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Pit bulls no longer banned in Cincinnati

Ohio Valley Dog Owners, Cincinnati Kennel Club helped draft new city dog control law

The Cincinnati, Ohio City Council has overturned the city’s 13-year-old ban on American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and their mixes in favor of a generic dog control ordinance that tightens restrictions on the ownership of all dangerous and vicious dogs.

The new law is backed by the city administration, the law and safety committee, and area dog fanciers, dog owners, and dog rescues.

“We’re making it behavior specific, not breed-specific,” Councilman Jim Tarbell said at the public hearing on November 22.

Drafted by a task force of administration staff, the Hamilton County dog warden, a veterinarian, Ohio Valley Dog Owners Inc., Cincinnati Kennel Club, and members of the general public, the new law requires registration and identification of all dangerous and vicious dogs, including all pit bulls, and will go into effect after a 90-day grace period for owners to register their pets. Because of Ohio law, only dogs identified as pit bull dogs must be registered before they commit an infraction of the law. Other dogs must violate the law before being required to comply with the restrictions.

Pit bulls (not specific breeds, but dogs identified as the type used in dog fighting) are described as vicious to comply with the Ohio Revised Code, Section 955.11(A)(4)(a)(iii), which states: “‘Vicious dog’ means a dog that … belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog.” Therefore, all dogs of this description must be registered, identified, and confined as required in the ordinance even if they are gentle family pets. State law and the new Cincinnati law give the dog wardens and veterinarians the authority to identify the breed of dog.

Cost of registration will not exceed $50, but owners must also pay to have their dogs micro-chipped and tattooed, to purchase liability insurance, and to construct appropriate outdoor facilities if the dog is kept in a yard.

Other new provisions include:

  • Definitions of harmless dog and dangerous dog;
  • Definition of vicious dog that includes dogs used in crimes and dogs trained or used for dog fighting;
  • Assignment of responsibility when a dangerous or vicious dog is owned by a minor; and
  • A leash law.


The breed-specific ban was passed in the late 1980s following several attacks on children by dogs identified as pit bull dogs. During hearings on the proposal to ban pit bulls, owners told city council that their dogs are descended from the purebred American Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers registered by the American Kennel Club, so council specifically banned these breeds and their mixes. However, because the city lacked storage space for impounded dogs, the ordinance was not enforced for nearly 10 years. In 1996, the city contracted with the Hamilton County SPCA to house dogs confiscated as vicious and as members of the banned breeds. Since then, the city has paid the SPCA to house hundreds of the dogs taken from families, breeders, dog fighters, and drug dealers and held during the disposition of their cases.

Interpretation of law has been liberal; some dogs that resemble the proscribed breeds have been impounded even though there is no genetic test that identifies breeds or mixes. In early 1998, the chief deputy dog warden identified eight American Bulldogs as American Staffordshire Terrier mixes and took the dogs to the SPCA. Unlike many other owners whose dogs have been taken under the breed ban, owner Eric Rowe refused to plead guilty to a lesser charge and send his dogs out of the city. Instead, he hired a lawyer, fought the charges, and won.

Although it resembles the pit bull type, the American Bulldog is not a pit bull breed. It is related to the Old English Bulldog, a breed developed in England to herd cattle in the butcher’s yard and then used as a bull-baiting dog. After bull-baiting was outlawed in England, the English Bulldog apparently took three paths: some remained as all-around farm dogs, and these continued their careers in the US and became the American Bulldog; some morphed into the short, squat English Bulldog of today; and some were used to create the bull-and-terrier breeds that include the breeds and mixes banned in Cincinnati.

The American Bulldog trial cost the city thousands of dollars in impoundment fees, pre-trial preparation, and trial time, none of which it could recoup because it lost the case. But collection is hit and miss even when the case is won, for owners seldom pay the bill. Where multiple dogs have been removed from a single address and held for months, the costs mount up. One dog owner told the law and safety committee that he had a bill for more than $11,000 for incarceration of his dogs that he could not afford to pay.

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