- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A dog attack in the San Francisco by the Bay community here in North Beach, in which a mother was attacked by a dangerous dog, is a tragic reminder that no dog — regardless of breed — should be allowed to run loose. Blaming pit bulls and having a ban on one dog breed isn’t protecting North Beach citizens from dangerous dogs.
About 1.5 percent of the American public is bit bya dog each year, with one in six bites requiring medical attention, according to www.americanhumane.org. So in practice, a breed-specific ban won’t address most dog bites, and most dogs subject to it would be unlikely to ever seriously harm anyone.
That is why I am sponsoring an amendment to the Town of North Beach’s animal control ordinance. These are my reasons for strengthening our dangerous dog laws and not the official policy of the Town of North Beach.
Back in 2000, the North Beach Town Council passed an ordinance banning pit bulls and pit bull mixes from the town. However, in the past 12 years, the town’s breed-specific ban has been enforced just once.
I commend the past council for attempting to address safety concerns of North Beach residents. However, protecting the safety of our neighbors by banning particular breeds of animals is missing the point.
Here’s why. Last year, a dog attacked another dog unprovoked in the San Francisco by the Bay community where I and many families with young children live. During the attack, the victim’s owner was injured as well. Calvert County’s Animal Control officers conducted an investigation and determined that the attacking dog was a dangerous dog under the county’s ordinance. In order for the owner to keep the dog, the county’s ordinance has many restrictive and expensive requirements on the owners.
However, the Town of North Beach then opened a second taxpayer-funded investigation to determine if the dog was in fact a pit bull that could be removed from town. During the drawn out investigation, town officials learned that there was no practical way to prove whether the dog that attacked is in fact a pit bull. First, there is no one generally accepted definition of what is a “pit bull.” Second, just looking at a dog cannot determine whether or not the dog is a pit bull. According to some experts, there are 25 breeds of dogs that can be mistaken for pit bulls. Experts say the genetic differences between domesticated dog breeds are so minute as to be indistinguishable.
The truth is, every dog, big or small, is capable of biting. Following this case very closely, I have come to the belief that breed discrimination does nothing to protect the public, but rather gives us a false sense of security. In the ’70s they blamed the Dobermans. In the ’80s, they blamed the German shepherds. In the ’90s, they blamed the Rottweilers. Now, we blame the pit bulls.
In fact, the practice continues. The Maryland Court of Appeals just issued a ruling supporting the belief that all pit bulls are inherently dangerous. The facts of the case are horrible a “pit bull” attacked two young boys whereby one boy sustained life-threatening injuries and had to undergo several surgeries and a year of rehabilitation.
Now, the court has included pit bulls and mixes in a higher standard of care not because of the dog’s actions but just because the dog is perceived to be a pit bull or mix. The court can impose a higher standard of care in civil actions imposing liability than is required by public law.
The Court of Appeals is dealing with private lawsuits. Our ordinance deals with public safety through the public law.
The issue is the dangerousness of animal regardless of breed. The court and our ordinance agree on one point owner of animals that attack people without provocation will be held accountable.
We have leash laws on the books and we should enforce them. We need to hold owners responsible for any behavior that is not appropriate. We can’t legislate against the intentions of those who want to own vicious dogs. But we can be tougher about requiring responsible ownership. Dangerous dogs are often animals in need of food, training and medical attention.
My amendments will change the law from a breed specific ban to a dangerous animal ban. If Animal Control deems an animal to be dangerous, then the animal will be ordered to be removed from the town. The owner will have the right to appeal the town’s decision administratively and through the courts.
Directing the town’s limited resources to protecting our neighbors by investigating the actions of animals rather than determining the breed will be more effective and an efficient.
Kenneth Wilcox, North Beach
The writer is a member of the North Beach Town Council.