MANSFIELD, Ohio -- Mansfield City Council has asked Law Director John Spon to add stiffer penalties to a proposed revision of the city’s vicious dog ordinance to give it more teeth before it gets a formal reading later this month.
Recommendations ranging from major fines to victim restitution were made after council heard comments on the measure from the public and city officials during a safety committee meeting held Tuesday night before council’s caucus and legislative voting sessions.
Draft legislation that was presented to the committee would drop breed-specific language that singles out American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire terriers from a 1997 ordinance. The rest of the law was not changed.
The city temporarily lifted its pit bull ban after a state appeals court in April struck down as unconstitutional a similar ordinance in Reynoldsburg.
Sixth Ward resident Debra Mount told council she feels that some members have stopped listening to their constituents and are more concerned about outside interests and have put them above the concerns of the citizens of Mansfield.
“Many people have come here and testified about pit bill attacks and begged you to make things safer,” she said. “This bill drops the pit bull ban and does nothing to stiffen penalties for people who allow their dogs to run loose and attack other people or their pets,” she said.
Mount “respectfully” disagreed with Sixth Ward Councilwoman Garnetta Pender’s statement last month that pit bulls are no more dangerous than other dogs. She said pit bull attacks continue despite assurances in June that people would be safe following a similar change in state law. She presented council with a copy of a news article about a Knox county infant who was killed by pit bulls.
“How many more pets, how many more children will need to die before you address the safety hazard these dogs are posing?” Mount asked. “The blood of the victims will be on your hands.”
Spon told council he agrees that the change in state law does not make things safer and will allow more pit bulls to come into the state. However, he also said he prepared the legislation because he respects the democratic process and recognizes that others can disagree with him.
First Ward candidate David Falquette was disappointed that council has not given further consideration to an earlier presentation on a vicious dog ordinance in Avon Lake, which has “step-by-step” penalties. He said he is on the side of eliminating specific breed bans because he believes any dog can be vicious and that there are many pit bulls that are family pets and get along fine.
“I know there have been many pit bull attacks but, at the same time, if German shepherds or Dobermans, Rottweilers or whatever were the ‘breed of the decade’ we’d be talking about that breed,” Falquette said.
First Ward Councilman Mike Hill said owners of animals that cause harm should be penalized to the fullest extent and suggested a fine of up to $500, while Mayor Tim Theaker said the city could adopt a stiff insurance requirement for owners of dogs that are found to be vicious.
Spon suggested a first-degree misdemeanor penalty for owners who fail to register vicious dogs and for courts to be allowed to issue restitution orders for twice the value of the damage suffered by the victim.
Councilman At-Large Jon Van Harlingen said the safety committee should table the legislation in order to consider changes, while Fourth Ward representative Butch Jefferson wanted to vote on it as presented and amend it later to include the stiffer penalties.
Committee chairman Don Bryant said he will work with Spon in the next week to “tighten things up” and have a revised measure ready for council’s Oct. 17 caucus.