“Inherent” is the operative word in Maryland’s case against the breed known as pit bulls. The state’s court of appeals recently ruled that pit bulls as a breed are inherently dangerous.
In other words, pit bulls are born bad – or at least born with an inclination toward badness. “Inherent” is synonymous with “intrinsic” and means “of or relating to the essential nature of a thing.”
At one time, various human racial and ethnic groups as a whole were thought to have, or to lack, certain characteristics. Those notions were debated and essentially disproved. Is it time now for the same thing to happen with dogs?
Yes, pit bulls have attacked people. But so have other dog breeds that also had their turn at being daubed with the “dangerous” brush. Dobermans and Rottweilers can relax now – it’s all on pit bulls.
The Maryland ruling -- resulting from a pit bull’s attack on a young boy in 2007 – immediately generated both outrage and apprehension among dog advocates and owners while pleasing those who want to brand all pit bulls and hasten their disappearance.
Specifically, the court decision means “victims don’t need to prove a dog’s owner knew it had a history of being dangerous,” the Washington Post reported. To make a claim, “they just need to show that the owner or landlord knew a dog is part pit bull.”
Obviously, this ruling makes it easier for anyone attacked by a pit bull or pit bull mix in Maryland to take legal action against the dog’s owner. Further, not only is the owner strictly liable for damages, but any landlord who rents to a pit bull owner is also, according to MSNBC.
There is no longer a need to prove owner negligence behind a dog attack – only that the attacking dog was a pit bull or pit mix, CBS reports. Landlords with the dogs living on their property are also liable for their actions.
Not surprisingly, this ruling has generated strong responses from animal advocates. “Every animal is an individual,” says Cheryl Bernard Smith, of the Maryland SPCA. “We believe that an animal’s behavior should be the determining factor in [being] considered dangerous,” she said, in arguing against branding an entire breed of dogs.
A Baltimore Humane Society spokesperson said the ruling is “breeding fear and ignorance.”
“All dogs, if you don’t train them and show them love, can turn out to be mean animals,” commented Rodney Taylor, of Prince George’s County Animal Management. (Pit bulls are banned in Prince George’s County, according to MSNBC.) “It has a lot to do with the owner and how you raise the pet.”
In other words, as a Maryland SPCA rep put it, “It’s nurture, not nature.”
The court’s ruling could cause extensive and harmful ripple effects. One immediate aftermath could be more un-adopted pit bulls left at shelters and ultimately put down.
Wishing to avoid liability, landlords could opt to ban pit bulls or all dogs – making it much tougher for pit bull owners to find housing. Insurance carriers could cancel policies or raise costs, economically discouraging adoption of pit bulls.
Online action against the court’s ruling is underway. It includes a Facebook page called “Stop Pit Bull Discrimination in Maryland” and a petition calling on Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to prohibit policy that singles out specific breeds, the Washington Post reports.
Freelance writer Pat Summers also blogs at www.nj.com/pets.