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Court of appeals declines man's plea to save his dog from euthanasia

Special to the Legal News

Published: August 25, 2015

An Akron man recently lost his appeal to save his dog from being put down after the 9th District Court of Appeals ruled that the pet posed a danger to the public.

Michael Peterson appealed from the judgment of the Akron Municipal Court which ordered that Peterson’s American Staffordshire Terrier, a breed commonly included in the broader “pit bull” category, be “humanely destroyed.”

Case summary states that Peterson’s dog, Baby, was running off-leash outside of his residence on Aug. 14, 2014.

The neighbor, Shannon Wade, owned a Shitzhu named Yogi who was outside with Wade’s daughter and niece at the time.

Court documents state that, when Wade returned home from work, Yogi left the home’s front porch to greet her in the driveway.

That is when Baby ran up, grabbed Yogi with her mouth and began shaking her from side to side.

Yogi did not die as a result of the attack, but she did suffer a proptosed eye and required veterinary care for which Peterson was ordered to pay as part of the sanctions for his violation of Akron City Ordinances.

Peterson entered into an agreement with the prosecution and ended up pleading no contest to a violation of A.C.O. 92.25(B)(4), which prohibits the possession of a dog that has caused physical harm to another domestic animal.

Peterson was found guilty and sentenced to 180 days in the Summit County jail, which was suspended on the condition that he obey all laws for two years, pay a $150 fine and pay restitution for Yogi’s veterinary expenses.

But the city of Akron did not stop there.

It requested and was granted a hearing to determine whether Baby “presented a continuing threat or danger to the public.”

As a result of that hearing, the Akron Municipal Court sentenced Baby to death.

In his appeal from that judgment, Peterson argued that the trial court erred in ordering Baby to be “humanely destroyed” because the prosecution failed to prove that she posed a continuing threat or danger to the public, “thus forcing the trial court to rely solely on presumptions and predilections to make such a finding.”

But the court of appeals found that the trial court’s decision was based on two different reasons — the first being that Peterson had failed to contain and control his dog in the past, in violation of A.C.O. 92.25(E).

Writing on behalf of the reviewing court, Judge Julie Schafer noted that Akron City Ordinance “does not presume that all pit bulls are vicious.”

Yet, in a footnote to her opinion, she cited A.C.O. 92.25(E) as specifically requiring owners of pit bull breeds to identify their dogs by having them wear a “fluorescent green collar at all times.”

She went on to write, “Mr. Peterson was still obligated to comply at all times with the mandates enumerated within that ordinance simply by virtue of owning a pit bull.”

At the hearing, testimony was elicited that indicated that Baby would regularly be allowed to run “at large.”

The city’s animal control warden dispatched an employee to the residence several times to drop off literature concerning pit bull regulations.

“Moreover, the trial court’s order contained a second rationale for finding that Baby poses a continuing threat of harm to the public,” Schafer wrote, noting that Peterson had trained his dog to “sic” or attack other dogs on command.

“However, Mr. Peterson fails to address this second finding by the trial court in his appellate brief,” Schafer wrote. “We therefore decline to address the trial court’s second basis for finding that Mr. Peterson’s dog, Baby, presents a continuing threat or danger to the public.”

Peterson went on to argue that the fact that Baby caused physical and economic harm to Yogi and the Wade family had no bearing on whether Baby posed a threat to the public.

The court of appeals, however, called Peterson’s final argument “misplaced” before concluding that the trial court did not err when it ordered Baby to be euthanized.

Presiding Judge Jennifer Hensal and Judge Donna Carr joined Schafer to form the majority and affirm the judgment of the Akron court.

The case is cited State v. Peterson, 2015-Ohio-3019.

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