MARYLAND

Annapolis task force to meet over pit bull liability law

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Animal lovers, land owners and advocates for pit bull bans have converged on Annapolis to participate in a special task force about a recent court ruling which labels the breed "inherently dangerous."

A Maryland court says that pit bulls are 'inherently dangerous.' Photo: Flickr/blhphotography

A recent court ruling in Maryland named pit bulls as dangerous dogs, making landlords and "other people" liable for any injury by a pit bull on their property.

On Tuesday, foes of the ruling appealed to lawmakers on a task force. They argue that breed-specific laws are not effective.

They also say the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling fails to adequately define a pit bull.

But the parents of a Towson boy who was seriously injured in a pit bull attack in 2007 say dogs shouldn't be put before human welfare. Anthony and Irene Solesky testified Tuesday that pit bulls are "inherently dangerous." Anthony Solesky says the ruling by the Court of Appeals should stand. Injuries to their 10-year-old son prompted the legal case that led to the ruling.

"This was a mauling, a shredding," Irene said.

The late April decision says that a pit bull owner doesn't necessarily need to have knowledge that their dog has violent tendencies to be held liable in an attack.

"You are talking about veterinarians and boarding kennels and pet sitters and trainers and humane societies and the list goes on and on and on. Landlords and tenants also," said Paul Miller with the Washington County Animal Shelter of the April appellate court ruling.

An attorney for Maryland landlords filed a brief with the Court of Appeals pointing out that some could be forced to evict dog owners, adding, "...no reasonable residential or commercial landlord, homeowner's association, condominium association or insurer could have anticipated that this court would impose strict liability for the mere presence of a dog on a rental premises."

The task force will also take up the tenuous issue of how to accurately describe a dog as a true pit bull.

"It's a guess when dogs come here," Miller said. "We don't know what we are looking at. Sometimes it takes more than one person and sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong."

At least one group supports the ruling. Dogbite.org filed a brief advocating stricter anti-pit bull laws, arguing that the breed is not only dangerous, but that numerous television programs have made pit bulls easily identifiable.

But, opponents argue that breed specific laws don't work.

"Pitbulls are the sweetest dogs in the world. They are just so kind and so gentle," said Bill Cooke, who rescued his pit bull Cora from a Baltimore animal shelter.

Showing a bite on his leg, Cooke added, "That is from a terrier mix, a little dog. It's not just pit bulls that can inflict severe injury."

Task force leaders said they hope to find a balanced solution by the special session this summer.

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