Reporting Derek Valcourt
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) – Good news for animal advocates and owners of pit bull type dogs. Maryland’s House of Delegates has voted to reverse a court ruling labeling those animals “inherently dangerous.”
As Derek Valcourt explains, the measure throws the responsibility for dog bites on the dog’s owner.
The bill unanimously passed by Maryland’s House Thursday essentially recognizes that all dogs–not just pit bulls–have the potential to bite.
The 2007 vicious pit bull attack that nearly killed 10-year-old Dominic Solesky was at the center of last year’s Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that labeled pit bulls as inherently dangerous, meaning pit bull owners and even their landlords could be held liable for any bite.
Soon, many pit bull owners found themselves with a tough choice–lose their beloved pets or face eviction.
“Not getting rid of my dog for nobody,” a woman said.
House and Senate lawmakers rushed to change the state’s dog bite laws. Their new compromise bill is breed neutral, meaning it applies to all dogs. It limits third party liability, allows owners to prove there was no prior evidence of violent behavior and allows for defense of the animal’s behavior.
Animal advocates are thrilled the bill cleared a major hurdle with this unanimous House vote Thursday.
“It’s not singling out any specific type of dog, and we think it’s a good bill for dog bite victims, for pet owners, for third parties such as landlords, veterinary clinics, etc,” said Tina Regester, Maryland SPCA.
“I don’t support it in any way, shape or form,” said Tony Solesky.
Dominic Solesky’s father Tony agrees it shouldn’t be about a specific breed, but he worries the change in the law means dog owners or their insurance companies can’t be held liable for an attack unless a dog has bitten before.
But the bill’s authors disagree, saying it shifts the burden to dog owners to prove that they didn’t know their pet was capable of harm.
These bills have been designated as emergency bills, meaning once they pass both chambers and are passed by the governor they would take effect right away.
Though the bill is expected to pass, the Senate version has not made it out of committee to the floor for a full vote.