MD Court Ruling is a Step Back for Dogs and People

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last week that Pitbulls and Pitbull mixes are inherently dangerous animals.  No proof required. The decision reads:

Upon a plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull cross, and that the owner, or other person(s) who has the right to control the pit bull’s presence on the subject premises (including a landlord who has a right to prohibit such dogs on leased premises) knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull, that person is liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on or from the owner’s or lessor’s premises. In that case a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of negligence. When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous.

The case is based on a Pitbull who escaped his pen and bit two children in 2007.  The family of one of the victims sued the landlord who rented to the Pitbull’s owner.  Under the new ruling, everyone who keeps a Pitbull or allows one to be kept on his rental property is liable for harboring a dangerous dog should any attack occur.  Landlords and shelters are now in the position of considering whether any dog who might have Pitbull in his family tree, regardless of temperament, is an insurance risk.

This arbitrary declaration of certain dogs as inherently dangerous will protect no one in MD from being bitten by a dog.  Here’s why:

  • Pitbull is not a dog breed.  It is a common term for mixed bully breed type dogs.
  • There is no breed of dog proven to be inherently dangerous.
  • There is no reliable method for determining what dogs qualify as Pitbulls or Pitbull mixes.
  • Landlords who tell their tenants they must either give up their Pitbull or Pitbull mix or move will be relying on visual characteristics/shape to identify dogs.
  • Shelters which refuse to adopt out Pitbulls and Pitbull mixes will be relying on visual characteristics/shape to identify dogs.
  • Other types of dogs can and do bite people.  Dog bites are rare in comparison to the number of non-biting dogs but when they happen, the breeds involved vary greatly and include all shapes and sizes.

While the court’s decision does not constitute a breed ban, there are already reports that both landlords and shelters in MD have begun discriminating against certain dogs based on shape.  When breed discrimination occurs, needless dog killing results.  In addition, some dog owners will feel obligated to “go underground” for fear of losing their pets.  These owners may not seek out services such as rabies vaccination and dog licensing in an effort to keep their pets under the radar.  This makes for an even less safe community.

I don’t know what the future may hold for MD Pitbulls but this ruling is decidedly a step back for all dogs and people in the state.

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15 Comments

  1. Having lived in Maryland, I can tell you it’s virtually impossible to rent anywhere when you own a pitbull. Even before this. Same for Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Boxer (yep, boxer) and various other “bully breeds”. Even harder… owning two.

    Reply
  2. db

     /  April 30, 2012

    I don’t understand, with the statistics and any shape of reason, that this could happen. Hate to see this happen . . . and it really did not need to. Who was arguing FOR these dogs?

    Reply
  3. Shawn

     /  April 30, 2012

    With all of the information out there that people are the problem for these dogs, you would think there would be a movement to hold the people accountable. Instead, more innocent dogs will lose their lives. The more I’m around my pit bull, the more I hate people. There are so many in my community who are good, loving, well-behaved dogs because their guardians do the right thing by them. I wish the rest of the world would get with the program. Personal responsibility has become a blasphemous term. And politicians by definition are idiots.

    Reply
  4. Thank you for this. I am in Carroll Co., MD. Immediately after this ruling, 5 dogs were removed from the adoptable list. Ours is a somewhat small shelter, so this was 1/2 of the dogs that were available. Over the weekend, two more dogs, that are identified as bully breeds were left in the emergency pens, presumably owner surrenders that happened while the shelter was closed. I have to guess they will not be made available for adoption. I’m already hearing of tenants that have been told they have to get rid of their dogs. This is horrible. If the larger shelters, like the ones in Baltimore City, decide not to adopt out Pit Bulls, the death toll will be truly horrific.

    Reply
  5. This is an unfounded ruling and should be repealed! Legislators are not doing their research and rushing through with stupid
    legislation. Where are the rights of the dogs and their owners?

    Reply
    • This isn’t a law, we would have had an opportunity to fight that. It’s a court ruling that means anyone owning a dog that looks like a Pit, owning a property that a dog resembling a Pit lives on, or adopting out a dog that resembles a Pit, potentially faces a huge liability if the pet injures a person, or another animal. We are all just supposed to work on the assumption that they are dangerous animals, and are more dangerous than other dogs. It is absurd, and everyone was blindsided by it. It’s kinda seeming like it is going to be in the hands of the insurance companies , now, for the most part, I guess.

      Reply
  6. And yet again, innocent animals suffer at the hands of stupid people!

    Reply
  7. This is absurd, absolutely absurd to go by shape of a dog to id as a pitbull, which, finally, thank you, was herein defined as not being a real breed. We are warring on these defenseless dogs as if they are guilty even without doing anything. THIS IS UNJUST & Wrong, AS WELL AS UNCONSTUTIONAL. ANY DOG can & will bite if in fear or if abused, there is no defintion of any breed for this to happen. I think it is high time Americans takes a good long look at themselves & what they are becoming. We are not moving forward, we are regressing into a time when fear ran this country & when we hid underground for fear of death or slavery. And instead of going beyond that, we are sinking back into the mold again. It is long past due to put laws aside & impeach those who plunder our rights, including those that war on women & those that take away the rights of what we can have in our lives & home, inclusive of pets.

    The bully breeds are far from savage, it is the jerks who want some power over lives, that they abuse these normally loving, loyal, & family oriented breeds… BIG Men, huh? Now they have managed to issue a war on these wonderful dogs that is the human fault, not the dogs, & affected all of us who know, intelligently, that these dogs may be strong but are not killers. People kill & make killers, let’s give all those men who run illegal pit fights the death penalty & rehab, NOT KILL, their dogs. For any court to take away our rights, such as what dogs we can own, is against the Constutution as well.

    Reply
  8. Reblogged this on Brianbarrick's Blog and commented:
    This is a classic case of ignorance. Perhaps the courts should communicate with the experts before making such decisions, the National Canine Research Council at http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/uploaded_files/tinymce/2010%20DBRF%20Report%20FINAL_1.pdf. And perhaps the article by Dr. Victoria L. Voith, PhD, DVM, DACVB titled A Comparison of Visual and DNA Identification of Breeds of Dogs at http://www.nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/uploaded_files/tinymce/Voith%20AVMA.pdf.

    Reply
    • db

       /  April 30, 2012

      Perhaps this information needs to be sent to the relevant parties . . . might you do that?
      Is there anything we (not from MD) might do?
      I hate to think of the dogs who will die because of this – wonderful dogs with families who love them.

      Reply
      • I am not from MD, however, I am hoping someone from MD who knows who to forward this information to will do so.

  9. Joel

     /  April 30, 2012

    The difficulty of sight-based breed identification, as well as the fact that a “pit bull” isn’t even really a breed, will make this ruling silly to most readers here.

    I would also edit Shirley’s statement that “While the court’s decision does not constitute a breed ban, there are already reports that both landlords and shelters in MD have begun discriminating against certain dogs based on shape.” This type of discrimination occurs pretty much everywhere. In Maryland it will likely increase if this ruling somehow takes hold.

    This type of legislation rarely does anything to improve public safety. Hey but it makes our government look like it’s doing something about a supposed problem! Actually it can make people less safe, because they may believe that because a dog doesn’t look a certain way, it must not be dangerous. All dogs can bite.

    Reply
  10. funisbest

     /  May 4, 2012

    Already in Tennessee, if you buy homeowner’s insurance, the the first two questions the insurance company asks is, “Do you own a dog? and Are they a Pittbull or Rottweiler type dog?”

    I don’t know what their lists tell them, but insurance companys will either deny coverage or charge rediculous fees for your breed of dog here in TN. It’s not fair, anywhere.

    Reply
  11. Michele Blackwell

     /  June 16, 2012

    The handful of irresppnsible low life pet owners ruin it for al olf us. This is a crock of crap.

    Reply

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