Monday, March 06, 2006

Pit Bull Debate

Ontario seeks input from local official on breed-specific laws

Dog Warden Tom Skeldon says pit bulls don't necessarily bite more than other dogs, but their bites are more apt to be fatal. ( THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH )

Armed with court rulings, research papers, and graphic photographs of a pit bull victim, Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon is headed to Toronto on Sunday to testify on behalf of breed-specific legislation.

Known locally and statewide for his knowledge of pit bulls, Mr. Skeldon was contacted by Ontario officials after the Canadian province's ban on pit bulls was challenged in court.

He said he plans to use the same evidence that was submitted in Toledo Municipal Court when Toledo's law against vicious dogs was challenged in 2004.

"I imagine I'm being brought up there to accentuate the difference between pit bulls and other dogs," Mr. Skeldon said. "Pit bulls aren't the most popular dogs. They don't necessarily bite more than other dogs. But when they do, they are more likely to be fatal."

In Lucas County, more than 150 pit bulls have been picked up or surrendered to the dog warden so far this year. That's about 20 more than during the same period in 2005, when 900 of the canines were brought to the pound throughout the year.

Supporters of the breed say that legislation banning or restricting pit bulls is a violation of a property owner's constitutional right. A similar argument is being used by those opposing the law in Ontario that banned all future pit bulls from living within Canada's most populous province.
In effect as of Aug. 29, 2005, the Ontario law bans all pit bulls, which are defined as pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers, or any dog with substantial characteristics similar to pit bulls.

Though current owners will be allowed to keep their dogs on a restricted basis, it became illegal to import a pit bull into Ontario. Those puppies born after Nov. 27 must be shipped out of the province, given to a research facility, or destroyed.

Several breed clubs and dog organizations formed a coalition to challenge the law. Next week, witnesses will be brought by both sides to testify in the case.

"We're seeking to have certain sections declared unconstitutional," said Caroline Wawzonek, a student-at-law in the Canadian law firm handling the case. "This law restricts the liberty of a dog owner to own whatever breed and raise it as he or she sees fit."

The challenge also claims that the definition of a pit bull is vague. Additionally, the law forces the owner of a dog to prove it is not a pit bull instead of forcing authorities to prove it is.

Brendan Crawley, spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General in Ontario, said the law is "evolutionary" in that it will take several years for the full ban to take effect.

"All the pit bulls that were legal before this bill came into effect can live out their days with restrictions," he said. "Once all the grandfathered or restricted pit bulls die off over the years, they will not be replaced by new pit bulls."

Breed-specific legislation is being implemented, and challenged, all over the United States.
Mr. Skeldon offered assistance to Denver, where a recent ban on pit bulls was challenged but upheld.

Recent talk of a ban on pit bulls in Detroit has met with criticism.

In Toledo, the vicious dog ordinance requires that a person own no more than one pit bull, that the dog be muzzled when being walked, and that it is secured by a locked fence if in a yard. The 2004 decision by Toledo Municipal Judge Francis X. Gorman to uphold the law is currently under appeal.

In the ruling, Judge Gorman held that dog ownership is a property right rather than a fundamental constitutional right involving personal liberty. Therefore, those rights can be limited by a government's responsibility to protect its public.


Blogger Conners said...

Skeldon is a flucky in his own home state of Ohio where he couldn't overturn it and the courts ruled against him. If Michael Bryant is this desparate that he requires Skeldon, we don't have a thing to worry about!!!! They were both hatched out of the same egg obviously! ROFL

4:20 PM  

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