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Appellate panel rules electronic collar doesn’t fulfill leash requirement

Special to the Legal News

Published: June 21, 2024

A Tenth District appellate panel recently determined that the electronic collar a Columbus man had placed on his dog for a stroll along a Grandview Heights sidewalk failed to meet the city’s leash requirement.
The 3-0 panel affirmed the Franklin County Municipal Court finding that 40-year-old Nicholas Savko ran afoul of Grandview Heights’ “dogs running at large” ordinance while he was walking with the animal along Lincoln Road near Bluff Avenue, utilizing only the collar as a means of controlling the dog.
The trial court ordered Savko to pay a $50 fine and court costs, prompting the man’s appeal of the guilty verdict on the basis that the lower court erred in its interpretation of Grandview Heights Ordinance 505.04, and it was mistaken to deny a motion for acquittal.
According to a court summary, the electronic collar on Savko’s dog could be activated by a hand-held transmitter to provide a shock or alternative stimulation to the dog for training or control purposes.
The user manual for the collar stated in part that an operator is able to activate a stimulation boosting mode to provide instant control in emergency situations, the record provided.
“Such a collar may enable an owner to have some control over a dog, through training the dog or even by turning up the power and shocking it into submission,” Tenth District Judge Betsy Luper Schuster wrote for the panel. “In this way, it was a ‘control device.’ But such a collar cannot reasonably be considered an ‘other physical control device,’ as that term is used in G.H.O. 505.04(b).”
She noted that the term is ambiguous when read in isolation. In the context of the ordinance and employing the rule of common usage, the term is clear, however.
“The statutory construction canon, ejusdem generis––a principle that parallels common usage––provides that where general words follow specific words in a statutory enumeration, the general words are construed to embrace only objects similar in nature to those objects enumerated by the preceding specific words,” the judge continued.
She wrote that as it relates to the owner of a dog maintaining control of the animal on public property or another’s premises, the ordinance’s reference to a leash, cord, chain or tether can only be reasonably construed to mean a device physically and visibly connecting the owner to a dog, enabling the owner to have immediate and directional control of the animal.
The judge added that such items have limited length, restricting the dog’s permissible movement.
“Thus, the objects enumerated in the ordinance have certain essential characteristics,” Luper Schuster continued. “The catch-all term, ‘other physical control device,’ … means a device, like a leash, cord, chain or tether that physically connects the owner to the dog, enabling the owner, as desired or necessary, to direct and limit the dog’s movement, such as by abruptly and forcefully pulling the dog toward the owner and away from trouble.”
She wrote that Savko had no connection to the electronic collar on his dog allowing him to pull the animal toward himself, whether for the safety of another pedestrian, another animal or the dog itself.
“Nor did the electronic collar physically limit his dog’s range of movement or visibly assure others in the area that the dog is in fact limited in its possible range of movement,” she added. “Thus, the electronic collar Savko placed on his dog did not have the same essential characteristics as the objects enumerated in the ordinance. Consequently, we conclude the electronic collar was not a device included in the definition set forth in G.H.O. 505.04(b).”
Tenth District Judge David Leland concurred with Luper Schuster, while Judge Laurel Beatty Blunt concurred separately, adding that Grandview Heights “may consider revising its laws to clearly delineate how this technology is to be integrated into its legal framework.”
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