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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.

DeWine 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.

Strong 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.

"I don't 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
, 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
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.

Another 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 Avondale.

"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.

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