In the last two decades, many cities have passed breed specific bans or limitations on dog owners. Pit bulls are the most common cited breed and one owner is now taking his dogs and his case to the Supreme Court. Paul Tellings likes his pit bulls and has challenged a Toledo law as baseless and biased. While the odds are against a grant of cert in the case, it would allow review of a highly controversial trend across the country.
Tellings has lost in the lower courts, which upheld the Toledo law. In the meantime, Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon, wants to require all pit bulls over the age of 6 months to be spayed or neutered — at the owner’s expense.
It is an interesting case. However, the most difficult aspect for Tellings is the test. Without a claim of religious or racial or gender discrimination, the city needs only to show that there is a rational basis for the law — an exceptionally low standard. The owners have prevailed on an appellate court on the basis of the vagueness of the law, which is a better tact. However, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the city’s ordinance on Aug. 1st.
The common law treats these cases under a strict liability standard. An owner is strictly viable for a dog with known vicious tendencies. This is sometimes called (inartfully) the “one free bite rule” since after the first bite, an owner has obvious knowledge. However, it sometimes does not require a bite to have such knowledge. Indeed, these laws can serve as such warnings.
One of the most infamous cases involved two lawyers. Lawyers Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel were successfully prosecuted after their huge “Presa Canario” dogs mauled and killed neighbor, Diane Whipple, in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building in January 2001. Whipple was bitten 77 times and the dogs nearly severed her vertebrae.
Jurors found Marjorie Knoller’s husband, Robert Noel, guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and found Knoller guilty of second-degree murder.
The common law rule also applies to wild animals. Defining some animals as wild can be done with reference to statutes or the lack of animus revertendi (the habit of return). The most common category in the United States is the possession of wolves or part-wolf animals as pets.
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