Animal Advocacy Groups Oppose Maryland's Pit Bull Judgment

The judiciary's opinion that pit bulls are violent should go through the legislature, says U.S. Humane Society.

The Maryland Court of Appeals'  and holding their owners liable in the event of attack is opposed by the Humane Society, regional rescue groups and state lawmakers.

“We believe that the court overstepped its authority,” said Betsy McFarland of the Humane Society of the United States.

The court ruled in April that in a 2007 pit bull attack on a boy in Towson, the owner was liable on the grounds that pit bulls and pit bull mixes are inherently dangerous.

By common law, persons trying to file suit against a dog owner would have to prove the dog in question had a history of violence. Now, if the owner or landlord has knowledge that the dog is pit bull or part pit bull, the owner or landlord is accountable.

"A seismic shift in Maryland law of this nature should be undertaken by the legislature, not judges," said McFarland. "The legislature should conduct appropriate fact-finding and hearings, consider the available science, and make a measured, non-emotional decision on this important policy issue.”

The , based in Reisterstown, said it has already experienced fallout since the ruling last week, reported The Baltimore Sun.

"We're getting calls from people who are getting calls from their landlords telling them to move out," Jen Swanson, executive director at the Baltimore Humane Society, told The Baltimore Sun.

The is also opposed to the ruling, stating that animals should be judged on behavior rather than breed.

“This determination should be made based on evidence on an individual animal's temperament and behavior, not breed,” wrote the Maryland SPCA on its Facebook page.

Complicating the matter is the fact that "pit bull" is not a breed, according to the American Kennel Club.

The temperament of American pit bulls, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers—commonly referred to as "pit bulls"—is on par with that of Yorkshire terriers and Basset hounds, according to the American Temperament Test Society.

“We feel that pet owners are the solution to preventing dog bites and attacks,” said the Maryland SPCA. “We are worried that this ruling could result in more dog abandonments and fewer adoptions at area shelters and rescue groups."

Maryland's recent ruling on pit bulls is getting national attention; it made the CBS This Morning broadcast on May 3 in a segment entitled "Pit Bull Controversy."

The state's ruling could be challenged if the Lutherville defendants who owned the dog in the Towson case from 2007 appeal it in a federal court. Their lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

In the meantime, Maryland lawmakers are planning to take action as well, according to Delegate Frank Turner, D-Howard County.

"I do believe that legislation will be introduced in January 2013 that will modify the Maryland Court of Appeals decision," wrote Turner in a letter to constituents. "Until then we have to live by the ruling of the court."


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