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Pit bulls ruled dangerous in Maryland, but what to do about it?

May 31, 2012|By Richard Simon

WASHINGTON -- Maryland officials have set up a task force to study and recommend possible legislation concerning a court ruling that declared pit bulls "inherently dangerous." 

The state’s highest court ruled in April that pit bull owners can be found liable for damages in attacks, regardless of an animal's history.

"It is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous,’’ the Court of Appeals ruled in a case that grew out of a pit bull attack on a 10-year-old boy. "Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous,"’ the court said in a 42-page decision

The 5-4 decision has led lawmakers to introduce legislation to overturn the ruling. It's also led to fears that finding homes for pit bills could become more difficult and that pit bull owners could abandon the animals or seek their destruction.

The Maryland effort comes on the heels of a new Ohio law that protects pit bulls from being labeled as "vicious" dogs simply because they're pit bulls.

In announcing the task force's creation, state legislative leaders said in a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley on Wednesday that the ruling will have "profound effects"’ on dogs, their owners and property owners. 

Tami Santelli, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, welcomed the task force's formation. "The court decision hurts all dogs, not just pit bulls,"’ she said in a statement. "If we don't turn it around swiftly, Maryland families and their dogs will be thrown out on the streets, and pet-related businesses and jobs will suffer."

But Teresa Chagrin, animal care and control specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the group opposes legislation to overturn the decision.

She said in an interview that the ruling will, in the long run, protect "pit bulls from the cruelty and neglect that often cause them to snap and become aggressive" and will "encourage land owners to be more responsible by checking on what’s going on on their properties and making sure that if there is a pit bull there, they're kept inside and they're cared for properly."

The task force is expected to review the court's decision, laws in other states, "the viability and definition of breed-specific standards" in Maryland law as well as "breed-specific prohibitions’’ in Maryland cities and counties, and dog owners' and landlords' ability to secure property insurance.

Nancy Perry, senior vice president for government relations with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said in an email: "We are grateful that the Maryland legislature has established a balanced task force to recommend dog liability policy for the state and urge them to move swiftly to ensure families are not forced to relinquish their beloved pets."

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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