The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

March 3, 2014

Few licensed dogs labeled as dangerous despite law

(Continued)

Ohio law

The current state law, which took effect in May 2012, created three designations for problem dogs and removed pit bulls from the definition of a vicious dog. It also created a process for owners to appeal the designation. Violators can be fined or face felony sanctions.

The two dogs in Richey’s death did not have a designation because they had no history of biting someone or killing another dog, Mark Kumpf, director of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center, has said. Montgomery County’s animal control officers only have authority to enforce violations of the Ohio Revised Code, and are hamstrung by the state’s constitution, which limits a municipality from enacting a law with a penalty stronger than a misdemeanor, according to the city’s letter.

“Without state support for stronger laws, we cannot charge the owner of a vicious dog with a felony, even if the result of the attack is death of a person,” the letter says.

In a written response to questions from the newspaper, Kumpf said, “The current code is mostly regulatory and provides penalties AFTER a violation occurs by a designated dog.”

Marcia Doncaster, director of the Miami County animal shelter, said a $50 annual fee to register a dog as dangerous or vicious is a “slap on the wrist.”

“The punishment needs to be a little stronger,” she said. “Let’s make people more responsible for their animals.”

Kumpf, who also is president of the Ohio County Dog Wardens Association, said during a press conference three days after Richey’s death that his agency did all it could to address the complaints lodged about the dogs at 35 E. Bruce. According to the law, Kumpf said, an officer has to witness a violation, and that did not happen at 35 E. Bruce.

Violations cannot be based on third-party accounts or what someone else alleges, he said. If no violation is issued, the case is closed.

East Bruce Avenue was not a designated problem area for vicious dogs, Kumpf said, and it is difficult for the county to proactively patrol because of its “very limited staff.” Montgomery County has 12 animal control officers and a $2.3 million annual budget.

James Straley, executive director/chief dog warden of The Humane Society Serving Clark County, Inc., said his office gets about 15 to 20 dog complaints a day.

The county has not formally designated any dogs as dangerous or vicious — or even tagged them as nuisances — though a case is currently pending in court involving a dog that killed another dog, he said.

Straley said his office’s primary objective is to “get the dog off the street.” In one instance, Clark County animal control officers spent eight months tracking a single vicious dog before finally capturing it, he said. Another chase took 50 days.

Animal resource officers, he said, can’t be expected to prevent every attack. However, if a Richey-type situation happened in his county, Straley said he would have “beefed up my patrols.”

“I would be waiting out there every day for the dogs to step off the property,” he said. “The people would know we’re watching them.”

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