This week Cincinnati, Ohio took a page out of The Wizard of Oz and the immortal words of Wicked Witch Almira Gulch, who told Toto's owner, "There are laws protecting folks against dogs that bite."
In Cincinnati that new law holds dog owners accountable for fines up to $15,000 for a first offense.
The ordinance, adopted Wednesday by the City Council, does not name specific breeds, as some other local and state laws, such as Ohio, have attempted to do specifically with pit bulls.
Ohio is not among the 17 "one bite states" (also referred to as a "one free bite" states) where the first time a dog bites the owner does not face any legal consequences. Rather, Ohio imposes a zero-tolerance “statutory strict liability,” making the owner of a dog legally liable to a victim who was bitten.
According to a copy of the new law obtained from the Cincinnati Clerk of Council, the modification to the existing animal ordinance now makes specific provision for fines of up to $15,000 if a dog causes “serious”, “permanent” or “disfiguring” injury or causes death to a human or another dog. This does not apply to police dogs, according to the ordinance.
"I think this is pretty drastic," says Randy Grim, founder of Stray Rescue in St. Louis, Missouri. "There are better alternatives. You could put up a bond for the dog instead. You could do more to educate people about dog behavior and training."
However, Jonathan Klein a dog training expert who is a consultant with “I Said Sit” in Los Angeles, California looks more favorably on the Ohio solution.
“The part I like about this piece of legislation in particular is that it’s not breed-specific – which is horrible,” Klein says in an interview. “It’s not the dog’s fault it happened. People don’t have the sense of urgency or seriousness they should have about dogs that are prone to bite.”
Mr. Klein says that for him this legislation is very timely since he is currently consulting with another trainer via email today on a dog whose owner adopted it after it was found chained in a hotel room in Los Angeles area.
“For I’s say ninety-nine percent of the time that dog is fine, loving, no issues,” Klein says. “But, that one percent of the time the dog’s insanely dangerous.”
Klein adds that in his experience, "the majority of people when asked "Does your dog bite?" will tell you how sweet their dog is and say, 'Oh no! My dog would never bite anyone.' Then the dog bites and they call me to figure it out."
In the case of the animal Klein was asked to evaluate, the dog had bitten two family members without provocation and then was brought to Klein for evaluation and rehabilitation so that it could be re-homed.
“It was normal. It was normal. It was normal. Then it bit three of my employees,” Klein said. “Then we learned that the trigger was other dogs barking near it or someone being boisterous. Turned out that the owner had left out a critical piece of information – namely that the dog had been raised and baited to fight and the hotel room it was found chained in was occupied by people on drugs who are now in jail.”
Fans of the classic television series “I Dream of Jeannie” may think of this as the Djinn Djinn response, much like the main character’s dog of the same name which had a pathological hatred of uniforms after being abused by a man in uniform and would therefore attack anyone in uniform.
According to Klein this new information on the animal’s training history, coupled with the evidence of the dog’s ingrained continued attacks being triggered by barking dogs, boisterous children or men with loud voices makes rehabilitation a nonstarter.
“I have told my colleague that this is where we enter the realm of social responsibility,” he says. “The owner wants to ‘fix it’ and re-home it. It’s my belief that would be irresponsible and dangerous in this case. Some animals need to be put down. We consider putting down a human who exhibits aberrant behavior more easily, in many cases, than we consider doing so with a dog.”
Asked if the Cincinnati fine system could negatively impact the adoption of dogs being rescued, Klein says, “It may make some people think twice. Hopefully it may also people think twice before placing a dangerous animal up for adoption, to be re-homed.”
Mr. Grim is worried that if this kind of heavy fine catches on nationally, it will have an adverse effect on dog adoption saying, "This kind of action affects anyone who has a dog. It could also result in an influx of people dumping dogs in shelters if they think there is any chance they may be at risk."