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Legal Woes for Maryland Pit Bull Owners

pit bull

A big headline here in Maryland lately has been an anti-pit-bull decision made by the state’s court of appeals. The case classified pit bulls and other “bully” dogs (meaning any dog with bull lineage) as “dangerous dogs.” This means that they are not included in the “one bite” exemption owners get before they are held liable for their dog’s action. That liability can also extend to anyone with control on the premises, including landlords, veterinarians, kennels/daycares, groomers, etc.

The decision prompted widespread protest. Pit owners are worried that they’ll either be evicted, lose their homeowner’s insurance, or be forced to get rid of their dogs. It’s already difficult for prospective pit owners; few leases allow the breed and many home insurance plans either skyrocket or don’t cover households with pits at all.

Animal rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, which has its headquarters in Washington, DC, have petitioned the governor to bring the bill before the state legislature, which might hold a special session this summer over other issues. Pit bull supporters are hoping that legislators will overturn the ruling, or at the very least get pit bulls declassified as dangerous.

The ruling could make it impossible to own pit bulls. Even more insurance companies might raise their rates for pits or refuse to cover homes with them altogether. Just about any corporate-owned apartment complex bans pit bulls, along with other breeds, but at least before it was possible to find a privately-owned apartment where the landlord might let tenants have pit bulls. I don’t see any landlord wanting to put him or herself at risk with the new legal precedent of them being held responsible for any attacks.

The hope is that the Maryland legislative body, which has commissioned a task force to investigate the ruling and its implications, might be persuaded to declare all dogs equal in the sight of the law. That way if a suit is brought against a pit bull owner the case is treated the same as for any other breed of dog, and the extension of the liability to other non-owning parties overturned.

I’m really torn on this issue. I’ve known some pit bulls and they were gentle sweethearts. They were better with small children than my dog is (mostly because her life’s goal with kids, because she can reach their faces, is to lick all around their mouths. The pit bulls just let the toddlers be). However, they are a high-energy breed that, if not given the proper energy and care, can act out. This doesn’t necessarily result in aggression, but if a pit becomes aggressive it’s much more difficult to get it to back down than it might possibly be for a beagle or lab, for example. My husband says that if there are incentives against owning pit bulls then less will be bred, including for fighting, which I would only support for the sake of less pits finding themselves homeless and misunderstood.

I just don’t like the idea of creating laws against certain dogs. I worry that that means they won’t be able to find any good, understanding homes, and it’ll just lead to more pits in illegal or homeless situations. A couple decades ago everyone was afraid of German Shepherds or Dobermans, and now most people think they’re fine, so the prejudice seems inconsistent and unfair.

I guess I’d just rather this decision be made by the General Assembly than by one person. I’ll be following the case with interest, hoping that it makes it before the State Legislature.

What do you think: should states adopt breed-specific legislation, or should all dogs be considered legally equal?

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