Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Maryland court's ruling on pit bulls

Last week, Pit Bull Rescue Central was as shocked as many others in the pit bull community when we learned that the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a ruling (link to pdf) that changed the state’s common law in such a way that could have seriously detrimental impacts for pit bull owners.

“When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous,” the ruling reads. It goes even further to state that if a landlord has a tenant who owns a pit bull and “has reason to know that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull, that person is liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on or from the owner’s or lessor’s premises.”

This means that pit bulls living in Maryland no longer have the benefit of the doubt – while other dogs in the state have to be proven to be aggressive if they bite a person, pit bulls are automatically assumed to be aggressive just because they are pit bulls.

This creates an unfair two-tier system upon which dogs that bite will be judged – regardless of the nature of the bite. If the dog is a pit bull, the dog will automatically be assumed to be dangerous. If the dog is of any other breed, no matter how badly the dog has bitten someone, it will not be held to the same standard.  

Pit Bull Rescue Central believes this misguided ruling could have serious consequences for families across the state. By focusing attention on the way dogs look, instead of holding dogs of any breed accountable for their behavior, the Maryland Court is establishing a precedent of prejudice and ineffective policy that puts both people and animals at risk. PBRC hopes that Maryland legislators and landlords will work quickly toward a more humane resolution to the issue of liability. 

At the moment, it is unclear what recourse pit bull owners in Maryland have to fight this ruling, but we are assured by many pit bull advocates and legal experts that efforts are under way to research this situation and look for ways to challenge it.   

In the meantime, we urge all pit bull owners in Maryland not to panic. Whenever laws or rulings like this pass, some people rush to shelters to surrender their dogs because they think they have no other choice. But there is no reason to do so. Your dog relies on your for everything, and he or she is no more dangerous now than before this ruling was passed. This ruling does not ban pit bulls or force pit bull owners to take any special measures to keep their dogs.  

Here’s some additional information for Maryland pit bull owners:


If you live in a rental home and you have a lease, and your lease permits you to have a pit bull, your landlord should honor that lease as long as you are otherwise not in violation of the lease terms. If your landlord does try to terminate your lease or tell you that you have to give up your dog, we recommend that you review Maryland landlord/tenant law at this link and consider consulting a lawyer before giving up your apartment or rental home. If you do need to find a new place to live, check out the resources at


If you have a tenant who owns a pit bull that has not caused problems, this court ruling does not mean that the dog living in your rental property is suddenly any more dangerous than it was the day before the ruling was issued. Review the best practices of responsible ownership with your tenants and make sure your tenants understand to never leave their dogs unattended outdoors or to let them roam at large; it is recommended that you add a rider to the lease that requires your tenants’ dogs be spayed or neutered. We urge you to share the educational materials on our site with your tenants. 


If you are a homeowner, we urge you to research pit bull friendly insurance options. The ruling may not have an impact on your homeowners insurance, but in case it does, PBRC has a list of pit bull-friendly insurance companies on our website, which you can find at this link


Pit bull owners in Maryland should contact their state and local representatives to respectfully express their concern about this court ruling. If you aren’t sure who your local representative is, you can search on the Maryland General Assembly website to find your senators and house representatives. Remember that it's very important to be concise, polite and clear in your communications. If you need help drafting a letter to your representatives, Stop BSL has published useful letter-writing tips on its website, and you can visit our BSL page for talking points on why breed-specific laws are ineffective.

Multiple organizations – in Maryland and across the country – are on your side. If you would like to get in touch with local groups trying to gather resources to help fellow pit bull owners, contact B-More Dog (you can ask to join their Facebook group here) or Jasmine's House rescue, both located in Baltimore, or Maryland Votes for Animals. Join their mailing lists and ask what you can do to help. There's also a Facebook group called Stop Maryland Pit Bull Discrimination that has been established to keep Maryland residents informed about this court ruling. 

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