Lakewood family fighting to keep banned pit bull mix in their home

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LAKEWOOD, Ohio – The daily routine for 4-year-old Aleeah Williams can be a struggle. Cystic fibrosis requires her to undergo treatments using a compression vest and a breathing machine. The family pet, a pit bull named Scrappy, has been by her side.

“He's just been a tremendous comfort to her,” Aleeah’s grandmother, Elizabeth Spais said.

Scrappy might have to leave the house though, after a Lakewood animal control officer responded to the house Tuesday.

“She was crying, ‘what're we gonna do, please don’t take Scrappy away,’” Spais said. “It was just really traumatic to try to explain to her we wouldn't let that happen, we won’t let that happen to you.”

Scrappy is not a trained service animal and is therefore subject to a 2008 Lakewood law stating that “all pit bull dogs and canary dogs are deemed to be dangerous animals,” which are banned. Spais is paying for a DNA test, and if it determines Scrappy is more than 50% pit bull, it would fall under the ban. A breed determination hearing has been set for February, during which a Lakewood public safety hearing officer could make a final determination.

“He’s not vicious, there's nothing vicious about this dog,” Spais said. “He's never bitten, he's never gotten out, he’s never attacked anybody.”

Kerry Stack, who is a dog trainer and owner of Darwin Dogs, shared the story on Facebook, and it has some calling on the city to change the law. Several people posted on the city’s Facebook page.

“First of all, we need to change how we look at dogs,” Stack said. “We're looking at dogs as breeds and that's ridiculous.”

Lakewood City Council President Sam O’Leary, who represents Spais’ ward, said it’s a topic that needs revisiting, and he has heard from several council members interested in examining the city’s dog laws.

“I don’t think it's council’s role to intervene in particular cases,” O’Leary said. “I do think, from a policy standpoint, it illustrates some potential issues with the existing law.”

That includes some incidents involving vicious dogs that aren’t currently covered under city law and breed specific language for pit bull dogs, according to O’Leary.

“The breed specific nature of the law is not substantiated by the science,” he said.

Councilwoman Cindy Marx said she suspects there would be as many opposed to a change as in favor, but she said council is always open to listening to community concerns.

Stack said she doesn’t feel residents’ voices are being heard.

“I’m really hoping that will change, but I don’t just peg things on hope, so we're going to be following through with this.”

Even if council takes action, it could be too late for Scrappy, who might have to find a new home.

“That's what I'm afraid of,” Spais said. “That's my biggest fear.”