The Maryland General Assembly gave its final approval to legislation that overrules a state high court ruling that claims pit bulls are an “inherently dangerous” breed of dog that must be held to a stricter liability standard for bites than other breeds.
In 2012, in the case of Tracey v. Solesky, Maryland’s highest court labeled pit bulls and pit bull mixes as “inherently dangerous” and held both the owner and landlord “strictly liable” for any attacks. As a result of the ruling, landlords evicted and refused to rent to dog owners, and a huge number of pit bulls were surrendered to shelters. All this was taking place at the same time as President Obama, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medicine Association and others were opposing breed-specific legislation laws that were especially aimed at pit bulls and restricted the ownership of dogs by breed.
Opponents to the legislation claimed that it failed to increase safety while imposing numerous, heartbreaking hardships on the dogs, their caretakers, and others. “Breed Specific Legislation has consistently failed in communities around the world. It has no quantifiable impact on a decrease in dog bites or an increase in public safety,” said longtime advocate Lisa LaFontaine, president of the Washington Humane Society. “At the Washington Humane Society we have successfully changed the perspective of pit bull type dogs in our communities and our policies, and we are pleased to see Maryland follow suit.”
The bill, HB 73, holds owners liable for their dog’s injuries, regardless of the breed. HB 73 also removes liability for landlords, unless the landlord knew or should have known that the dog was actually dangerous. Injuries committed while a dog is running loose will still incur owners’ strict liability.
“It’s liberation for dog owners. It gives us an equal footing with the rest of the breeds and we’re not locked down for owning these dogs,” said pit bull advocate Eric Vocke.
“Any dog can bite. The simple truth is breed is not a factor in bites. All dogs are individuals,” said Ledy VanKavage, an attorney with Best Friends Animal Society, a group which is working to overturn breed specific legislation in multiple jurisdictions around the country.
Maryland’s Senate won praise from the Humane Society and other animal advocacy groups when it passed its version of the bill, SB 247, in late February. “Passage of this compromise legislation ends this disgraceful era of court sanctioned canine profiling, in which families with pit bull-type dogs were forced to choose between their homes and their beloved pets,” said Tami Santelli, Maryland state director for the Humane Society. “Lawmakers today voted against singling out particular breeds and in favor of raising the bar for all dog owners to protect victims of dog bites,” she added.
Actress Rebecca Corry, organizer of the upcoming One Million Pibble March on Washington and caretaker of a formerly abused pit bull named Angel, put it a bit more bluntly. “Angel just high fived me, farted and went back to sleep,” she said to HuffPost. “It’s about time the ignorance of the ‘inherently dangerous’ argument get laughed at and tossed out. There is no place or tolerance for abuse and discrimination in our society and humans that think otherwise are who are dangerous.”
Won by an overwhelming margin, the House has now sent the Senate-passed bill to Governor Martin O’Malley. Baltimore Humane Society spokesperson, Wendy Goldband believes there is reason for optimism. “Everyone seems to think he will sign without a problem,” Goldband said.
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