CHESTERTOWN State Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin plans to introduce a bill this summer negating a court decision declaring pit bulls inherently dangerous.
In a letter to the Kent County News, Pipkin, R-36-Upper Shore, decried the April 26 Maryland Court of Appeals ruling, saying it forces pit bull owners to give up their pets. The decision also covers pit bull mixes.
Pit bull adoptions through humane societies around the region, including Kent County, are on hold as a result of the court decision. A General Assembly task force, including Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36-Cecil, is being convened to review the issue.
"Before the unprecedented and misguided court decision on pit bulls, a bite victim seeking damages, would have to prove that the dog's owner knew that the pet had a history of being dangerous or violence-prone. It is no long necessary to prove a pit bill is dangerous," Pipkin wrote.
While the General Assembly holds its regular 90-day session at the beginning of each year, a special session expected to kick off next month on gambling could bring relief to pit bull owners much sooner.
"Several bills, including one I will sponsor during the upcoming July 9 special session, seek to reverse the Court's unfortunate and short-sighted decision and ensure that a dog cannot be presumed dangerous or potentially dangerous based solely on the breed or heritage of the dog," Pipkin said.
The Court of Appeals decision stems from the mauling in Baltimore County of two boys by a pit bull. In his written opinion, retired Court of Appeals Judge Dale R. Cathell said a pit bull's owner and a landlord entitled to prohibit such dogs on "leased premises" are liable for damages in attack cases.
"When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous," Cathell wrote.
For Pipkin, the matter is one of judicial activism leading to the creation of a new law. He called the pit bull decision a "judicial overstep."
"The Court of Appeals has declared all of them dangerous ... whether or not they are. The Court has sentenced all pit bulls and pit bull mixes in Maryland to abandonment and most likely death," Pipkin said.
In a letter to the Washington Post, Maryland Dog Federation President Adrianne Lefkowitz said making a visual identification on pit bulls and pit bull mixes is highly subjective and inaccurate, and DNA tests are unhelpful. Lefkowitz said there is no consensus among experts about what is and is not a pit bull.
Baltimore area resident Teresa Lynn Chagrin, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote a letter to state lawmaker saying her organization opposes any legislation aimed at overturning the court decision.
"The court decision does not ban pit bulls or dissuade responsible guardians from caring for pit bulls who are kept indoors as part of the family, spayed and neutered, well fed, walked, and otherwise kept humanely and responsibly. Rather, it holds negligent owners and those who knowingly harbor pit bulls on their properties responsible for the damage that the dogs may do when they attack," Chagrin wrote.
Chagrin said her office receives daily calls about neglected and abused pit bulls, and those who seek out the breed do so to satisfy the "'macho' image of this animal as a living weapon." She cited a medical journal report from last year calling for pit bulls to be regulated in much the same way as dangerous exotic pets like leopards.
Chagrin suggested mandatory sterilization of pit bulls, which she said has shown to decrease the breed's potential for attack. She said San Francisco and San Bernadino County, Calif. have passed such laws and saw bite rates drop.
"Pit bulls are bred, fought, abused, neglected, and used as guards specifically because of their breed. At this time in history, it is not only fair but also essential that we protect them based on their breed as well," she wrote.
Pipkin and Smigiel both said Maryland is the only state, according to the Humane Society of the United States, to officially regard pit bulls and pit bull mixes as categorically dangerous.
"As it stands now, the court ruling will have a profound effect not only on dogs and their owners, but also on property owners, tenants and landlords. In its ruling, the Court of Appeals has made law; very bad law," Pipkin said.
Pipkin said the task force plans to review Maryland law and laws in other states, along with the viability and definition of breed-specific standards, a dog owner or landlord's ability to secure property insurance and existing breed-specific prohibitions in local jurisdictions.
"Hopefully, the Assembly will address the issue in July and exercise the sound judgment needed to resolve the situation," he wrote.