• 46°

What does the law say about owning a pitbull?

Dear Lawyer Mark:

With all of the crime around here, and the economy getting worse, I’m thinking about getting a pit bull to protect my house.

I would keep it in my house when I’m gone during the day, and let it out when I’m home. I’ve got a big fence around my place, so it shouldn’t be a problem to keep it from getting out.

But there is so many rumors that people are not allowed to have pit bulls, I don’t know whether I can get away with it. Also, my cousin had a stupid chihuahua that yapped all the time, and he had surgery done on it so it wouldn’t bark no more.

I think this is a good idea, and would like to do the same to the dog I get. Is it OK? — Dog Lover

Dear So-Called Dog Lover: There actually are times when common sense and the law go hand in hand. This would be one of them.

The thought of keeping a pit bull locked in the house all day, then letting it roam around outside after taking away its ability to warn somebody opening a gate, whether it is an intruder or the neighbor’s toddler, that it is about to attack simply defies all logic.

In fact, if it is truly a “guard dog” that you want, you would probably want it barking to alert you and/or the neighbors. Nevertheless, here’s a summary of the law:

First, you don’t say where you live. There are some municipalities, townships, and even counties who have passed ordinances banning pit bull terriers from the territory’s limits, and you would be committing a crime if you possessed one and lived in that area. You should contact the mayor’s office or clerk’s office of the territory to check whether there is a ban.

Second, no matter where you live in Ohio, pit bulls are considered “vicious dogs” pursuant to Ohio Revised Code section 955.11(A)(4)(a)(iii).

As a result, the seller of the pit bull to you must notify you, the dog warden, and the local board of health that he has sold you a vicious dog, and provide them with your name and address, as well as other information. If he fails to do this, he has committed a minor misdemeanor.

Third, once you have a vicious dog, you must “securely confine it at all times in a locked pen that has a top, locked fenced yard, or other locked enclosure that has a top” according to section 955.22.

If you fail to do this, then you are guilty of a first degree misdemeanor the first time, so long as no one was injured.

For subsequent offenses, or if the dog seriously injures someone, you could be convicted of a fourth degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in a penitentiary. The court may also order that the dog be destroyed.

Fourth, in Ohio you must obtain liability insurance for all vicious dogs in the amount of at least $100,000. If you fail to do this, you can be charged with a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail.

Finally, you are expressly forbidden under Ohio law from possessing a vicious dog that has been debarked. A violation of this section is a fourth degree felony, and the court must order that the dog be destroyed.

Perhaps a mixed breed rescued from a dog shelter, with its voice, would serve your purposes better.

It’s The Law is written by attorney Mark K. McCown in response to legal questions received by him. If you have a question, please forward it to Mark K. McCown, 311 Park Avenue, Ironton, Ohio 45638, or e-mail it to him at LawyerMark@yahoo.com. The right to condense and/or edit all questions is reserved.