforts by some owners, including drug dealers, to increase a dog’s aggression and lethalness through abuse or aberrant training.
“Almost all domestic animals can cause significant injuries to humans, and it is proper to require that all domestic animals be maintained and controlled. Laws to that effect are eminently reasonable for the safety of citizens and of the animal,” wrote Justice O’Connor. “Because the danger posed by vicious dogs and pit bulls arises from the owner’s failure to safely control the animal, rational legislation should focus on the owner of the dog rather than the specific breed that is owned.”