Maryland anti–pit bull ruling could be overturned

A new bill goes to the Maryland Senate as SB 160, and, if passed, will advance public safety and save the lives of thousands of well-behaved pit bulls. SB 160 and the House companion bill, HB 78, are in response to a misguided ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals last April in the case of Tracey vs. Solesky, which stipulates that in addition to the dog’s owner, the landlord or anyone who has the right to control the pit bull’s presence on the subject property is liable for damages if a bite is inflicted by a pit bull or pit bull mix. In essence, the court found that simply owning a pit bull or allowing one of your renters to own a pit is negligent behavior.

Yikes! The effect of that ruling was to spur a rash of evictions and the surrender of pit bulls to shelters with little chance of adoption given the liability issue for pet owners and landlords, not to mention problems related to homeowners insurance, etc. Such breed-discriminatory legislation does not advance public safety because it separates legal consequences and liability from the behavior of individual dogs and reckless owner practices.

The new law, which sailed through the Maryland House and goes to the state Senate as SB 160, would effectively overturn the ill-advised court ruling. The new law would also increase protections for dog-bite victims by presuming all dog owners, regardless of the breed of dog, liable for attacks. A dog owner who becomes a court defendant after a bite would have a chance in court to try to prove the dog was not dangerous, and, therefore, the bite was not a matter of owner negligence.

SB 160/HB 78 is in the mold of other progressive dangerous dog laws that offer broader public safety by focusing on behavior rather than breed and is supported by Best Friends and other national animal welfare organizations as well as public safety advocates.

If you live in Maryland, please take a moment to help ensure passage of SB 160.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society