Commentary Forum 02/18

Commentary Forum 02/18

Debate Center: Fatal dog attack raises questions about Ohio dog laws and enforcement

By Alex Culpepper
Illustration: Dennis Porter
Aside from accidents or attacks caused by other humans, people in this country are far more likely to suffer injury from the teeth of a dog than from any other animal. The Centers for Disease Control claim about 4.5 million people per year are attacked by dogs, and about 2,400 people per day seek a hospital from dog bite injuries. Assuming those numbers, though, deaths from dog attacks are pretty rare, with about 30-40 fatalities reported each year. Those stats are most likely cold comfort for victims’ families and friends, just as they are for friends and family of Klonda Richey, who was killed by dogs in Dayton earlier this month.

Richey’s death is attributed to an attack by two dogs that were the property of her next-door neighbors. Police found Richey lying in front of her house on the morning of Friday, Feb. 7. The dogs’ owners were initially taken into custody, but they have been released and so far face no charges, although an investigation is underway. Reports say before her death, Richey sought help from authorities and lodged complaints about the dogs and the owners, but officials said they did all they could for her.

Richey’s death has raised awareness about dangerous and vicious dogs. Current Ohio law generally defines a dangerous dog as one who has killed another dog or injured a person, and a vicious dog is one who has seriously injured or killed a person, all without provocation. The dogs that attacked Richey were not legally designated as either dangerous or vicious. Nonetheless, people wonder whether this incident could have been avoided, and also whether current laws are sufficient or if their enforcement needs to change.

Now that the city has a high-profile dog-mauling death in the news, there is talk about added or altered legislation regarding dangerous and vicious dogs. Because of the attack, Ohio politicians are considering changes to existing laws, but Ohio senators and representatives just overhauled the state’s dog laws in 2012. Some people believe more laws may not be the answer, especially if people do not follow them.

Then there are questions regarding enforcement of laws, because some people point to the large number of formal complaints filed by Richey against the dogs and their owners during a two-year period. Her requests yielded little result in her favor. Apparently, no one from the Animal Resource Center was able to contact the dogs’ owners or even locate the dogs, so, by their reports, without evidence of an attack or a dangerous dog on the loose, not much could be done. The situation was further complicated because no official violations existed labeling the dogs as either dangerous or vicious.

Lawmakers and other officials remain cautious about what moves to take next until the investigation provides more answers. The intent of Ohio’s dog laws are to balance the rights of lawful dog owners with public safety, but pressure may be on legislators to revisit the public safety side of the issue. Some people say changing laws are fine, but with either new laws or old ones, they must allow for a more proactive, comprehensive approach to enforcing them.

 

Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com

 

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Earlier this month, Klonda Richey was attacked and killed by two dogs in front of her house in Dayton, and her death has raised issues about animal control laws and their enforcement. What should happen next in regards to accountability and how public agencies need to modify their protocols to ensure this never happens again?

You can tell a lot about a man by the way he treats his dog

By David H. Landon

This week’s forum discussion deals with the horrible death of Klonda Richey, a Dayton woman who was mauled to death last week by two large mix-breed dogs belonging to her next door neighbors. The animals were reported to be a bullmastiff mixed-breed. Richey had complained to authorities on numerous occasions she feared the dogs because they showed aggressive behavior, having chased her into her home on a prior occasion. Despite reporting her concern about the dogs’ behavior to the Dayton Police and the Animal Control authorities, little action was taken. Although the man and woman who owned the dogs were initially arrested after the attack, they have been released while the Montgomery Prosecutors Office determines what charges to bring.

This case brings a renewed urgency to the issue of how authorities respond to complaints of aggressive and vicious dogs. Recently, Ohio updated its laws to change the emphasis from the type of breed of dogs considered vicious to the behavior of individual dogs. Earlier legislation attempted to identify certain breeds, such as the pit bull breed, to which a higher standard of scrutiny would apply. Now, Ohio views all dogs under the categories dangerous and vicious. The determination is based upon behavior and not simply the breed. No law will protect the public from a dangerous animal if laws are not followed and authorities fail to use due diligence when investigating complaints.

This case is tragic on a number of levels. Foremost is the horrible death suffered by Klonda Richey. The authorities suggest her death was caused by loss of blood and that she was probably alive for most of the attack. The thought of what she went through is horrifying. Second is the issue of why authorities failed to respond to her complaints these dogs posed a real threat to her neighborhood. The preliminary report is Animal Control attempted to follow up on her complaint, but for whatever reason failed to make contact with the owners of the dogs. The timeliness and the effectiveness of the response taken by Animal Control is also under investigation. There is certainly speculation they could have acted more aggressively in their investigation into her complaints. Finally, there is the tragedy of how owners of dogs can turn what is normally a well-behaved breed into crazed killers. Bullmastiffs are known as a gentle breed. While normally mild mannered, these are powerful animals. We can only speculate as to what perverse cruelty to which these animals were subjected to turn them into such vicious beasts. Just as some couples should not be parents, some idiots should not be allowed to own dogs.

As horrible as the attack was, I don’t blame these animals. I have been a dog owner all of my life. A dog’s nature is to show absolute loyalty and devotion to its owners. I marvel at the unconditional love they show us. These bullmastiffs would have to have been abused and mistreated in order to demonstrate this type of behavior. I place the full responsibility on the owners.

There are several types of aggression in dogs. It’s not always the large dogs causing the most damage. The University of California did a study and found dogs under 16 pounds are more likely to snap at people. Small-dog owners many times do not perceive their dogs as being very dangerous. The vast majority of large-dog owners make some attempt at controlling aggression problems.

At the first sign of aggression, even in a small dog or a puppy, a responsible owner needs to take action. To get a handle on aggressive behavior in a dog, people need to understand above all else, dogs are pack animals. The instinct to live a pack life has been bred into them since the beginning of time. Their very nature demands a pack order, and if one is not set up for them, they will take it upon themselves to develop their own pack order by which they live. They have to look upon their owner as the pack leader or they will take it upon themselves to become the pack leader. This is why some dogs will accept commands from one member of the household but not others. It all comes down to how the dog views a person according to pack order. The first thing that needs to happen when trying to get control of a dominant dog is to have his pack order changed.

This hardly seems like an instance where an inattentive dog owner failed to notice aggressive tendencies in headstrong dog. There is every indication this was a learned behavior and the most likely trainer of their violent demeanor is the owner. We will have a better idea when all investigations are complete. We need answers about the questionable response by authorities to Klonda Richey’s complaints and answers about how the owner treated his animals. An investigation should interview all people who came in contact with the Bruce Avenue property where the animals lived with any regularity including the mailman and meter readers for the utility companies.

Surely, Richey isn’t the only one to notice there was something wrong with these dogs. We want to feel safe in our neighborhoods. It is incumbent upon all of us to report when we see a dog being mistreated. It might prevent a future tragedy.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Dayton fails its citizens … again

By Marianne Stanley

Question of the Week: “What should happen next in regards to accountability and how public agencies need to modify their protocols to ensure this never happens again?” Three words can answer that: responsibility to residents.

What Dayton seems to have from the top down these days are public officials more prone to apathy than action, indifference rather than enforcement and deafness rather than duty. Were it otherwise, Klonda Richey would still be alive today after clearly and consistently reporting threatening behavior by her neighbors and their dogs. However, despite dozens of calls and even asking our county courts for protection, not one single person or agency stepped up to really listen to her and act on her behalf, despite her neighbors’ numerous violations of Ohio’s statutes. This case should make it abundantly clear Dayton residents are supporting their boards, departments and agencies, but are not being supported by them in return, further diminishing the already-poor quality of life in our town.

While we don’t have all the information yet, and the investigation by the county prosecutor’s office continues, we do know enough to be able to say every single entity Klonda Richey reached out to failed miserably in doing its job. The Animal Resource Center, the police and even the county courts reacted coolly and dispassionately to her calls, rather than acting swiftly and decisively to put an end to the situation. There was nothing more she could have done than what she did, and yet she is dead today because those who could have prevented this did not.

Ohio has a sufficient number of laws on the books that, if enforced, would have made this killing impossible. Even a cursory reading of Ohio’s dog laws reveals no fewer than six violations that could have or should have been used to remove those dogs. Perhaps, over the years, the agencies involved found reacting strongly to complaints led to complications or even lawsuits. From the outside, it is impossible to know what each entity’s “culture” is and why they operate as they do. Even given that, the unbelievable laxity in investigation and follow-through on her reports of abuse, neglect or danger falls somewhere between unacceptable and outrageous.

The police came out. The Animal Resource Center came out. The courts heard her plea for protection. All of them denied her the help she sought. Nothing more than posting a warning on the neighbors’ door ever happened, despite her dozens of detailed reports of an ongoing, frightening and personally dangerous situation. Dayton residents must be relieved to know all they need to do is not answer the door to have authorities leave them alone after they violate a law or ordinance. Who knew?

It could have been simple. For instance, a dog with no tag is “subject to impounding, sale or destruction” under Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 955.10. The dogs had not been registered since 2012. The police could have removed them, but this wasn’t done. The dogs also could have been listed as “menacing,” and thus be listed as a “nuisance dog” under ORC 955.11. In fact, they should have been tagged as “dangerous” under ORC 955.22, since multiple reports of the dogs being out of their yard, not on a leash and out of the control of their owners had been made, but this wasn’t done. The dogs’ owner would release the dog and allow it to chase her into her home and even said he would feed her or her cats to it “as a treat.” This threatening behavior is called “assault,” and the police could have arrested the neighbor at that time, since she had reason to fear for her life.

Despite the fact the owners were in violation of Ohio dog laws in not having their dogs registered or licensed since 2012, and in failing to control their pets or keep them on their premises, neither the police nor Animal Control used their designated authority to remove the dogs or cite the owners.

Reading through the complaints filed by her with the Animal Resource Center gives us a snapshot of the character of Richey. Among them are reports of one of the dogs being so malnourished its ribs were sticking out, another of a dog being left outside all day without food and water. One said she even fed a peanut butter sandwich to one of the neighbor’s dogs just to have the owner try to get the dog to attack her. Clearly as compassionate as she was frightened, Richey continued her efforts to have Dayton officials take action on her behalf, ultimately going to court to seek a an order of protection. This, too, fell on deaf ears, with the magistrate saying since Richey had a kitty door in her house, she obviously did not worry about the safety of her cats or she would keep them inside – an impossibility, as people who have taken in stray outdoor cats know all too well. Not only did the magistrate deny the request for an order of protection, but on appeal, a judge upheld that denial. Allowing skepticism or arrogance to trump caution is stupid. What possible harm could have come from granting an order of protection?

From top to bottom, across the board, Dayton failed Klonda Richey and, in failing her, it has once again failed all of us.

 Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at MarianneStanley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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