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Maryland Pit Bull Law: A New Opinion

My Revised Opinion on Pit Bulls

Friday, I wrote a blog post about the Maryland Court of Appeals opinion in Tracey v. Solesky that imposes strict liability for pit bull owners and, seemingly, landlords, in dog bite cases. I’ve offered an opinion generally supportive of the court’s ruling and argued that the court should go a step further and hold all dog owners accountable when their dog bites another person (or animal for that matter).

I think I’m right on the latter point. If your dog bites someone and causes serious injury, I think you should be liable for the harm that was caused. But I got a lot of comments and emails from people who strongly disagreed with some of the loose facts that I threw out. While some of these comments were just crazy aunts and uncles peeking out of their attics and basements, others provided real insight about these dogs that demonstrated a far greater appreciation of facts and studies about pit bulls than I have.


The one comment that I made that drew particular ire was words to the effect that pit bulls are inherently more aggressive. My sister, who is on the board of directors of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said she understood why I would think that but, in reality, the dogs are actually more aggressive because many are bred and raised to be aggressive. This makes sense to me.

Anyway, after gathering further evidence and channeling my inner Mitt Ronmey, I hereby flip flop on the issue of whether Maryland law should single out pit bulls in dog bite cases.

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  • Amie

    Thank you. I don’t believe any of those opposed to this ruling are saying it’s NOT the owner’s responsibility when their dog bites. It is, plain and simple. As a dog owner, it is my responsibility to protect my dogs from situations in which they feel the need to protect themselves, and to keep them from acting upon their natural canine predatory nature in inappropriate ways. Those who oppose the ruling are concerned by the claim that breed had anything to do with these terrible incidents, and the idea that a landlord might be held financially responsible for something outside their control – a tenant’s dogs.

  • Amanda Fitzgerald

    Yeah, I love it when people flip flop on their view of pit bulls! I like to call it education. I was afraid of pit bulls, but after volunteering for five years at a local animal shelter, that has almost all pit bulls, and NEVER having a negative or aggressive incident with them I have flip flopped as well. In fact I now own a pit bull who is wonderful with my three year old. After owning a pit bull I would never get another dog. Thanks for educating yourself!

  • Tim Q.

    Thank you for seeing the light.

  • Angel

    There is a difference between facts and option the facts are pitbulls are not unpredictable if u have done research on general animal behavior or look up why socializing your dog is important you would see y people who are not educated on general socialization Leeds to problem dogs i would recommend u speak to animal behaviorist and trainers who has experience with pitbulls even tho that name is a general statement

  • ann douglas

    I am so glad this was finally recognized by the Court, speaking as a citizen who has been attacked before in another state, but escaped injury, a few times by pit bulls. You should not let indignant dog owners coerce your properly held opinion that, indeed, due to the very argument that they are “bred and raised” this way offers prima facie evidence itself as to why they “have become” inherently dangerous. If the “strains” that something is bred for continue on in general then it is likely those “strains” reach a goodly amount of the pit bull populace. This is great news, as well as common sense and intelligence, that if ones dog bites another they most definitely should be accountable and not have to meet the utterly ridiculous caveat that one prove they were known to be dangerous. Kudos for common sense, decency, and justice for once when an innocent person falls victim to that which should be held accountable. Bravo and may the rules become even tougher as my whole neighborhood is rife with them and I fear even walking down my block as what galls me the most is when the owners think it is actually okay to not have them leashed on a porch or walking by! This is the next part of the law that needs fixing. Ann Douglas Law and Ethics student

  • http://mynewpuppydiary.wordpress.com Tammy

    More descrimination of pit bulls… This topic really gets under my skin. ALL dog owners should be held responsible for their dogs, not just owners of “pit bulls”. I am a first time dog owner and have 2 American Staffordshire Terriers. There is a breed restriction in my community; however, my community recognizes that not all “pit bulls” are bad and have allowed me to have my AmStaffs. I wish more people kept open minds about the breed.

  • Marcia

    Why does the government seem to think they can govern their regulations against dogs that have only been trained by humans and crucify those dogs. Why isn’t the crucification geared towards the humans? The dogs are just a product of their environment..or is that just another justification for the democrats? Yes, I am a democrat myself but slowly regretting it…

  • KNG

    Once again MORE discrimination towards a breed that is so unknown by many. I HIGHLY suggest going to your local Petsmart and picking up the book “Bully Breeds” and you will get a great education. If we’re going to have a one bit law, then it should be for ALL DOGS and not just pits. What about the person(s) that TEASE dogs for whatever reasons? Are pet owners going to be penalized for those idiots that think it’s ok to tease ANY KIND of a dog w/o expecting that dog to defend itself – it IS A DOG afterall. This just seems to be MORE regulation by the government of what we can or can not have/do/etc and I’m SICK of it!

    I think Ann Douglas prefers that we have MORE & MORE laws so that people just don’t have to THINK anymore!

    Again, Pits are NOT the beasts that EVERYONE makes them out to be! Did you know that COCKER SPANIELS have a higher incidence of BITING than pits? EDUCATE yourselves before ASSuming that all pits are mean!

  • Orion Beigh

    Please take a stance against this law. Pit bulls are absolutely not inherently more aggressive. It’s all about training. Even aggressive pitbulls are rehabilitated every day.

    Passing this law could have horrific consequences on rescues and vet hospitals, the very people trying to help all aggressive and abandoned dogs be the best family dogs around.

    This law also means that hundreds of thousands of healthy and well socialized dogs will be murdered simply because they were born the wrong breed. This laws is unacceptable. Please take a stand against the mass killing of pits bulls.

  • Laura G

    Glad to hear you’re rethinking your opinion on breed discrimination. Here’s an excellent policy paper to support your contention that ALL owners should be held responsible:

    http://www.animalsandsociety.org/static/resources-publications?tcid=43&rID=248&_i=detail

    It’s important to note that serious and fatal dog bites are vanishingly rare. In those cases that exist, over 90% are caused by negligent or criminal human behavior.

    It makes as much sense to hold a swimming pool or automobile responsible for an injury as it does a dog.

    I commend your open-mindedness.

    Respectfully,
    Laura G

  • Colleen Doulas

    From the 1800′s through today Pit Bulls have not failed to give 100% to the people they love, and the ability to love…
    is a Pit Bull’s most dominant trait!
    Law should be the same for all breeds.

  • Nikki

    ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL*, WHICH DOG IS LEAST LIKELY TO BITE YOU?
    This probably isn’t going to be a good day for you, but if it happens the dog I would be most worried about is the Shepherd. He has the second hardest bite of the four dogs (the Rottweiler has the hardest) but the Shepherd is the smartest and brains are generally more dangerous than brawn alone. While you’re strategizing your defense, the Shepherd is probably strategizing his attack, and after herding, attacking is what he’s bred for. He’s an attack dog, more politely called a guard dog, but despite the nomenclature the method of guarding is not passive resistance. Be it bear, wolf, or prowler, a guard dog will attack what’s uninvited. Aggression is specifically bred for in guard dog breeds. If someone’s breaking through your window the last thing you want is a tolerant guard dog. You want a very smart, very aggressive one so beware of the German Shepherd first.
    The second most dangerous dog is the Rottweiler because the Rottweiler not only has by far the hardest bite of any other dog breed but weighs as much as the Doberman and the Pit Bull combined. What’s more, he knows exactly how to throw that massive weight behind him when he charges. When a Rottweiler hits full speed, it’s VERY hard to stop him, and like the Shepard, he’s a guard dog, bred for aggression.
    Damage-wise, I’d worry next about the Pit Bull, who has a slightly harder bite than the Doberman, but Doberman Pinschers score only average in temperance tests, where as Pit Bulls score right at the top, so the Doberman is probably already lunging at you.
    Like I said, a bad day, but while all this has been going on the Pit Bull has quite probably gotten bored and gone in to babysit Junior because the Pit Bull is NOT a bred ATTACK DOG or a GUARD DOG.

    —–
    I have 2 English mastiff, one is aggressive when people come on my property. I am very sure he will bite anyone that he feels has threatened my home or me. He has been raised right and is loved. So are they going to ban this breed too? My point is most of these people that own pit bulls use them for bad things which causes them to get a bad name. It is not the dogs fault for most of these cases. I also believe a lot of kids DO tease animals and have no respect for them and will continue to tease them. So what is the animal suppose to do? No offense but they are going to attack. I had two kids waking by ,y house everyday and would bark at my door. This made my male mastiff very mad he would charge my door. I took it apon myself to yell at the kids, to me I don’t care if they tell there parents because it’s going to be my ass OF COURSE, if my dog bites them. I am sick of people giving pit bulls a bad name. Why don’t you look at the people who own them and why don’t you do more to stop the dog fighting!

    —–
    I agree that dogs are what you make them. If a dog is brought up in a loving home with positive attention and training they will be a good family dog no matter the breed. I have been around Chihuahuas that are more agressive than Pitt Bulls Although an attack by a Chihuahua might cause some pain it is nothing compared to an attack by a Pitt. Pitt Bulls and mixed Pitt Bull breeds are strong animals that can inflict severe bodily harm and death. I do not beleive in “bullying” one breed of dog and I feel if you are willing to take on the responsibility of owning a dog, no matter the breed, you are taking on responsibility for any harm that animal may cause. I understand the negative affects the Maryland Law is going to have on owners of Pitts and I do not agree or think that it is fair to evict or discriminate anyone because of the breed of dog they possess. However, statistics show Pitt Bulls are responsible for 59% of the fatal dog attacks in the US. This is a rather high number in my opinion. I feel that this breed, unfortunately, is attractive to people who are not responsible for their dogs. PLEASE, let me say that MANY Pitt Bulls are owned by wonderful pet owners and are wonderful, loving dogs, however, for some reason this breed seems to fall into the hands of many people who should not own pets at all.

    In my opinion, irresponsible people are the cause of this unfair and discriminating law and it is very unfortunate for responsible Pitt Bulls and their owners.

  • http://www.dog-training-care-behavior.com Jennifer

    I also believe that any dog can be a bad dog. It is not fair to discriminate against one breed of dog. These are big strong dogs we are talking about. If they are trained to attack or trained to guard, they will do just that. They do bite and they bite hard, so it is no wonder they have the worst mortality rate record.

    Pits and Bully breeds are big, very muscular, well built, and handsome dogs. In the right hands they can be a very good family pet. They are very loyal, love kids and are very smart. In the wrong hands you have an accident waiting to happen, but that is not the dogs fault.

    In my opinion there should be a law against the bad owners that produce the bad dogs. They should be held responsible for what they have created. It isn’t fair to discriminate against the good ones too.

  • katy

    I really admire your post here. I appreciate everyone’s opinion but the fact that you’re open-minded enough to look at this from another perspective is great. Many animals, pit bulls in particular, are quite misunderstood. To zero in on them as a whole is saddening. If we zeroed in on the human race, would we all be classified as good or bad? I don’t know the answer but there is always happiness where there is pain, there is always heaven with the hell; and is always one rotten egg in the dozen of good. A harmless yorkie can be mistreated and turn vicious (despite the size difference) and to classify all yorkies “dangerous” bc of one is stereotyping the breed. It’s unjust and very discriminating. I so appreciate your post and that you’re being brave enough to post your changing opinion… from a true dog lover :)

  • JR

    As someone who owns both a pit mix and a scar from a dog attack, thank you for reconsidering your initial position.

    I’m also a lawyer, and I agree that strict liability is probably the right answer for animal attack cases, regardless of breed. My pittie is the sweetest, most submissive dog I’ve ever met, much less owned. I don’t think anyone meeting her could think she’s “inherently dangerous.” Now, while I don’t think anecdotal evidence is a good basis for sound policy, the statistical data doesn’t support the idea that pit bulls are born vicious or innately more likely to harm people, either.

    And the burden these laws create isn’t confined to people like me who own these dogs. I once almost bought a house in PG County but couldn’t because of their breed ban, so I think we can probably assume there are economic consequences to breed-specific laws as well. My wife and I would have been great additions to the tax base in PG, but because of an irrational law we chose to move elsewhere.

    The dissenters had it right: the majority opinion wasn’t based on real evidence, and isn’t implementable. Imposing strict liability across the board, on the other hand, is relatively simple, and doesn’t single out one breed simply because of mistaken popular opinion.

    Oh, and the dog that gave me the scar next to my eye when I was ten? It was a shar-pei, which is also a traditional fighting dog, but nobody ever seems concerned about outlawing based on breed.

  • Bernie

    Why do you even need such a law? From what I understand, anybody can make a civil claim against anybody who causes injury to them. In this case an individual who owns a dog caused an injury. An injured party can always start an action. Why specifiy the breed? I think that many of our laws go way overboard trying to ‘baby sit’ the people. This is no different then a driver of a car smashing into another ones car. In both cases, the one who causes the injury is liable.

  • http://www.batworld.org/judgesruling Mary Cummins

    We’re simply not doing enough in this country to protect animal rights and support wildlife rehabilitation. It’s shameful.

  • Kelly

    In cases like Lennox, he was damned because he looked like a Pitbull. It’s not the dogs faults, its on the owner to properly raise the animals. If all they know is aggression and abuse, then thats how they are going to act! The abuser should be brought down, not the animal!! and ifthe animal is provoked, it should have right to protect itself, this legislation is like saying that an animal can’t defend itself.. thats absurd and obscene. Not all pits are dangerous.. It depeneds on the owner and living situations

  • Anonymous

    Please take a stance against this law. Pit bulls are absolutely not inherently more aggressive. It’s all about training. Even aggressive pitbulls are rehabilitated every day.

    Passing this law could have horrific consequences on rescues and vet hospitals, the very people trying to help all aggressive and abandoned dogs be the best family dogs around.

    This law also means that hundreds of thousands of healthy and well socialized dogs will be murdered simply because they were born the wrong breed. This laws is unacceptable. Please take a stand against the mass killing of pits bulls.

    Posted by: Orion Beigh
    Orion: I totally agree with ur comment.. i dont personally own a pit, but I have friends who do, and the dogs are total sweethearts! this law should cover all breeds of dogs, not just pits.. this is absurd

  • Sandy Maury

    I’m against pit bulls… except mine!