By Lucie M. Rice
Shannen Tucker found Simone chained in Over-the-Rhine. The pit bull was emaciated,
covered with cigarette or joint burns, and her skin grew over a tight chain around her neck. When the coast was clear, Tucker
stole Simone and took her home. Simone is one of the nearly 30 mistreated or homeless dogs Tucker has rescued in Cincinnati, and the only full-blooded
pit bull in an amicable household that includes four pit bull mixes, six mixed pit bull pups and a boxer. "She is my heart
and soul," Tucker says. Judging from Simone's impish nuzzling devotion, the feeling is mutual. Yet Cincinnati
City Councilman Pat DeWine
-- who says his golden retriever would be frightened by pit bulls like Simone -- wants to reinstate a ban on pit bulls when
city council reconvenes in August. He expects the proposal to pass.
"No one's said they're against it," DeWine says.
Tina Myers shares Tucker's love for pit bulls and her disregard for the property rights of people who mistreat animals. She
once stopped her car on Interstate 75 to rescue a sickly, wandering pit bull. Myers says a local animal hospital calls her
when it has a pit bull needing a home.
Through the windows of her Northside salon, Pinnokios, Myers has watched pit
bull puppies being trained by dragging tires and bricks, if not to fight, at least to make them look strong and menacing.
She asked a young man walking a bone-thin pit bull why the dog looked starved. He had just gotten out of jail, he said, and
his dog had been left locked in the basement.
DeWine acknowledges that other breeds can be just as vicious. "The problem
is drug dealers with pit bulls," he says. "The ban's not going to solve all the problems, but it will reduce the number of
the animals in the city and stop people from being so flagrant about having them."
Myers opposes a ban. Instead, she
suggests a police task force through which officers are dispatched to rescue neglected and abused animals.
says such a task force is a good suggestion. "We need to come up with a mechanism for increased law enforcement around this
issue," he says.
Tucker understands DeWine's arguments. "I do think that pit bulls should be banned because they get
into the wrong hands," she says. "Thugs can keep getting pit bulls after getting theirs taken away."
But Tucker also
says she couldn't live without her dogs. "If the cops came [for them], I'd fight them tooth and nail," she says.
and loyal dogs such as pit bulls can protect a single woman in high-crime areas. For security, Tucker used to take Simone
with her to a shop where she worked. During the 2001 riots Simone frightened off a mob storming Tucker's car.
have a firearm because I have my best friend," Tucker says. 'Very sweet dogs'
Myers and Tucker talk reluctantly and
vaguely about a pit bull rescue on a farm in Kentucky, an illegal endeavor with seven dog runs where, under strict secrecy,
mistreated or homeless pit bulls are taken in, rehabilitated and placed for adoption. Tucker volunteered at the rescue for
six months, feeding and walking the maligned dogs.
"Finally it really broke my heart," she says.
For the past
six months Myers has been unable to reach the woman who ran the rescue. She wonders if the woman has been arrested. One day
while Tucker walked Simone, the dog started howling uncharacteristically. Then Tucker heard a succession of bangs and yelps
from beyond a privacy fence: sounds of a dog being beaten. She returned without Simone but with a foam and metal glove and
a hammer. After the owners left, she lifted the fence with the hammer and found a pit bull penned inside another chain link
fence. "The dog couldn't move," she says.
Tucker fetched raw steak and wire cutters and returned again to feed the
dog, cut the chain and walk him to her car. She then drove the pit bull straight to a friend's farm in Louisville, where his injured leg was rebroken and set. The dog is now happy,
loved and loving, according to Tucker.
A previous 13-year ban on pit bulls in Cincinnati was lifted
in 1999 in favor of a law requiring vicious dogs to be registered, insured, tattooed and fitted with microchips. The municipal
code's definition of "vicious dog" includes any of the breed "commonly known as a pit bull," whether or not it's harmed anyone.
The problem is that what's commonly known as a pit bull up for debate. American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire
bull terriers, bull terriers (think Spuds McKenzie) and American bulldogs are often mistaken for American pit bull terriers.
Andy Mahlman, operations manager at the Hamilton County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), says
his officers are qualified to identify pit bulls and pit bull mixes.
"You know one when you see one," he says, because
of their unique head and body structure.
But it's not always that easy. In fact, the previous ban ended when the city
lost thousands of dollars after a dog warden misidentified and confiscated American bulldogs and the owner sued.
problem is money. City administrators complained of difficulty enforcing the ban because of other demands on time and resources.
But DeWine dismisses budget concerns. "With the kind of safety hazard these animals are posing, I think the cost is
worth it," he says. He cites the latest in a recent series of pit bull attacks, this one on a 12-year-old Northside girl in
"Inherently I do not think pit bulls are any more prone to bite than any other breed provided they have
the right upbringing," says Bob Biederman, a veterinarian at Cincinnati Central Animal Hospital. A big problem in the veterinary
world is "back-yard breeders" who create ill-bred dogs with unbalanced temperaments, he says. Biederman thinks the existing
laws on vicious dogs need to be stiffened or enforced.
"I've seen my fair share of irresponsible owners come through
my door," he says. "Some of these folks shouldn't be allowed to have pets."
The Merklinger Insurance Agency has sold
30 to 40 liability policies to pit bull owners, according to William Merklinger. Coverage costs $562 a year. He says no claims
have been filed.
"I guess you could say we've been quite lucky," Merklinger says. Or perhaps the people buying the
policies aren't the ones who need them.
"I think on the whole they are very sweet dogs," Biederman says. "I'd rather
deal with a pit bull than a chow any day. They've gotten a bad rap in the press."
From politicians, too, according
to Myers. "I think Pat DeWine should go over to Shannen's house and meet all those 'aggressive' dogs," Myers says. ©