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Lawmakers, Doctors Call For Stronger Dangerous Dogs Law

a photo of a dog being aggressive
A bill being proposed in the Ohio legislature would more seriously penalize owners whose dogs attack and injure people.

Disclaimer: This story details vicious dog attacks and the injuries caused.

A bill that would create tougher regulations on vicious dog owners is making a return in the General Assembly. The bill has spent years in limbo, but the new sponsor says dog attacks are a widespread problem that must be taken seriously.

Samantha Phillips of Vienna recalled the pain and shock she felt when two dogs got loose last June and attacked her and her mother.

“They were running so fast we couldn’t run, we couldn’t grab anything to defend ourselves," she said. "Zeke jumped up and grabbed my arm and pulled me down and he kept pulling and pulling and pulling.”

Eventually the owners, Phillips’ neighbors, came out to drag the dogs away. As she recounted the attack, Phillips pulled back the sleeve of her shirt to show the scars left behind.

“I looked down, and I saw the holes in my arm. And I could see the fat in my arm," Phillips said. "There was blood running from the wounds and I was in shock.”

Republican Representative Niraj Antani of Miamisburg said Phillips’ story is not uncommon and that hundreds of people suffer serious injuries every year from dog attacks. That’s why he’s introducing a bill that would stiffen the penalties for the owners.

The bill starts by charging the owner of a dog that carries out a vicious attack with a fifth degree felony. As of now it’s a misdemeanor, which Antani equates to a traffic ticket.

“I believe that if a person attacks you and injures you or kills you it is a felony, it should be no different than a dog," Antani said. "It should be no different than vehicular manslaughter.”

The bill would also give a dog warden the ability to arrest someone in certain circumstances. It does not target any one breed over another. 

Antani recognized he faces an uphill climb with this piece of legislation. It’ll be the fifth time a legislator has tried to create tougher penalties for dog attacks.

But Robert Lober, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Dayton Children’s Hospital, argued this is an epidemic that must be addressed. He said they’re seeing more than 300 kids come in every year for dog-related injuries at his hospital alone.

“We’re talking about facial paralysis in some kids, horrible disfigurement, paralysis of limbs, the need for amputation, and the psychological effects last long after the scars have healed," Lober said.

Among those young victims is Savannah Coleman, 8, who spent days in the hospital recovering from life-threatening injuries sustained in an attack.

Picture of Savannah Coleman
Credit Tierney Dumont/Mother
Savannah Coleman, an eight-year-old attacked by dog in Clermont County last year .

Her mother, Tierney Dumont, said she was indoors when she heard her daughter screaming from the backyard.

“Her little white t-shirt that she was wearing was drenched in blood," Dumont said. "I distinctly remember watching the blood drip down her legs and on to her new Adidas that she was wearing.”

Savannah suffered more than a dozen lacerations to her head, ear, and hand, and a skull fracture. The owner of the dog that attacked her, paid a $120 fine. 

Groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Cleveland Animal Protective League have testified that they support strengthening dangerous dog laws. However, those groups added that more must be done to help the underlying problem behind dog attacks, which they say can be traced back to the way owners treat their dogs.

One example is the creation of tethering laws so a dog isn’t tied or chained in one isolated spot for a long period of time. Bills to set limits on tethering have been proposed in the last two general assemblies, in both the House and the Senate, and haven’t gone anywhere. 

Antani understands the road blocks that come up when addressing this issue. He said he hopes bringing the bill up so early in the new session will mean bringing all parties to the table in order to reach any compromises that are needed.

“Clearly there is an issue with this bill has been introduced in its form over three General Assemblies and has seen little to no movement, particularly in the House," Antani said. "There is an issue, and we will figure out what it is.”

As she rolled her sleeves back down to cover the scars from her attack, Samantha Phillips called on support for Antani’s bill.

“My injuries resulted in stitches," she said. "I mean some people go through these traumatic injuries and other people die from these attacks.”

Antani is giving groups a week to add their input before they begin holding meetings.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.