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Lawmakers Fail To Reach Compromise On Dog Bite Legislation

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Meghan McCorkell joined the Eyewitness News team in July 2011 as a...
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Lawmakers fail to agree on a bill that would protect pit bulls from being labeled inherently dangerous dogs.

The General Assembly ended its session Monday night, with the House unable to compromise on who is liable for dog bites.

Meghan McCorkell explains what this means for pit bull owners going forward.

This is a huge upset for animal advocates. The Senate passed a compromise bill on pit bulls, but the House did not vote on it. The move leaves dog owners in the lurch for another year.

Day after day, Baltimore Humane Society Executive Director Jen Swanson has watched families forced to turn over their pets.

“It’s been very difficult to watch people have to hand their animals over because they really have no other choice,” said Swanson.

In a statement, Tami Santelli, Maryland state director for The Humane Society of the United States, wrote: “Singling out a particular type of dog has repeatedly been proven to be ineffective at curbing bites because breed alone is not predictive of whether a dog may pose a danger.”

Last April, a state court of appeals ruled all pit bulls “inherently dangerous” after the 2007 attack of a Towson boy. The ruling held landlords and dog owners liable if their pit bull bit anyone.

Following the ruling, neighbors in the Armistead Gardens community received a letter telling them to get rid of their pit bulls or face eviction. Three dog owners filed a complaint in federal court.

“They think that people are just going to come into their houses and just take their animals because they might be pit bulls,” said attorney Charles Edwards.

A compromise bill in the General Assembly would have overturned the appeals court ruling.

Under the bill, all dog owners whose pets bite a child under the age of 13 would be held strictly liable. If the victim is over 13, owners would get a chance to prove there were no previous signs the dog was dangerous. Landlords would not be held liable at all.

Animal advocates said they still have some issues.

“We really don’t believe there should be strict liability for any dogs,” said Edwards.

Governor Martin O’Malley said he sees both sides.

“I know there’s a lot of people that love their pit bulls. I also know there’s a lot of kids that have been mauled by them,” said O’Malley.

But it was another heartbreak for pit bull owners. The House did not pass the compromise bill, which means the current ruling labeling all pit bulls vicious dogs still stands.

People at Charm City Animal Rescue are upset about the inaction. They told WJZ they’d like to see lawmakers foster pets to prevent more dogs from being euthanized.

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