A new political action committee is aimed at getting rid of pit bull bans in Ohio.
Pit bull bans are known as breed-specific legislation, or BSL, and are typically enacted at the city or county level. Groups like the American Bar Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association have said for years that pit bull bans are bad for families and dogs, raise serious due process problems, increase the use of euthanasia in shelters and are expensive to enforce -- and don't actually improve public safety.
Even President Barack Obama has come out against BSL and in favor of a more community-based approach to preventing dog bites. Although this legislation generally targets pit bulls, it sometimes applies to breeds like Rottweilers and chows.
"People should never allow discrimination to be supported by law and it is up to all of us to ensure it isn’t," said Alisha Westerman, a philanthropist and dog lover who is a founder of Ohioans Against Breed Discrimination, which went public over the weekend. (Her husband, Luke, is another.) "That’s what this PAC stands for and that is why everyone should stand up and disallow discrimination of any sort."
While there are still hundreds of cities and counties across the country that have BSL, breed-specific legislation is overall on the wane. In January, Utah became the 19th state to prohibit localities from discriminating against dogs by breed.
Some municipalities in Ohio have also scrapped their breed bans, though a few dozen others still have not. National animal advocacy group Best Friends Animal Society finds that it costs nearly $19 million every year to enforce BSL in Ohio.
OABD's founders -- the Westermans, longtime pit bull champion and humane law enforcement officer Steffen Baldwin, shelter reform advocate Lauren Schnieders and attorney Dana Pannella -- said they hope their effort will help change that. Their goal is to raise $5 million, which they're planning to use primarily to promote a ballot initiative for a constitutional amendment that would bar any city or county in Ohio from enacting or enforcing breed-specific legislation.
"OABD was created to help move Ohio into becoming the 20th state to ban breed discriminatory legislation," Baldwin said. "This isn’t a pit bull issue as much as it is a discrimination issue."
No money has come in yet, but the PAC is brand-new. Its announcement was timed to coincide with an upcoming pit bull political rally in Ohio.
"We believe now is the ideal time," Luke Westerman said. "The table has been effectively set and now it is time for Ohioans Against Breed Discrimination to make breed-specific legislation totally illegal across the board."
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