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Maryland Does Right By Pit Bulls, Says They Aren't Inherently Dangerous (UPDATED)

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UPDATE: Pit bulls are no longer considered to be "inherently dangerous" in Maryland. On Tuesday, April 8, Governor Martin O'Malley signed HB 73/SB 247, which goes into effect immediately.

Maryland law is finally catching up to science in finding that pit bulls are not inherently dangerous.

On Thursday, the House of Delegates passed a bill that undoes Tracey v. Solesky, a controversial 2012 ruling under which pit bulls and pit bull mixes were declared to be "inherently dangerous" by Maryland's highest court -- and which held that not only are these dogs' owners "strictly liable" for any attacks, but, unusually, so are the owners' landlords.

The Solesky ruling had far-ranging consequences: landlords evicted and refused to rent to dog owners, and pit bulls were surrendered to shelters in droves, even as breed-specific legislation -- laws that restrict the ownership of dogs by breed, especially targeting pit bulls -- were decried by President Obama, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medicine Association and others for failing to increase safety while imposing numerous, heartbreaking hardships on dog owners and others.

"Breed Specific Legislation has consistently failed in communities around the world. It has no quantifiable impact on a decrease in dog bites or an increase in public safety," said longtime advocate Lisa LaFontaine, president of the Washington Humane Society. "At the Washington Humane Society we have successfully changed the perspective of pit bull type dogs in our communities and our policies, and we are pleased to see Maryland follow suit."

“It’s liberation for dog owners. It gives us an equal footing with the rest of the breeds and we’re not locked down for owning these dogs,” said one member of the community, pit bull advocate Eric Vocke, to Baltimore's local CBS affiliate.

The bill, HB 73, holds owners liable for their dog's injuries, regardless of the breed. HB 73 also removes liability for landlords, unless the landlord knew or should have known that the dog was actually dangerous. Injuries committed while a dog is running loose will still incur owners' strict liability.

"Any dog can bite. The simple truth is breed is not a factor in bites. All dogs are individuals," said Ledy VanKavage, an attorney with Best Friends Animal Society, a group which is working to overturn breed specific legislation in multiple jurisdictions around the country (and celebrated a victory this week with Utah's governor signing a law prohibiting municipalities from regulating dogs by breed).

Maryland's Senate won praise from the Humane Society and other animal advocacy groups when it passed its version of the bill, SB 247, in late February.

“Passage of this compromise legislation ends this disgraceful era of court sanctioned canine profiling, in which families with pit bull-type dogs were forced to choose between their homes and their beloved pets," said
Tami Santelli, Maryland state director for the Humane Society, in a statement on Thursday. "Lawmakers today voted against singling out particular breeds and in favor of raising the bar for all dog owners to protect victims of dog bites."

Actress Rebecca Corry, organizer of the upcoming One Million Pibble March On Washington and owner of a formerly abused pit bull named Angel, put it a bit more bluntly. "Angel just high fived me, farted and went back to sleep," she said to HuffPost. "It's about time the ignorance of the 'inherently dangerous' argument get laughed at and tossed out. There is no place or tolerance for abuse and discrimination in our society and humans that think otherwise are who are dangerous."

The bill now moves to the desk of Governor Martin O'Malley (D), where there's reason for optimism, according to Baltimore Humane Society spokesperson Wendy Goldband.

"Everyone seems to think," she said, "he will sign without a problem."

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