Pit bulls are cool in Lisbon but vicious in Columbiana, Ohio

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LISBON, OH – In an interesting split of municipal law, two cities in Ohio are split by law on whether “pit bulls” are “vicious” because of superceding state law. Lisbon and Columbiana are both in the county of Columbiana, Ohio. The village of Lisbon and the charter city of Columbiana have both defined pit bull dogs as vicious. Under the Columbiana’s current laws, anyone with a pit bull is considered to be harboring a “vicious animal.” The Lisbon law bans pit bulls as vicious.

“Pit bull” is a slang term for a dog that is similar to dogs used in dog fighting. The term is loosely applied to various breeds of dogs, like Cane Corso, Presa Canario, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Bullmastiff, and Boxer. Many mixed breed dogs are called pit bulls when they have an appearance similar to any breed of dog that can be called pit bull.

There is no breed that is a “pit bull” but laws often use the loose reference to classify a dog based on its appearance. When the term “pit bull” is used in law, it is most often used to describe a vicious dog. A vicious dog is a dog that has a propensity to cause injury to people or to animals.

Ohio state law in 2012 redefined vicious dogs. The Ohio law removed pit bulls from the definition of “vicious dogs”; redefined “vicious,” “dangerous,” and “nuisance” dogs without regard to breed; set liability, confinement, and licensing requirements for vicious and dangerous dogs; and prohibited people convicted after the law of felonies involving violence, animals, drugs, conspiracy, weapons, or corrupt activity from having an unneutered dog for three years after their release from prison or probation.

For the Love of Pits, a nonprofit group based in Northeast Ohio, celebrated the new law. “When pit bulls were labeled vicious, residents who love their dogs were afraid to take their dogs out in public,” said Marlo Slusarski, director of community outreach for For the Love of Pits.

The celebration did not happen in Lisbon and Columbiana where pit bulls were still banned for being “vicious.”

Two animal advocates attended a recent village council meeting in Lisbon to lobby against the Lisbon law. Animal advocate Jason Cooke from Boardman met with council to urge them to amend the village’s dangerous animal law because it defines all pit bulls as “vicious” animals. He said it is untrue and to continue to list all pit bulls as vicious animals is a form of breed discrimination. Brenda Austin, who also attended the meeting with Cooke, agreed.

Police Chief Mike Abraham said that the police do not enforce Lisbon’s vicious dog law because it was superceded by state law in 2012. He went on to say that when there is conflict in laws, state law governs, so the law banning pit bulls has no effect.

Columbiana raises a different issue for the pit bull law. Columbiana is a charter city and can enact laws that supercede state law.

Cooke and Austin plan to work with Columbiana to change its vicious dog law.