Pit bull owners get no relief from Maryland lawmakers

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Photo - A Maryland court ruling that pit bulls are "inherently dangerous" is on hold pending further review. (Getty Images)
A Maryland court ruling that pit bulls are "inherently dangerous" is on hold pending further review. (Getty Images)
Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland lawmakers failed to pass legislation in their special session addressing a recent court ruling that pit bulls are "inherently dangerous," leaving some dog owners uncertain about their pets' future.

The state Senate and House passed legislation with far different approaches on liability for a dog attack -- senators favored a broader, strict liability for all dog owners in the event of an attack, while delegates changed the bill to apply to dogs running free of their owners.

An April ruling by the Court of Appeals found landlords and property owners could be held liable in the event of a pit bull attack. The court ruled that "pit bulls and crossbred pit bulls are inherently dangerous."

Both versions of the legislation would have helped pit bull owners, some of whom are being asked to give up their dogs or move from their homes by their landlords, according to Tami Santelli, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

"It is extremely disappointing that Maryland lawmakers failed to pass even a stopgap measure relieving the emergency situation people are facing across the state," Santelli said.

The divide between the House and Senate was too great to bridge on the final night of the special session, according to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George's counties, as lawmakers worked past midnight to pass legislation to expand gambling in Maryland.

"The House said 'take our amendments or nothing,' so the two committees were unable to work out an agreement," Miller said.

Pit bull owners must wait until January for lawmakers to return to Annapolis, where some have promised the dog issue will be addressed in the 90-day session. Pit bulls are illegal in Prince George's County.

Santelli said the Humane Society would continue working with landlord organizations to inform landlords and pit bull owners about an attorney general's advisory notice that the Court of Appeals' ruling has not gone into effect.

A motion by State Farm Insurance asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decisionput the ruling on holdfor now, according to the advisory.

The attorney general's opinion has helped in some cases of pit bull owners being asked to give up their pets, but not in other cases, according to Santelli.

It's not clear when the Court of Appeals may reconsider its decision based on State Farm's request, she said.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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