Council Poised to Pass New Non-Breed-Specific Dog Ordinance

After high-profile dog attacks over the past year, Cincinnati City Council is poised to pass a new law aimed at encouraging responsible pet ownership without restricting breeds like pit bulls that have been the targets of past breed-specific ordinances.

UPDATE 03/05: Council passed the ordinance creating large civil fines for dog owners whose dogs injure others, but stripped criminal penalties from the law because they duplicated or exceeded state laws already on the books.

After high-profile dog attacks over the past year, Cincinnati City Council is poised to pass a new law aimed at encouraging responsible pet ownership without restricting breeds like pit bulls that have been the targets of past breed-specific ordinances.

Council’s Law and Public Safety committee approved an ordinance March 2 that would levy civil penalties against dog owners who do not adequately control their pets.

“By enhancing the civil penalties, we can hit them in the pocketbook, where it will actually hurt,” says Councilman Kevin Flynn. Flynn noted that the city can’t levy felony charges and that misdemeanors related to dogs are rarely prosecuted.

Under the law, dog owners would face a $50 fine if their pet was found unattended without a leash. The fines would escalate up to $15,000 for the owner of a dog that has severely injured a person multiple times.. In addition, a dog that has caused problems could be labeled a nuisance dog, a dangerous dog or a vicious dog depending on its past actions. Owners would have various specific legal responsibilities for each category, including insurance requirements for dangerous and vicious dogs. Failing to carry out those responsibilities could lead to more fines or even criminal charges.

The committee declined a proposal from Mayor John Cranley that would have required pit bull owners to take special steps, including getting a specific collar for their dogs.

That move comes after several high-profile dog attacks involving pit bulls have made headlines, including the vicious mauling of 6-year-old Zainabou Drame in Westwood in June.

The city has tried breed-specific laws in the past. City Council repealed a nine-year ban on pit bulls in 2012. Many say such breed-specific laws don’t work for a number of reasons.

“We’ve been down this path. It doesn’t work,” SPCA board member Jim Tomaszewski said of breed-specific legislation proposed by the mayor. Law enforcement officials agreed.

“When we had the ban, we saw no significant difference in bites or the number of pit bulls,” said Lt. Bailey of the Cincinnati Police Department.

A national debate has raged in the past few years over whether pit bulls are more likely to bite than other breeds. Tomaszewski said the dogs can be dangerous, but that singling them out is not the right approach.

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