Pit bulls have a new best friend in Ohio: lawmakers. Elsewhere, some officials are on the other side of the fence.
A new Ohio law went into effect this week that protects pit bulls from being labeled as "vicious" dogs simply because they're pit bulls. From now on, dogs in Ohio can be labeled "vicious" only if they do something to warrant it.
It's a hard-fought distinction waged by animal rights activists who say it will protect the controversial breed from discrimination. However, the new law does not overturn the rights of local communities to ban the breed outright, as a smattering of Ohio communities have done, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Previously, state law defined a vicious dog as one that hurt or killed a person, killed a another canine or was simply a pit bull, according to the Associated Press. The change now requires proof that a pit bull is actually vicious.
Many animal rights activists are applauding the change, but it has plenty of critics who say that pit bulls do indeed make great pets -- until they don't. The breed is so powerful, and inclined to tug and attack until a victim is dead, that ownership should be discouraged, they say.
"Some pit bulls make good pets, but when the consequences are so great, why take a chance?" asked one Plain Dealer letter-writer.
The law change comes just days after the fatal mauling of a 3-day-old child who was momentarily left alone with the family's pit bull-mix in their Beaverdam, Ohio, home.
"Breed-specific legislation" is a hot topic in the canine community. Communities, fearful of injuries (and, let's face it, lawsuits), can turn to breed-specific legislation as a way to protect residents from dog attacks. But activists for animals, including the American Humane Assn., say breed-specific legislation can backfire and end up costing municipalities more dollars than would simply taking steps to enforce existing laws and educate the public about dog ownership.
The AHA points to a case study in Maryland, where one county spent more than $560,000 to enforce a pit bull ban by dedicating law enforcement to it, as well as housing dogs during the ensuing legal battles and appeals over breed determination. (Determining a pit bull is not as easy as it looks, activists say. Some of the most seemingly obvious markers, such as the squared-off head and powerful body, can be shared by other breeds.)
Tips from the AHA for protecting both people and dogs from harm include: Never leaving a child alone with a dog, spaying and neutering pets, socializing dogs around people and other animals from a young age, and taking steps to make sure animals are not able to get out and roam on their own.
By contrast, chaining a dog can cause its own set of problems: It causes an animal to become overly anxious and, as a result, overly aggressive. Chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite than unchained dogs, according to the AHA, which recommends secure fencing to keep a dog contained.
The AHA is also calling for better dog-bite reporting, noting that many studies about dog attacks rely on incomplete police data, hospital records and media reports. (Pit bull defenders say media reports can be skewed, playing up the involvement of pit bulls.)