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Help for Pit Bulls
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January 30, 2013
It’s been nearly a year since a controversial ruling by Maryland’s highest court gave the force of law to discrimination against dogs known as “pit bulls.” The General Assembly is now racing to the rescue. But much damage has already been done. WYPR’s Karen Hosler nosed out this report.
Karen Hosler: Most of the nearly five dozen dogs up for adoption at the Anne Arundel County SPCA competed noisily for attention from visitors. But Ginger, a 17-month-old pit bull mix, makes her move quietly, licking fingers through the screen of her cage with a sweetness that inspires love at first sight. She needs it. After nearly a year together, Ginger’s adoptive family had to surrender her two days before Christmas because the landlord threatened eviction. And the family couldn’t find another rental that would accept pit bulls. The SPCA’s Kim Teter called Ginger a poster child for results of a Maryland Court of Appeals ruling last year that declared pit bulls “inherently dangerous” and said owners and landlords could be held financially liable.
Kim Teter: It’s heart-breaking to see people bring in their dogs and say, the dog did nothing, other than be a pit bull, when we adopted it two, three years ago, and they’re now having to turn it in.
Hosler: The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing today on eagerly awaited legislation that would reduce responsibility for dog bites on landlords, and remove the legal stigma attached solely to the breed blend called pit bulls. Instead, dog owners of all breeds are warned they must prevent attacks or explain in court why they failed. Delegate Luiz Simmons , a Montgomery county Democrat who blocked approval last summer of a harsher deal for dog owners, says:
Luiz Simmons: We have now worked it out. I think we’ve come up with a reasonable compromise that seems to protect everyone.
Hosler: Brian Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee, said he would have preferred a tougher liability standard for dog owners but he accepts the compromise.
Brian Frosh: It works, it’s fair to victims, it’s fair to landlords, it’s fair to pet owners, I think it improves the existing law and it fixes some of the problems with the court of appeals decision of last year.
Hosler: With such widespread approval, the bill is expected to speed through the legislature and become law immediately upon Governor O’Malley’s signature. But much damage has already been done. Ginger was only one of more than a hundred pit bulls turned into the SPCA after the court ruling. An estimated 70,000 of the animals live in the state. Tami Santelli, Maryland director of the Humane Society of the United States, said--law or no law--some dogs are always going to be targets.
Tami Santelli: It’s an ongoing battle, and the type of dog I think changes with time, which dog is sort of singled out as the dangerous breed of that moment.
Hosler: For now, the dog villain is the pit bull. And Santelli says the court can’t quickly change the public perception.
Santelli: The reality is that landlords are in the process of changing their pet policies and even if the General Assembly reverses the ruling, some of those are just going to be in effect and stay in effect. So, it’s really too bad.
Hosler: Meanwhile, dog lovers, please keep an eye out for a sweet girl like Ginger. I’m Karen Hosler, reporting in Annapolis, for 88.1 WYPR.
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