Police to restart pit bull ordinance enforcement

By Heather Rutz

June 11, 2014

LIMA — After a yearlong suspension of the city’s vicious dog ordinance, Lima Police Department officers will begin enforcing a new version of the law rewritten to pass muster with the Ohio Constitution.

The city’s ordinance was found unconstitutional by the Ohio 3rd District Court of Appeals in December. The court deemed the ordinance conflicted with state law passed in April 2012, which does not permit dogs of any breed to be designated as “vicious” without previous documented displays of aggression.

City Law Director Tony Geiger reworked some of the language, especially relating to pit bulls, and officers are now enforcing the new law, which has nearly identical consequences, Lima Police Department Chief Kevin Martin said Wednesday.

For the next two weeks, until July 1, police will issue warnings as they reacquaint people with the law, Martin said. A first violation of the law remains a minor misdemeanor citation and $150 fine and court cost fee.

During this time, people already given a warning found to be in violation again will be cited, Martin said.

Under the new ordinance, pit bull owners will still be required to have them leashed and muzzled when walking, keep them confined when on their premises, and cannot walk more than one dog at a time. Someone with a felony cannot own a pit bull, and a minor cannot own a pit bull. Pit bull owners must also show proof of liability insurance. Lima police officers still have the power to immediately cite violators with a minor misdemeanor.

Geiger, City Council’s Safety Services Committee, and police officials worked on changes to the new ordinance to make it constitutional and also be effective, Martin said.

Joseph Gayden, while walking his dog, Bruce, Wednesday, said dogs’ mentality depends on their owners’.

Bruce is a 4-year-old husky-pit bull mix.

“You set boundaries, just like with children. You let a dog know what they can and can’t do as a puppy,” Gayden said. “It all depends on the owner of a dog, the mentality of the owner. If you have a pleasant attitude, your dogs will be pleasant. Your dogs learn from you.”

When City Council changed the ordinance in 2011 allowing the citation as a minor misdemeanor, Lima police officers were busy at first, Martin said, and then officers saw voluntary compliance with the law. Council changed the law at the request of police. At the time, the city’s vicious dog ordinance required an officer to take custody of the dog and other tasks, which made the law difficult to enforce. The 2011 changes made the violation a minor misdemeanor, allowing an officer to give a citation, much like a traffic ticket.