Dogs that attack: Court ruling could make it easier to press charges against owners

ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday may make it easier to press criminal charges against dog owners who fail to control their animals.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that as long as the prosecution has reason to believe a dog has a history of being dangerous, an official designation of a “dangerous dog” is not required before the dog’s owner can be charged with failing to contain and control a dangerous dog.

The decision comes five years after the fatal mauling of Dayton resident Klonda Richey and a year after a young Miami Twp. girl was attacked by a vicious dog that severely injured her.

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The 5-2 ruling reconciles conflicting rulings from two lower courts on a 2012 law governing nuisance, dangerous and vicious dogs. The law outlines penalties for failure to control those dogs, sets requirements for liability insurance, and allows a dog warden to label a dog as dangerous or vicious.

The high court ruling said state law defines a dangerous dog as one that has caused a non-serious injury to someone or killed another dog. (Vicious dogs are defined as ones that caused serious injury to a person.) Someone who has been ticketed for failing to keep control of a dog three or more times can also be considered owner of a dangerous dog.

For nearly six years, local state lawmakers have tried — without success — to beef up Ohio law governing dangerous and vicious dogs.

State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, in January introduced a bill calling for:

• Requiring investigation or follow up on every call to a dog warden;

• Requiring owners to respond to warnings or postings at their home about their dogs;

• Allowing witnesses to give sworn statements regarding dog attacks on people.

• Increasing penalties for when dogs seriously injure or kill a person or kill a companion animal; and

• Defining dangerous, vicious and nuisance dog categories.

“The bill is still working its way through the committee process. This court ruling certainly bolsters our argument for change to the dangerous dog laws,” Antani said. “Vicious and dangerous dogs must be held accountable and my bill will do that.”

Antani named the proposed bill after 9-year-old Savannah Coleman, a Miami Twp. girl attacked in July 2018 by a neighbor’s 60-pound pit bull.

Savannah suffered from a skull fracture, nine lacerations to her scalp, three lacerations to her right ear, and two lacerations and a puncture wound to her right hand. She required hundreds of stitches, a blood transfusion and five nights in the hospital, her mother said.

“We don’t want this to seem like this has happened once,” Antani said.

“This is not just a Klonda Richey issue, which was tragic. This is a widespread issue.”

Richey was fatally attacked by her neighbor’s mixed breed mastiffs on Feb. 7, 2014. Richey, 57, had called local authorities dozens of times to report concerns about the dogs in the two years leading up to her death. The dogs’ owners were charged with a misdemeanor for failure to control their animals.

Another fatal mauling occurred in April 2017 in Dayton when Maurice Brown was attacked by a pit bull that had been the source of previous complaints and at least one dog bite.

Bills named after Richey failed to gain traction in three previous legislative sessions: one died in committee in 2014, another failed to win final approval in 2016, and a third bill failed in 2018. Antani is the fifth area lawmaker to take on the issue.

Data collected by the Ohio Department of Health show there were 64,735 dog bites reported across the state to local health departments between 2013 and 2017.

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