After a victory in August against a bill that deemed pit bulls ‘inherently dangerous’, an altered version of the bill threatens pit bulls and their owners again.
While the earlier bill was struck down, another bill was introduced immediately to hold individual dog owners (not landlords) responsible for aggressive behavior rather than single out any one breed: As reported by The Daily Record, “The measure creates a strict liability standard for all dogs, regardless of breed. That means owners of all dogs would be liable for bites…The bill also reverses a part of the ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals that made landlords strictly liable for pit bull bites…[Under the new bill] negligence would have to be proven for a landlord to be held liable for a dog bite.”
By mid-August, the Maryland House and Senate were at an impasse. The Baltimore Sun reported that, “Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he did not believe there would be any action on the legislation because ‘the difference is very stark’ between House and Senate versions of the bill…The Senate decided to overrule the breed distinction introduced by the appeals court and to treat all dog breeds the same while easing the liability burden on landlords…The House Judiciary Committee took a far different approach, applying a strict liability standard only in cases where the dog was running loose.”
With the House and Senate at loggerheads, pit bulls and their owners are in limbo. Many owners have already received notices to remove their pets or face eviction. With no clearly written legislation, owners have very little legal support against landlords and condo associations. Senior state director of the Maryland Humane Society of the United States Tami Santelli stated the problem directly, “Due to their inaction, thousands of Maryland families may be forced to choose either their dogs or their homes in the next four months, until the General Assembly comes back in January,” she said.
The bill is currently interpreted as affecting only purebred pit bulls and not mixes. This is a very subjective criteria that has already caused eviction notices and big hassles for pit bull/pit bull mix owners. Proponents of pit bulls have pointed out that there is no such thing as a pure breed pit bull; it is an umbrella term that includes several different breeds. Shelters and rescue organizations in Maryland are now overwhelmed with owner surrenders.
The resulting confusion has literally made BSL a federal case. Last week Baltimore resident Joseph Weigel filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday against Maryland and Armistead Homes Corp., the company that manages the neighborhood where Weigel lives. Almost immediately after the court ruling, Armistead Homes Corp. required all residents to get rid of their pit bulls and pit bull mixes or be evicted, Edwards said.
Although the initial April ruling was amended in August to exclude pit bull mixes, ‘it comes down to what is a mix, what is this, what is that?’ said Weigel’s attorney. “You don’t know. It’s undefined.”
Here are organizations are offering help for pit bull owners. They are listed below:
The Humane Society has established a helpline: call 1-855-MDDOGS1 (1-855-633-6471)
Pit bull rescue organization Jasmine’s House can help pit bull owner’s find legal resources. Contact them via email at: http://www.jasmineshouse.org/contact-us/