The Court of Appeals of Maryland’s opinion last month declaring pit bulls and pit bull mixes “inherently dangerous” has canine advocates and some state legislators furious.
While the General Assembly continued its special session Tuesday to hash out the state’s budget, more than 100 people rallied outside the State House in Annapolis to support emergency legislation that would muzzle the far-reaching opinion.
“This is about renters choosing between living in their apartments or keeping their dogs,” said Delegate Jon S. Cardin, Baltimore County Democrat, who co-sponsored one of four bills introduced Monday to affect the court’s opinion. His bill would eliminate liability for dog owners based solely on their pets’ breeds.
Despite support for the bills, the assembly members stuck solely to the state budget during the special session.
In the 4-3 decision, the court stated that dog owners and landlords are liable if a dog attacks a person if the canine is a pit bull or pit bull mix. It would not matter if the dog had violent history - or lack thereof.
“We’ve got to fix this,” Mr.. Cardin said to the crowd.
Standing in the shade of a tree, Sandy Finamore, owner of Sandy Paws Pet Salon in Chesapeake Beach, held up a poster with the words “Groomers love pitbulls” written above several photos of her being nuzzled by one. Despite her feelings, she said she is not sure if she will continue to groom pit bulls.
“It’s the liability,” Ms. Finamore said. “Either I have to say no to pit bulls or I’m going to have to pay higher [insurance] prices, and that’s going to be put on the clients.”
Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, Anne Arundel Republican, himself a pit bull owner, called it “unjust” to profile any breed.
Mr.. McMillan sponsored the Maryland Dog Nondiscrimination Act, which would make damages from bites from pit bulls considered the same as from any other dog, like it was before the ruling.
“Most of us would agree, you judge by actions, not by breed,” Mr.. McMillan said.
The court’s opinion was issued April 26, four years after Dominic Solesky’s parents sued a landlord of the property where a pit bull lived. The dog jumped a fence and mauled the 10-year-old so badly that he needed surgeries and spent a year in rehabilitation.
The family’s attorney, Kevin Dunne, said the family had yet to have a bill paid for their son’s 17-day stay in the hospital.
“If you really mean what you say about nurture and not nature, this holds owners financially accountable,” Mr.. Dunne said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
An owner’s pit bull may be “warm and fuzzy,” Mr. Dunne said, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and articles in veterinary literature place pit bulls on top of the list of dog breeds that have caused serious and fatal injuries.
From his perspective, the court’s opinion is more about public health, Mr.. Dunne said, as it deals with dogs that bite, attack and have killed people.
“I don’t have any issue with people having the right to choose what dog they own,” Mr.. Dunne said.
Judge Dale R. Cathell, who wrote the opinion, acknowledged in the document that “breed specific legislation” can be problematic, but the opinion “does not ban pit bulls but puts a greater responsibility for vicious dogs … with the owners and others who have the power of control over such dogs.”
Carolyn Kilborn, the chairwoman and founder of Maryland Votes for Animals, said the court’s opinion “is similar to racial profiling.”
“No one wants anyone to be bitten by a dog,” said Ms. Kilborn, who attended the rally along with other members of the political action committee. “That can be a serious and a traumatic thing. I think that perhaps the judges had good intentions, but the ruling is misguided. It actually creates more problems than it solves.”