State Senate extends strict liability to all dogs, not just pit bulls

Bill still being debated in House of Delegates

The Maryland State Senate has passed a law that extends "strict liability" to the owners of all dogs, not just pit bulls.

Earlier this year the Court of Appeals – Maryland's highest court -- ruled that pit bulls can be considered "inherently dangerous."

Animal advocates say it's not fair to single out one breed; they've called for a bill that would overturn that ruling.

Instead the Senate went the other direction -- passing a bill that extends that inherently dangerous tag, to all dogs.

It started with an attack on 10-year-old Dominic Solesky -- in Towson back in 2007.

A pit bull had escaped from the fence in its owner's back yard, and attacked Solesky's friend.

Then the dog mauled Solesky when he tried to help.  His injuries were life-threatening, but the boy survived.

His family sued the dog's owner and his landlord.

That lawsuit made it all the way to the Court of Appeals.  Earlier this year the court determined that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, and owners and landlords are "strictly liable" for any damage they cause.

On Friday animal advocates testified in front of a House of Delegates panel, calling for a new law that would overturn that ruling.

"About 50 percent of Baltimore residents rent their homes, so we would expect less adoptions and more surrender of animals which would end up meaning more killing of animals.  Innocent animals that would otherwise have a home," said Jen Brause, the executive director of the BARCS shelter in Baltimore.

The parents of Dominic Solesky were also at that hearing.

"You elect to have a pit bull in Maryland, then you have to elect to take the consequences that come with it," said his father, Tony Solesky.

He says he understands the outrage animal advocates have shown, but five years of developing his family's case has convinced him that the Court of Appeals was right on.  He hopes legislators won't use a special session of just a few days to change that ruling.

"I just hope that they don't actually believe that the idea that something is difficult to navigate once it's put on your doorstep that somehow that warrants just burying your head in the sand," Solesky said.

As for Dominic Solesky -- who is now just about to turn 16:  "He's doing as well as can be expected. That's what I would say," Tony Solesky said.

The bill extending strict liability to owners of all dogs passed in the State Senate, with just one vote against it.  The full House of Delegates is expected to take up the measure on Monday.

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