By: Norma Bennett Woolf  Date: 01/8/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Canine Issues |

Ohio’s dog fighting task force convened in August without a dog owner, trainer, or behaviorist on the panel, but dog owners have banded together to get one of their number appointed to represent their interests.

The task force held its second meeting on November 5, but even though no research has been commissioned to determine the extent and seriousness of dog fighting in the state, several members declared that this illegal activity is growing and, even while denying the intent to harm responsible dog owners and well-behaved pets, asserted that further restrictions on pit bulls is the answer.

The task force includes two dog wardens, a veterinarian, a county prosecutor, a county commissioner, a police chief, and Sandy Rowland, the Great Lakes director of the Humane Society of the US. Chairmen are the director of the Department of Agriculture and the Lieutenant Governor. No dog breeders, behaviorists, or trainers were invited to serve, but pressure from dog owners led panel to ask for nominations to add a panel member to represent the owners’ point of view.

To the surprise of task force members, about 40 dogs owners crowded into the conference room where the meeting was held. Melanie Tierney of Canine Friends of Cleveland made a brief presentation urging the task force to research dog fighting and dog fighters before making recommendations for legislative changes that could negatively affect well-behaved dogs and their responsible owners. Tierney was followed on the agenda by a reporter from a Cleveland television station who showed a video of dog fighting and proclaimed that dog fighting is indeed on the rise in Ohio, an opinion that brought nods from many task force members and sighs from the audience.

At issue is the implied connection between dogs identified as pit bulls and the crime of dog fighting. Ohio, the only state with breed-specific legislation, considers pit bulls to be vicious. Pit bulls are defined in an attorney general’s opinion as “those animals which display the general characteristics of a bull terrier.” Therefore, any legislation that tightens the vicious dog law adversely affects responsible dog owners and often results in the impoundment and death of well-behaved dogs.

Rowland is chairman of the legislative subcommittee and is considered an expert on dog fighting in Ohio by panel members. However, she failed to make any distinction between ownership of pets, working dogs, and show dogs and raising and training dogs for fighting. She also contradicted herself during her report, saying both that no changes in the vicious dog law are contemplated and that a change requiring proof-of-insurance cards is being pondered. Notes from the meeting also indicate that the legislative subcommittee is satisfied with Ohio dog fighting law and is looking at potential changes to the vicious dog law instead, including provisions that require

  • dogs to be muzzled when off the owner’s property;
  • owners to provide proof of insurance when the dogs are licensed;
  • owners to present proof of insurance before redeeming impounded dogs.

During the November 5 meeting, Rowland also said that consideration should be given to methods for curtailing the breeding of dogs for fighting, but did not specify whether such restrictions would apply to all pit bulls. She added that “legitimate” owners spay or neuter their pets and that intact male dogs can be evidence of dog fighting if other materials such as treadmills, a stock of antibiotics, dog fighting books or magazines, and scarred dogs are present.

Tom Skeldon, the dog warden from Toledo/Lucas County who requested formation of the task force, said that he knows dog fighting is on the rise in Ohio because he impounded 50 pit bulls in 1993 and 487 pit bulls in 2000. However, Toledo law prohibits ownership of more than one vicious dog, and Skeldon did not say whether the dogs were impounded in fighting cases or for violation of laws that have nothing to do with aggressive behavior.

Other task force members remarked on the lack of resources to fund studies and staff time devoted to their mission to research dog fighting before recommending solutions; suggested training for police officers in investigating dog fighting; mentioned the development of regional kennels for housing dogs confiscated in fighting cases and freezers for keeping dead pit bulls as evidence; and talked about the need for a public education campaign about the menace of dog fighting.

The public comment period was short-circuited by the chairman, but panel members were allowed to make closing remarks. Rowland then said that someone “in this room” is spreading rumors about the task force on a website and that she was sorry that these allegations led to fear among dog owners and caused many to give up an afternoon to attend the task force meeting when it was unnecessary to do so. She did not, however, differentiate between pit bulls used for fighting and well-behaved family pets and show dogs; she said only that responsible dog owners should not be afraid that their dogs will be confiscated and killed.


Owners of dogs identified as pit bulls must carry $100,000 in liability insurance and provide a locked pen or a fenced yard for the dog when it is not inside a building. When off the owner’s property, the dog must be controlled on a chain link leash or tether or must be muzzled.

Ohio law gives dog wardens the authority to identify the breed or mix.

In 2000, Skeldon led the fight for a bill that would make it a felony to own a debarked vicious dog and require that all pit bulls be muzzled when off the owner’s property. The muzzling requirement was dropped, but the debarking provision became law; debarked pit bulls are now killed in the state and owners are subject to prison terms and hefty fines.

During testimony for the debarking bill, a Lucas County detective claimed that the bill was needed to protect cookie-selling Girl Scouts from silenced vicious dogs.

About a dozen breeds and mixes are considered pit bulls in Lucas County, including American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Bulldogs, American Pit Bull Terriers, Olde English Bulldogs, Presa Canarios, Cane Corsos, Boxer mixes, Mastiff mixes, and any other breed or mix that resembles these dogs. Skeldon has claimed that those who identify their dogs as American Bulldogs or some other rare breed or as a Boxer mix or Mastiff mix are trying to avoid the state’s restrictions on pit bulls.

Task Force Meetings

The August meeting of the task force was attended by Melanie Tierney of Canine Friends of Cleveland and Polly Ward of the Ohio Association of Animal Owners. After the meeting, Tierney reported, “While the task force’s mission is to investigate dog fighting, this meeting focused almost exclusively on pit bull dogs.”

She went on: “The panel also discussed what should be used as evidence of dog-fighting. Ms. Rowland suggested that the police look for awards like best in show trophies, plaques or ribbons. Dogs with scars, treadmills, springpoles, medications and medical equipment, and books or magazines about fighting dogs were discussed. Both presenters (Rowland and Skeldon) stated that weight pull events were nothing more than a cover-up for dog fighters.”

Skeldon showed two videotapes at the August meeting, Tierney said. One was the video used to train dog wardens to investigate dog fighting and recognize pit bulls; the other showed footage of an impounded pit bull dog that was trying frantically to escape the kennel run.

“The dog was videotaped for approximately 20-30 minutes of continuous footage, and appeared to be in a frenzy as it tugged and fought with the kennel fencing and cable to the outside dog door,” Tierney said. “From the perspective of basic dog behavior, the dog was in an extreme state of anxiety and was seeking escape from a highly stressful situation. During the video, the dog was self-injuring and self-mutilating as it attempted to escape. The injuries were serious and bloody.”

Tierney noted that allowing the dog to continue to mutilate itself would be a violation of Ohio anti-cruelty law if done by a private citizen and that the videotape session showed a callous disregard for the dog and for the responsibility to keep the animal in good condition pending outcome of the dog-fighting trial.”

Subcommittees will meet before the next full task force meeting. None of these meetings had been scheduled as of November 10. All are open to the public.

About The Author

Norma Bennett Woolf's photo
Norma Bennett Woolf -

Editor and Writer for the National Animal Interest Alliance.

All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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