- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Although finishing the budget was the legislature’s top priority in its special session in May, there also was a bipartisan push to issue legal protection to a controversial dog breed.
Bills filed in each chamber sought to reverse a recent Court of Appeals ruling that declared pit bull terriers to be inherently dangerous.
Although neither received a committee vote during the three-day special session, the legislation is expected to resurface if the General Assembly reconvenes this summer.
“[The ruling] is creating liability concerns where landlords are letting their tenants who own pits know that they have a choice to either vacate the home or get rid of the dog,” said Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery). “So people have to make these really horrible decisions, and we’re seeing lots and lots of pits being dumped at shelters.”
The court’s ruling established that landlords who know a pit bull is living on their property can be held liable even if they don’t have knowledge that the specific dog is dangerous.
Mizeur and Del. Michael Smigiel (R-Upper Shore) introduced a bill in May protecting pit bulls by declaring that dogs may not be presumed dangerous based only on their breed. Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Upper Shore) sponsored a similar bill in the Senate and pledged to introduce the legislation again this summer, when the legislature is expected to reconvene in a special session to discuss expanding gambling in the state. “A lot of animals will be put down, and we need to do something to fix that problem,” Pipkin said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) told senators last month that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee would review the court’s ruling this summer. He also said that if lawmakers hear from constituents on the issue, they should tell them to contact the governor and ask that it be considered in a special session.
“This particular breed is being put to death, and nobody wants to see that,” Miller said.
Because the ruling has made people reluctant to adopt the animals, shelters end up having to kill the dogs, Mizeur said.
Although there was a clear need for irresponsible owners who don’t train their dogs properly to be held liable if there’s an attack, the court’s ruling was far too broad, she said.
While there were no pit bulls on hand, there was plenty of love for the breed at a rally last month outside of the State House in Annapolis.
“I’m just here to defend my dog,” said Emmanuel Z. Karabetis of Middle River, adding that it was unfair to single out one breed. “Any dog can bite a human being.”
Dozens of supporters displayed signs that sought to reject the image of pit bulls as aggressive, vicious animals.
“Keep your bad laws off our good dogs,” reads one sign. “Pit bulls don’t kill people, people kill people,” reads another.
“This isn’t fair,” said Diana Winters of Arbutus. “It doesn’t address the real issue of the bad dogs.”
Staff writer Danielle Gaines contributed to this report.