The Maryland Court of Appeals has partially reversed a ruling it made this spring that declared pit bulls and pit mixes “inherently dangerous” and imposed strict liability on owners and landlords.
However, the reversal only removes pit bull mixes and leaves the rest intact, even though the term “pit bull” was never defined by the court.
The original ruling was the result of an attack on 10-year-old Dominic Solesky in 2007, whose family sued the dog owners landlord, Dorothy M. Tracey in Tracey v. Solesky.
Before the ruling all dogs had to bite once before being declared dangerous and victims of an attack who wanted to file a lawsuit had to prove that the dog’s owner or landlord knew the dog had a history of being aggressive. Now, anyone who wants to sue will only need to prove that owners and landlords knew the dog was a pit bull and they will be financially responsible for injuries.
The decision to remove mixed breeds was made because judges lacked evidence to hold them to the same standards as purebreds, leaving the new ruling to apply to dogs referred to as “pit bulls” or “pit bull terriers.” Now, animal advocates are raising concerns about the potential for even more problems and confusion since there’s no such thing as a purebred pit bull. The term ‘pit bull’ can be applied to a number of breeds, including the American Pit Bull Terrier, (APBT), American Staffordshire Terrier (AMSTAFF) and Staffordshire Bull Terrier (STAFFY), and they’re easily misidentified (try it).
“There is no way to visually identify a dog as a pit bull and there’s no way to even prove it using DNA,” said Cory Smith, a senior director with the Humane Society of the United States. “Even veterinarians … have a hard time identifying a dog as a pit bull.”
Now, owners of mixed breeds and their dogs may be a little safer and able to avoid strict liability, but others are still worried about losing their dogs and their homes and whether they’ll be able to find anywhere to live, as if it’s not hard enough to find landlords who allow dogs in the first place, while shelter rescues worry about more dogs being unjustifiably euthanized. The owner of at least one apartment complex, ArmisteadGardens, has already ordered that pit bulls be removed.
The HSUS, which believes the original ruling would have been applied to an estimated 70,000 dogs in the state, has put together some helpful information for Maryland residents here, and is advising owners to get veterinary or licensing documentation proving their dog’s lineage.
Two bills were introduced this month during a special session to deal with the issue: a Senate bill that would have imposed strict liability on all dog owners and a House bill that would have applied strict liability in situations where dogs were running loose, but they both died.
The issue will be addressed at the next legislative session in January.
Please sign the petition asking Governor Martin O’Malley to introduce legislation to completely overturn this decision.
Photo credit: sparktography