Lakewood OH
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Decision still pending for Lakewood dog Charlie

By SUE BOTOS

LAKEWOOD – The city has not decided yet whether Charlie, an eight-month-old rescue dog that it suspects is a  pit bull, must leave.

Charlie’s owner, Jennifer Scott, met with the mayor’s executive assistant, Shannon Strachan, in a closed-door meeting last Wednesday to hear the case. As of mid-day Tuesday, the city had not released a decision.

On the day of the hearing, supporters came with handmade signs, some quickly drawn on the spot, some elaborately decorated with glitter. Some held poster-sized pictures of their pets. They were grandmothers and grandchildren, city officials and candidates.  Some came from as far away as Lodi.

But the group of about 100 in front of Lakewood City Hall were united in their support of Charlie, an 8-month-old rescue dog owned by Scott, who has become a focal point of a controversy surrounding the city’s nine-year ban on pit bulls.

Charlie came to the attention of city officials after he wandered from home. He was found and taken to the Lakewood Animal Shelter. When Scott called to see if Charlie had been turned into the shelter, she was told he had been reported to city officials as being an illegal pit bull.

Scott pointed out she had received written permission from the shelter before she adopted Charlie, when she sent them a picture to make sure she would be allowed to own him in Lakewood.

According to the city’s legislation approved in 2008, any dog with more than 50 percent of pit bull breeds in its DNA cannot be owned in the city. Scott has declined to have Charlie DNA tested.

Her request to keep Charlie was heard in a private hearing at 3 p.m. at City Hall. Scott has said she plans to challenge the city if it rules against her dog.

Members of the group All Breeds Lakewood, which seeks to repeal the law and other supporters rallied in front of City Hall urging passing drivers to “honk for Charlie” while Scott, her family and attorney J. Phillip Calabrese participated in the hearing with Strachan, executive assistant to Mayor Michael Summers.

With last week’s demonstration, Kerry Stack of All Breeds Lakewood told the group they had accomplished the goal of raising awareness about the issue. “You talked about Charlie. This is not a cut-and-dry issue. We absolutely won today,” said Stack.

“We all look different,” she added. “Pit bulls all look different. Let people know we stand by them. We’re making our voices heard. You were heard and seen.”

The show of support was encouraging to Enrique Martinez, who said his half pit bull/half boxer Isabella will be DNA tested next week. “My grandkids can pull food right out of her mouth,” said Martinez, adding that Isabella serves as his therapy dog.

Steve Zupan, accompanied by his pit bull Little Rascal, said he has negotiated with the city from June 1 to Aug. 17, finally winning approval to keep his dog. Zupan, who gets around in a wheelchair, suffers from PTSD, said Little Rascal is his therapy dog.

“This law is an illegal law according to the Ohio Court of Appeals,” said Zupan. He referred to the fact that ordinances similar to Lakewood’s have been challenged or overturned recently. Calabrese had successfully got such an ordinance overturned in Reynoldsburg, Ohio earlier this year.

 

Activists show support for Charlie.

Scott, who embraced several activists before heading to the conference room, briefly acknowledged the crowd, which called out to her as she entered the building. Some supporters followed, but the door to the room closed to them.

Law director Kevin Butler said the proceeding was an administrative matter, not a public hearing. Butler, who was a city councilman when the law was adopted in 2008, has cited Lakewood’s dense population and safety concerns for his initial support of the issue.

Ward 4 Councilman Dan O’Malley, who has vocally opposed the ban, said that he was not surprised by the show of support. “This needs to change,” he said. “We need to educate council about the myths associated with pit bulls. I’m committed to doing my part.”

Cleveland City Councilman Matt Zone, who was instrumental in getting a similar law overturned in that city, said that Lakewood has managed to get around any state laws by creating a committee to oversee any matters relating to pit bulls.

Zone added that it’s the owners who need to take responsibility for their pets, regardless of breed. “Punish the deed, not the breed,” he said.

Addressing the crowd, Stack noted that the three challengers for council at large seats on the Nov. 7 ballot –Meghan George, Tristan Rader and Brian Taubman — all oppose the ban.

 

 

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