COLUMBUS, OH (WOWK) – Ohio lawmakers are bringing a vicious dog bill back to the statehouse. It would make it a felony for your dog to injure or kill someone if they are unrestrained at the time.
Back in September 2017, then State Senator Bill Beagle re-introduced the exact same bill with confidence that it would finally pass.
It did not.
Senate Bill 195 was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it failed to pass through.
An identical copy of the bill was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives where it too was assigned to a committee, this time it was the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.
There simply was no appetite or momentum behind the bill.
This General Assembly, new sponsors of the bill are stepping up to try and push the legislation through.
State Representatives Niraj Antani (R) and Glenn Holmes (D) are joint sponsoring the now bipartisan bill.
Antani says while partisan diversity on this issue is nice, showing there is geographic diversity is far more important.
At a news conference announcing the bill had been filed with the Clerk’s Office, in preparation for bills to be introduced in the coming weeks, several individuals spoke on the merits of such legislation.
One of them was Dr. Robert Lober, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Dayton Children’s Hospital. He says the hospital’s emergency room sees roughly 300 dog bites a year with around 40 of them requiring surgery.
One of those requiring surgery last year was 8-year-old Samantha Coleman. A dog mauled her head in July, 2018.
According to her mother, Savannah could have been killed in the attack.
Since then the trauma of the attack has been felt by the little girl, and the family, physically and psychologically.
“I loved dogs before and now like I get scared of my own dog,” Savannah told me shyly. “I love her but I get scared of her when she gets out of her cages.”
Children are not the only people being attacked by dogs in Ohio.
Samantha Phillips was at a home in Vienna, OH near Youngstown. She and her mother were attacked by a neighbor’s dogs this past summer as well.
The dog bites in her arms were so deep she could see the fatty tissue. Her injuries required stitches, and Phillips says had she been a child she fears it could have been worse.
Security camera video shows the attack on Phillips and her mother. It happens in the blink of an eye; dogs run into the frame and leap at her, one of their jaws clamping down on her arm and pulling her to the ground.
Being a fully grown adult in good health, she was able to get up and attempt but a small child may not have been able to do so.
“If I was a child and I was attacked like that, you know, a child in that position could have died,” said Phillips.
Death was the outcome for Klonda Richey in Dayton. Several years ago, she was attacked and mauled to death by her neighbor’s dogs after police had received several complaints about them.
The owners of the dogs were arrested and faced charges in that case. In Savannah’s case, the owner of the dog that attacked the 8-year-old was fined $120.
Antani says he has traffic violations with stiffer penalties.
As it did last time, the bill currently calls for the penalties for a dog that causes serious injury or death to be increased from a misdemeanor to a 5th degree felony.
The felony would carry a sentence of 6-12 months in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.
The bill provides for a litany of exceptions.
It also would make it so dog wardens would have arrest powers in limited circumstances, increase the number of years convicted felons have to wait to own a dog from 3 to 5, and is not breed specific.
Antani says, as with any good non-partisan bill he is ready to compromise to get something done.
If that means cutting things from the bill that might be hanging it up, he says he is willing to do that.
One such thing could be the part where the charges against the dog owner would stem from and be heard in the victim’s county and not the county where the attack occurred.
Antani says, that doesn’t make sense and he doesn’t recall any other instance where that occurs in a criminal case.
Even if Antani and Holmes can get the interested parties on board, the toughest sell may be to lawmakers themselves.
The bill just hasn’t been able to get off the ground for years, and when asked if past legislatures have had a specific attitude toward bills involving animals, Antani suggested previous groups of lawmakers favored protecting animals.
He cited a bill that was passed into law that makes it a felony to maim or kill an animal.
Antani did not vote in favor of that bill. He says it’s because the same standards were not being applied going the other way.
“This is not about the vast majority of dogs. Most dogs are good pets,” said Antani. “That said, there are dogs who time and time again have shown that they are deemed dangerous and that they are vicious, and there are owners of dogs who have shown to be irresponsible.”
The sponsors of the bill simply want those who are irresponsible to be held accountable.
“If a human did that to a child, or to another person, the number of times that it has occurred there would be pandemonium in the streets,” said Antani.
The bill will be introduced in the coming weeks and will eventually be assigned to a House Committee.