Fairfield could soon reverse city’s 13-year-old pit bull ban

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

What you need to know: Pit bulls

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Fairfield City Council will consider changes in its animal control ordinance and reversing its 13-year-old pit bull ban.

The push for the change comes seven years after Ohio lawmakers removed breed-specific bans in state law, and many municipalities eliminated the breed-specific prohibitions after Ohio courts have ruled against them.

City officials began looking at its ordinance after a Feb. 15 email from Katherine Hartung, a dog foster with and advocate for Middletown-based Joseph’s Legacy. She questioned why the city still had the 13-year-old ban on its books.

Fairfield Law Director Steve Wolterman said courts have ruled against municipalities because Ohio law takes precedence over local laws.

While local laws, including Fairfield’s, bans pit bulls, it’s not an actual breed. Rather, it’s a catch-all term for four primary breeds: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Mayor Steve Miller told the Journal-News in February that Hartung’s email was an opportunity to review and overhaul the city’s animal ordinances.

After several months, Wolterman presented the changes, which eliminates any reference to a breed but rather defines a nuisance, dangerous or vicious dog. It includes:

• A nuisance dog as a dog that without provocation and off the owner’s property or control, chases in “a menacing fashion” or appears it could attack

• A dangerous dog as a dog that causes injury to any person or kills another dog, or caught running loose three or more times

• A vicious dog as a dog that has killed or seriously injured a person

Penalties for owners with a nuisance, dangerous or vicious dog include:

• fourth- or first-degree misdemeanors for nuisance dogs;

• third- or first-degree misdemeanors for dangerous; and

• second- or first-degree misdemeanors, or a fourth-degree felony if the dog kills a person, for vicious dogs. Any dog that kills a person shall also be destroyed

Other penalties involve dogs running at large, which dog owners could face fourth-degree to first-degree misdemeanors, depending if the dog threatened to attack or attacked a person or domestic animal.

Since 2016, there have been 59 reported dog bites, according to the Fairfield Police Department. Fourteen of those dogs were believed “at the time” to be a pit bull, but Wolterman said breeds of those dogs are “unverified.”

Though most applaud the city’s efforts, some are against requiring pet liability insurance.

Under Fairfield’s proposed law, all dog owners within the city are required to have $10,000 liability insurance, but like a seat belt traffic violation, it is a secondary minor misdemeanor offense and citations are only issued if there is a primary violation, such as a dog running at large.

“Ultimately, we find insurance laws to be extremely discriminatory against the poor,” said Kurt Freimuth, a district leader volunteer with the Humane Society of the United States. “The population you’re hitting (with this provision) are the poor people, and that remains an issue and a concern.”

Hartung calls the insurance provision "a big problem and suggests requiring insurance only after an incident "if you have to have something in there. But I don't see a need for it at all because Ohio is a strict liability state." Wolterman said Ohio's strict liability provisions "are only effective if there is an ability to pay for the damages caused."

City Council held its first public hearing on the proposed changes on Monday. It next meets at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at Fairfield Municipal Building, 5350 Pleasant Ave.