Advocacy Overdrive - Ohio Ends BSL After 25 years!

In February of 2012 after 25 years of breed discriminatory legislation in the state of Ohio, Governor John Kasich signed HB14 into law ending breed discriminatory laws aimed at banning pit bulls and other “types” of dogs deemed “dangerous”.

As with all BSL the dogs are judged based on "looks" or "type" and what amounts to gut feelings and guesses. Thus sending countless dogs to be euthanized without a proper evaluation. When dogs do seriously harm or in the rare event someone dies from dog bites those dogs are euthanized.

In it’s wake BSL leaves responsible dog people that are guardians of such types to be prejudiced against in various ways. These include refusals of insurance and housing or stiff fines and confiscations of innocent dogs. In addition many dogs are never considered for adoption and are euthanized or languish away in cells at shelters.

Ohio was said to be one of the worst states for a pit bull or a bully looking dog to be caught in. Only Denver and Miami, cities mind you not states were considered to be as bad or worse.

Due to citizens in Ohio and beyond engaging in non-stop educational efforts on all fronts from speaking to animal control, shelter staffs and dog owners to the politicians and back into the media. The empathy army that over took Ohio is something to be looked at as a way to win this war on canine ignorance.

Ohio dog lovers and guardians achieved what Miami is on the brink of accomplishing and what other states, cities and countries around the world are working towards, an end to breed discriminatory laws. This is a very big win for dogs!

The following interview with Jean Keating, President of Lucas County Pit Crew & President of Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates and Dawn Stretar - Vice-President, Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates details how the citizens of Ohio removed breed discrimination from the laws and how they plan on going forward educating dog owners and non dog owners to strengthen responsible dog practices and gain a better understanding and empathy from those in the community that are not guardians for dogs.

Q – Please give some background on who you are and what organizations you represent.

Jean – I was born in Green Bay Wisconsin and moved to Ohio from New York. I graduated with a Master’s degree from the University of Toledo and work as a special education teacher. I also am the trainer at my local shelter. I had no idea when I moved to Ohio that it was the only state with statewide breed discrimination or how poor the laws were for dogs here. I am a founding board member of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates. I also helped establish the Lucas County Pit Crew after the removal of Tom Skeldon because there was a huge need for education about pit bulls and support for pit bull guardians in our area.

Dawn – I am the Vice-President of Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates an advocacy group that works with state and local elected officials in drafting and enacting fair, effective and enforceable breed neutral dog laws. I am also the co-founder of Pit Bull Zen, a pit bull owners group that provides support to pit bull owners through education, training and fellowship.

Q – How long have you been involved in dogs from being guardians of your own dogs to working in the sheltering and rescue community?

Jean – I have loved dogs my whole life, but didn’t get involved in fighting breed discrimination until my city began looking at restrictions on pit bulls. I was terrified that I could lose my rescued American Staffordshire Terrier and that fear fueled my fire to stand up and do something about it. My involvement just snowballed from there until I realized that the only way to end it, once and for all, in Ohio was to remove Tom Skeldon. That became my mission and consumed much of my time for about two years. My involvement in rescue and fostering has been a big part of my life for the last eight to ten years.

Dawn – I adopted my first dog, Isabella, a German Shorthair Pointer mix in 2006 and adopted Henry, a pit bull, in 2007. I immediately fell in love with Henry and his temperament and when I realized how discriminated pit bulls were in the State of Ohio I vowed that no would ever take him away from me just because of the way he looks. I almost immediately got involved with advocacy work and started volunteering for the rescue I adopted him from. I later became the failed foster mom of Calvin, a blue pit bull, which was removed from a breeding ring in Akron, Ohio.

Q – What year did BSL get passed in Ohio and what was the catalyst?

Jean – Statewide breed discrimination was enacted in 1987 following two fatalities that were blamed on pit bull type dogs. It was a knee jerk reaction fueled by fear and misinformation.
Dawn - The Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated articles also served to prompt many cities and counties to enact Breed Specific Legislation throughout the country.

Q – How bad was the media at fueling the hype when a dog bite incident did occur? Or was it only when a “pit bull” was involved? How balanced was the media for all dog bite incidents?

Jean – The media was completely consumed with pit bull hype here in Ohio. Very minor incidents were blown out of proportion and serious attacks by other breeds were never reported on.

Dawn - Ohio pit bulls and their owners receive the same treatment by the media as in other markets. But due to the state law we would always see that in Ohio pit bulls are considered vicious by nature and state the restrictions. I feel this negatively impacted the dogs through power of suggestion because people would always see the word vicious associated with pit bulls and their attitudes about the dogs followed.

Q – What was/is the collective consciousness and perception in Ohio as far as pit bulls go during the BSL years?

Jean – Pit bulls have been portrayed as mythical monsters for the last 25 years in Ohio and the tide is just beginning to turn. Much of the fear was fueled by Skeldon and wardens like him.

Q - How about now; has there been a shift in that consciousness due to BSL ending and all of the efforts to re educate?

Jean – Many areas in Ohio have advocates working hard to educate the public, but there are still pockets where fear drives the local politicians.
Dawn - 25 years is a long time to try and change attitudes but things are changing little by little. The effort to change the perception of the dogs by national organizations like Best Friends Animal Society and Stubby Dog I think is also having a positive effect on attitudes in Ohio.

Drayton - Tom Skeldon the prior dog warden to Julie Lyle had gained a Hitleresque reputation as an out & out “dog killer”. His reign must have been horrible for dogs in OH.

Jean – He is responsible for thousands of deaths of perfectly nice family dogs. All puppies perceived to have an ounce of pit bull in them were killed immediately. His outright lies fueled public policy and created a form of hysteria that actually threatened public safety. The focus on breed allowed reckless owners of other breeds to get away with bites and attacks without any repercussions.

Q – What were the euthanasia rates vs. the adoption rates during the BSL/Skeldon years? Have things improved as far as euthanasia rates and adoptions?

Jean – The Lucas County Dog Pound was killing almost 80% of the dogs it took in. The live release rate has now increased to about 60% under Julie Lyle and will continue to get better given the changes she has implemented.

Q - What were the yearly estimated costs associated with BSL in OH?

Jean – I’m not even sure where to go with this question. The BFAS calculator is not accurate because it includes things that were never used here. The cost of the Toledo v Tellings case alone was at least a half million dollars. The cost of Toledo v H Smith has yet to be finalized.

Q – After years of working to end BSL in OH what was the turning point or turning points, that allowed you to see your efforts were paying off and BSL was on it’s last legs about to end?

Jean – The fall of Skeldon turned the tide. Old time dog wardens who supported him began to be silenced and younger, more progressive wardens began speaking out in favor of behavior based evaluations.
Dawn - He was erroneously looked upon as an expert. Through the Toledo Blade’s investigative reporting it became evident that he was not serving the interest of the public and his way of running the pound was extremely outdated. Removing him from the dog warden position was instrumental in allowing younger more progressive wardens to lead the Ohio County Dog Wardens Association and later partner with us in drafting the legislation that has been enacted.

Q – What other sources, resources, organizations or people provided help in ending BSL in OH?

Jean – Best Friends Animal Society was the only organization that helped us. Ledy VanKavage made numerous trips to provide educational presentations and to meet with key individuals. BFAS provided funding to hire a lobbyist and that was key in educating politicians about breed neutral dangerous dog laws that work. The Pit Bull Hoax DVDs that you sent us were helpful. I gave that to many law directors around the state and politicians in Toledo.
Dawn - Therefore, Ohio owes a great debt of gratitude to Best Friends Animal Society for the investment of time and resources into the effort to overturn Ohio’s discriminatory dog laws and we are proud to say their effort paid off. Through their resources we were able to come in contact with millions of Ohioans to work together to make this become a reality.

One aspect I speak about at seminars and write about is the after effect of education to strengthen responsible dog practices and ease concerns in areas where BSL has ended or has been prevented from being passed or where it may exist.

Usually after a dog incident the anti dog lobby will assuredly be out in full force with the usual panic policy demands and the sensationalistic media reports will be in full swing should a lethal or fatal dog bite incident occur.

Q - What challenges are ahead for educating communities in Ohio?

Jean – Education is the key to promoting responsible dog ownership of all breeds. I hope that many cities across the state establish “pit crew” type groups that will support responsible ownership of pit bull type dogs.
Dawn - Given that Ohio is a home rule state, we expect to continue to have to deal with panic policy demands within individual localities. The state effort has allowed us to have contacts throughout the state to deal with legislators directly and provide the proper information to show them the best laws are breed neutral.

Q – What advice can you give to others in places where BSL has either been enacted and people are working to end it or in places that mat be considering it and are trying to prevent it?

Jean – Somebody has to be the first to stand up and speak out. Once one person starts the movement, others will join and eventually it becomes unstoppable.
Dawn - Since all politics is local, it is important to forge credible relationships with people in power, educate them and sometimes you need to wait until that power structure changes to be able to find that sliver of light that will allow an opening to initiate change. Never give up. Never ever give up. The dogs are counting on you.

Profiling and biases directed at “types” are never good for communities be they directed at people or dogs.

Assumptions and prejudices based on misinformation, fear and myths only exacerbate fears.

As those long before me and hopefully long after will continue to speak out against any form of canine profiling so that all dogs get a fair chance.

Far too many dogs have suffered from the fate of ignorance, fear and lack of proper education. Let Ohio be another lesson as to why canine discrimination never works and must end.

My deepest and sincerest thanks to Jean Keating and Dawn Stretar for their hard work toward enduing BSL in Ohio! Thank you!

Also for taking the time to speak about their efforts that led to the end of BSL in Ohio. Perhaps the story of Ohio can be drawn upon as other are working to end canine discrimination elsewhere?

Thank you to Ohio Governor John Kasich for passing HB14! Hopefully other Governors will have the courage and empathy to end canine discrimination as you have done. Again, thank you sir.

I would also like to acknowledge and thank the following for their part in helping to end BSL in Ohio as well as their tireless efforts in other places.

Best Friends Animal Society, Ledy VanKavage, National Canine Research Council,, Animal Farm Foundation, Laura Allen Esq. at Animal Law Coalition Jodi Preis of Bless The Bully’s and Pin Up’s For Pit Bulls. You are all so dedicated to the cause thank you!

I would also like to personally thank Jean Donaldson, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Dr. Ian Dunbar, Diane Jessup & Jane Berkey for appearing in the Pit Bull Hoax DVD.

Additionally I want to thank the Dunbar’s & Dog Star Dailey for giving me the space to report on BSL and help educate millions of people around the globe.

Lastly and not at all in the least all the people in Ohio that never gave up and regained the justice dogs deserve. Thank You!

Now let’s all go out and do this for the rest of the dogs suffering from breed discrimination laws (BSL) all over the world!

If your state, city or country is considering breed discriminatory laws or have them currently enacted please contact me through my website pit bull guru dot com as well as the other organizations listed in this blog.

Please visit the links provided for further education on how to end BSL and how to educate communities about dogs so everyone is aware of the truth.

If you would like a copy of the Pit Bull Hoax DVD visit
www.pitbullguru.com They are free except for S&H.

If you need help or guidance in ending or stopping potential BSL in your area please contact Best Friends Animal Society.
http://www.bestfriends.org/index.htm

Animal Farm Foundation is a great source for education about dogs!
www.animalfarmfoundation.org

To view the Pit Bull Hoax DVD as well as other educational videos on how to contact the media or what is and what is not legitimate dog training visit -
http://www.youtube.com/thepitbullhoax

National Canine Research Council NCRC - http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/

Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates -
http://www.ohiocoalitionofdogadvocates.com/

Lucas County Pit Crew –
http://www.lucascountypitcrew.com/

K C Dog Blog is the BEST website on the Internet for keeping up to date on BSL, media myth making and the truth behind dog bite fatalities and dog bite incidents.

http://btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/2010/03/lucas-county-oh-officiall...

http://btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/2010/03/lucas-county-oh-selects-n...

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