Lawmakers look to toughen Ohio’s vicious dog laws

Almost three years after a Dayton woman was mauled to death by her neighbors’ two dogs, state lawmakers are pushing legislation to make it easier to hold owners of dangerous dogs accountable when their pets kill or seriously injure people.

State Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, and state Rep. Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton, are introducing identical bills in the Senate and House this week.

It is no sure thing that either bill will become law. A vicious dog bill died in committee in 2014 and Beagle’s bill introduced in April 2015 was voted out of the Senate in December 2016 without enough time to go through the House.

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“Any bill regarding animals tends to ignite a lot of passions in people,” Beagle said. “It is just one of those issues that brings a lot of people out and I think legislators tend to be cautious when there is a lot of scrutiny and a lot of publicity and if there is a lot of opposition to the bill — I don’t know that there will be, it got through the Senate last time with minimal opposition.”

In February 2014, Dayton resident Klonda Richey, 57, was mauled to death by two mixed-mastiff dogs outside her home at 31 E. Bruce Ave. Her body lay outside in subfreezing temperatures until a passerby reported seeing a naked body in the snow around 8:15 a.m. When police responded, the dogs charged them and were shot and killed. The dogs owners — Andrew Nason and Julie Custer — pleaded no contest to misdemeanor counts of failure to control dogs.

RELATED: Changes to dog laws still sought one year after fatal attack

Documents show that Richey had turned to the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center, police and the courts dozens of times for protection from the dogs and her neighbors in the two years leading up to her death.

The bills call for:

• Mandating that dog owners respond to warnings or postings from dog wardens;

• Requiring dog wardens to follow up on every complaint filed;

• Clarifying that dog wardens have arrest authority;

• Allowing wardens to take sworn affidavits from people who witness dangerous dog behaviors;

• Adding penalties for owners who fail to follow existing rules governing the sale or transfer of dogs labeled dangerous;

• Adding penalties for owners who fail to register their dangerous dogs with authorities;

• Extending the ban on dog ownership for those convicted of violent felonies to five years from three years;

• Extending the dog ownership ban to those convicted of child abuse charges;

RELATED: Dayton man mauled by dog that neighbors had worried about

It also calls for harsher penalties when a dog kills or seriously injures a human. Owners could be charged with a fifth degree felony, even if it’s a first offense. A dog would automatically be destroyed if it kills a person and a judge would decide if it should be euthanized in cases where the dog seriously injures a person.

Often in dog attack cases an owner argues that the dog was provoked. In those instances, Beagle and Rezabek’s bills would shift the burden of proof from the prosecutor to the dog owner.

Beagle said that an essential problem in current law is that it allows “one free growl, one free bite, and one free kill.”

“While it was not the intent of the law to punish good dogs and their owners from an accident, giving dogs a ‘one-time pass’ causes dangerous dogs to get a second chance to harm someone,” Beagle said in his bill sponsor request to his fellow senators.

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