Special session will feature debate over pit bulls

Court of Appeals ruled breed inherently dangerous

Gambling will not be the only item on the agenda during the special session.

Another issue -- should pit bulls be considerd dangerous, just because they're pit bulls?

The debate stems from a ruling by the Court of Appeals -- Maryland's highest court -- which found that pit bulls are inherently dangerous.

Since that ruling earlier this year, shelters around the state have been filling up with pit bulls, pit bull mixes -- and even breeds that simply look like pit bulls.

"To know what breed an animal is, it's all a guess. So this ruling, it just doesn't make sense," said Jen Brause, the executive director of the BARCS shelter in Baltimore City.

It doesn't make sense to people who run the shelters.

But it does make sense to the family of Dominic Solesky, who was attacked by a pit bull back in 2007.

He recovered -- but his family's lawsuit against the dog's owner made it all the way to the state's highest court, which found that the breed is "inherently dangerous."

That means the owner of a pit bull is liable for damages -- and so is any landlord who rents to the owner of a pit bull.

Brause says since that ruling, 20 pit bulls have been dropped off at the BARCS shelter.  "Because landlords started to get concerned about their liability and they forced their tenants to get rid of their family pets," she said.

"I think there's a real concern that we need to get something on the books pretty quickly to solve that problem," said State Sen. John Astle (D-Anne Arundel).

The attorney for Dominic Solesky's family has pointed to studies showing that pit bulls are responsible for more than half of all deaths caused by dogs in the United States.

Legislators could pass a law that overturns the Court of Appeals ruling, or they could go the other direction -- and extend the "inherantly dangerous" language to more breeds.

"There are little dogs that can bite, and there are big dogs that can bite.  All animals can bite.  So it is really about responsible pet ownership. That's where the focus should be," Brause said.

A public hearing is set for Thursday at 1:00 PM in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The House Judiciary Committee will take up the legislation on Friday.

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