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Ruling on ‘dangerous’ Md. pit bulls under appeal

Owners, landlords get ‘relief’

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pit-bull owners and the landlords who rent to them will not be subject to stricter liability while a Maryland Court of Appeals decision designating the dogs "inherently dangerous" is under appeal, according to an advisory letter from the state attorney general's office.

An advisory letter from Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe stated the ruling should not alter Maryland law until the pending motion for reconsideration of the controversial ruling has been decided.

After a Court of Appeals ruling in April that deemed pit bulls and pit-bull mixes more hazardous than other dogs, Delegate Heather R. Mizeur asked the attorney general's office for an advisory opinion on the issue.

"Confusion reigned," said the Montgomery Democrat. Ms. Mizeur serves on a task force charged with drafting legislation in response to the ruling. She said Wednesday that the guideline will "provide at least temporary relief from the confusion that resulted from the ruling."

The court's decision holds pit-bull owners and their landlords responsible for all attacks, even if the dogs have no history of violence. The decision led to worries about owners abandoning their pit bulls and landlord concerns about needing additional insurance.Some landlords were prepared to ask pit-bull ownersto give up either their dogs or their homes, Ms. Mizeur said.

Pit-bull owners threatened with eviction can now use the advisory letter to support their response to landlords, Ms. Mizeur explained.

On a broader scale, the assistant attorney general's letter provides some time before the court's mandate takes effect and prescribes a method for altering the new law.

The 10-person task force originally planned to introduce new legislation in response to the decision during a special summer session in the General Assembly.

As the likelihood of such a session decreases, the task force is "bracing for the potential that we have to wait until January to fix this," Ms. Mizeur said.

Members continue to seek opinions as they consider what action to take.

"We're trying to find a sweet spot between protecting anyone who has been wronged by a bad dog and an irresponsible dog owner and yet not painting an entire breed of dogs with one brush to say that every dog of its kind as 'inherently dangerous,' " Ms. Mizeur explained.

Ms. Rowe's letter stated a new law is the only available method for addressing the court's decision.

"I was hoping there might be some wiggle room," Ms. Mizeur said, noting that she sees the issue as pressing, but was not surprised by the lack of alternative options.

While the advisory letter "doesn't go back and unring the bell and solve all the problems, ... it does give us something that is hopeful, as far as having a temporary pause button on further escalation of the problem," Ms. Mizeur said.

The ruling arose from a 2008 case, in which a 10-year-old boy was attacked and severely injured by a pit bull that escaped from its owner's pen.

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