My letter to elected officials regarding new Maryland dog law
As most of you know, the Court of Appeals of Maryland recently modified the Common Law to specifically discriminate against “pit bull dogs and cross-bred pit bull dogs”. This modification adopts strict liability for all owners and landlords regarding these dogs in their possession or on their property. The unintentional consequences of this are far-reaching and uniformly negative. Click here for a summary of the ruling, or here for the full Court opinion.
In an effort to make my voice heard, I have sent the following letter to the 3 state delegates and state senator that represent my district. I encourage you all to do the same. You can find contact information for your representatives here. Feel free to copy/edit what I have if it is in line with your beliefs, or phrase things differently and craft your own letter … whichever the case, PLEASE MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!!!
Also note, one of the judges in the case (Robert Bell) that ruled in favor on the modification is in Baltimore City and up for re-election this year. I am not eligible to vote there but if you are and disagree with his actions … speak loudly by voting him out!
**** I want to be abundantly clear with this … I sympathize greatly with the victims of all dog attacks. I support their ability to live without fear of negligent owners and their right to compensation when appropriate. I believe there should be strict laws that penalize irresponsible owners. My issue is that this should be for ALL dogs … not just those with physical attributes that may appear to be “cross-bred pit bull dogs” (whatever that even means).*****
Dear Del. _______,
I am writing today to express my disapproval and request your help regarding the recent modification to the Common Law that adopts strict liability in respect to attacks on humans by pit bull dogs and cross-bred pit bull dogs set forth in the Court of Appeals of Maryland No. 53 filed on April 26, 2012. In this new modification of the Common Law, a strict liability standard is established for “pit bull and cross-bred pit bull mixes” which places all judgment squarely on the appearance of a dog rather than the circumstances surrounding the incident and responsibility of its owner.
The Court bases this ruling on its perception that pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently vicious and dangerous animals without providing any factual predicate or expert testimony to back this claim. The Court then proceeds to cite highly disputed dog bite statistics and unrelated dog attack incidents while ignoring scientific and empirical data from respected international and national organizations that condemn breed-specific legislation and promote effective, research-based means of minimizing dog attacks in communities across the world. There are even instances in the citations provided by the majority opinion that contradict their very conclusion in this law modification, such as the Veterinary Medical Association Report (2000) which questions the success of breed-specific liability requirements and urges the consideration of factors completely unrelated to the breed or appearance of dogs.
I want to be very clear that I am sympathetic to the victims of the vicious dog attacks that seem to occur all too often in our society, and whole-heartedly support progressive laws to prevent such horrific and preventable incidents. However, the path to preventing these tragedies is not grounded in enacting discriminatory laws that establish liability solely based on the physical appearance of a dog without accounting for the actions and responsibility of its owner. Rather, it is accomplished by enacting enforceable laws that punish irresponsible owners who negligently harbor dangerous pets, regardless of their physical appearance. All pet owners must be responsible for their animals and should be held uniformly accountable for their actions.
At a time when states such as Ohio and Massachusetts are backing away from ineffective and discriminatory breed-specific laws and adopting more successful (and affordable) dangerous dog laws which apply to all dogs equally, Maryland has taken a huge step back and allowed the perception of four judges (with three judges in dissent of this opinion) to drastically alter our Common Law and discriminate against a large population of our residents without cause. While the Court of Appeals does maintain the authority to alter the Common Law, this practice has rarely been undertaken and usually under circumstances where the law was clearly wrong or new facts had arisen that impacted the law. In this case, neither has occurred and precedent indicates that this issue is better addressed by the state legislature rather than legislating from the bench.
In summary, the ruling of the Court of Appeals to adopt strict liability for certain dogs based on physical appearance alone while ignoring behavior and owner responsibility is misinformed, ineffective, and discriminatory. The decision was made without the appropriate consideration for unintended consequences and expert testimony regarding how to successfully minimize preventable dog attacks. As a result of this, many Maryland residents are being unfairly discriminated against based on the appearance of their pets while irresponsible owners with dogs that do not look like “pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls” are held to a lower standard despite their negligence.
Can I count on your support to sponsor and promote legislation that will address this issue?
I would like to thank you very much for considering my opinion on this matter and for your dedication to helping the residents of Maryland.