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Maryland officials fighting back against pit bull ruling

By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times –

WASHINGTON — Maryland officials have set up a task force to study and recommend possible legislation concerning a court ruling that declared pit bulls “inherently dangerous.”

The state’s highest court ruled in April that pit bull owners can be found liable for damages in attacks, regardless of an animal’s history.

“It is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous,” the Court of Appeals ruled in a case that grew out of an attack on a 10-year-old boy. “Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous,” the court said in a 42-page decision.

The 5-4 decision has led lawmakers to introduce legislation to overturn the ruling. It has also led to fears that finding homes for pit bills could become more difficult and that pit bull owners could abandon the animals or seek their destruction.

The Maryland effort comes on the heels of a new Ohio law that protects pit bulls from being labeled as “vicious” dogs simply because they’re pit bulls.

In announcing the task force’s creation, state legislative leaders said in a letter last week to Gov. Martin O’Malley that the ruling will have “profound effects” on dogs, their owners and property owners.

Tami Santelli, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, welcomed the task force’s formation. “The court decision hurts all dogs, not just pit bulls,” she said in a statement. “If we don’t turn it around swiftly, Maryland families and their dogs will be thrown out on the streets, and pet-related businesses and jobs will suffer.”

But Teresa Chagrin, animal care and control specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the group opposes legislation to overturn the decision.

She said the ruling will, in the long run, protect “pit bulls from the cruelty and neglect that often cause them to snap and become aggressive” and will “encourage land owners to be more responsible by checking on what’s going on on their properties and making sure that if there is a pit bull there, they’re kept inside and they’re cared for properly.”

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