- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2012

Man’s best friend is coming under ferocious attack. More and more rules and regulations are popping up to condemn dogs based not on their individual character, but whether they look dangerous. For example, the county council in Belfast, Ireland, earlier this week executed Lennox, a bulldog-Labrador mix guilty of looking like a pit bull.

Closer to home, Maryland’s highest court in April overturned the state’s negligence rule that stated an owner had to have knowledge of the dog’s tendency to bite to establish liability in a biting incident. In the case Tracey v. Solesky, the Court of Appeals established strict liability in the context of a bite by a “pit-bull type” dog, not just for the owner, but also for the landlords who rent to families who own pit bulls because they are, according to the ruling, “inherently dangerous.”

That means there are two different liability standards if someone is bitten: one for the “pit bull” dogs, and one for all other types of dog. The first problem is there is actually no such breed as a “pit bull.” The term generally applies to four different breeds, according to the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club, the largest purebred registries. Because the court ruling also covers mixes of these breeds, there is no way short of DNA testing, at $120 a pop, to confirm whether a dog qualifies. Testing animals who have not displayed any tendency to bite and tearing them away from loving homes is a cruel waste of resources.

Extending liability to landlords is an unprecedented move. While many states have a strict liability rule for all dogs, regardless of breed, such liability is always limited to the dog’s owner. As a result of the new legal landscape, however, some landlords have already started evicting renters who own pit bulls. Likewise, shelters have seen an uptick in surrender of dogs. Unless the rule is changed, there will doubtless be a flood of pit bulls and mixes coming in. This increase, coupled with a drop in the ability and willingness to adopt the dogs, means they will die simply for being the wrong breed, regardless of whether they pose a danger to anyone.

Prince George’s County has had a ban on pit bulls in place for years, but two formal reviews of this policy found it expensive to enforce and ineffective in improving safety. The county’s Animal Management Division chief, Rodney Taylor, recommended “get[ting] away from the issue of breeds” in testimony before the General Assembly. Breed-specific laws like this simply don’t work.

The Court of Appeals ruling won’t take effect until a motion for reconsideration is addressed. That gives lawmakers in Annapolis a little bit of breathing room to clarify the law and save families from the prospect of losing beloved pets because of a handful of judges with overactive imaginations.

The Washington Times.