COLUMBUS - The Ohio House Thursday overwhelmingly voted to end Ohio's status as the only state that declares the "pit bull" an inherently vicious dog by virtue of its existence.
"I'm offering this amendment to ensure that we're not capturing, impounding, and terminating an animal simply based on its breed," said Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon). "It is unjust to punish owners by taking their pet even if they have raised a well-behaved, family-friendly dog."
No lawmaker spoke out on the floor against the amendment, which was added by a vote of 86-10 to a bill increasing penalties for animal cruelty.
If the Senate agrees, the measure would remove a provision that has been in Ohio law since 1987 that automatically deems the "pit bull" legally "vicious," subjecting the owners to additional restrictions and liability insurance requirements not automatically attached to other breeds of dogs.
The animal-cruelty bill had been scheduled for a vote Wednesday, but it was suddenly pulled from the calendar after Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Maumee) filed her "pit bull" amendment. Her bill to remove the "pit bull" language had received two hearings but has remained mired in a House committee.
When the cruelty bill came to a vote Thursday, Mr. Szollosi in the majority party offered the amendment instead. The final bill went on to pass 93-3.
It is unlikely, however, that the Republican-controlled Senate will address the measure before it recesses for the summer. That could happen as early as next week.
Rep. Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky) said he once opposed repeal of the law, but has since changed his mind.
"I don't like pit bulls,'' he said. "I have no idea why anyone would want one. But I don't like lima beans either, and I don't know why anyone would want to eat them."
Opponents of the bill have cited the attraction of the animals to criminals involved in dog-fighting and drug dealing.
The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the state's current breed-specific law, saying statistics have backed up the state's contention that the "pit bull" is more likely to do more damage when it attacks and is more likely to prompt police to discharge their firearms.
Update January 31, 2011 - The following article is by Mark Zinni, FOX 8 Cleveland:
Ohio Pit Bull Proposal Could Clear 'Vicious Dog's' Name
Lawmakers are considering a measure that would remove pit bulls from the legal definition of a vicious dog in Ohio.
"These dogs aren't guarding dogs, they're not protection dogs, they're dogs that just absolutely love people," said Shana Klein. Klein owns several pit bulls and helps find homes for other dogs through her website, www.ForTheLoveOfPits.org.
Currently, pit bulls are the only dog singled-out in Ohio Revised Code 955.11, even if the animal has never attacked. Supporters of the change say it will make it easier to find homes for the dogs. "Many shelters are using the laws as an excuse to not adopt them out," said Klein. "Our insurance companies are using the law as an excuse to not cover these dogs, for no reason, I mean no good reason."
One woman who was attacked while walking last fall in Rocky River sees it differently. "People have to realize who own these animals that there is an extra degree of responsibility that comes along with owning them and unfortunately, I think it looks like we have to legislate that," said the victim who wants to remain anonymous.
At the Animal Protective League in Cleveland, they usually ship the animals to other states where the dogs can be adopted without restrictions, unlike in Ohio. "It is absolutely unfair to label a dog as vicious based on breed alone," said Executive Director Sharon Harvey from the Animal Protective League.
The measure will go before an Ohio Statehouse committee in Columbus this week.