Monday, April 30, 2012

Are Pit Bulls Inherently Dangerous?


Are Pit Bulls inherently dangerous?

They are according to the Maryland Court of Appeals
which has voided a long-standing “one free bite” rule in the state regard­ing the rights of dog bite vic­tims to receive com­pen­sa­tion for their injuries.

In a deci­sion, pub­lished April 26TH in Dorothy M. Tracey v. Anthony K. Solesky, the Mary­land Court of Appeals ruled:

We are mod­i­fy­ing the Mary­land com­mon law of lia­bil­ity as it relates to attacks by pit bull and cross-bred pit bull dogs against humans. With the stan­dard we estab­lish today (which is to be applied in this case on remand), when an owner or a land­lord is proven to have knowl­edge of the pres­ence of a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull (as both the owner and land­lord did in this case) or should have had such knowl­edge, a prima facie case is estab­lished. It is not nec­es­sary that the land­lord (or the pit bull’s owner) have actual knowl­edge that the spe­cific pit bull involved is dan­ger­ous. Because of its aggres­sive and vicious nature and its capa­bil­ity to inflict seri­ous and some­times fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inher­ently dangerous.


Under Maryland law Pit Bulls will now come with strict liability, which is to say that under the opinion authored by Judge Dale Catell (42 pages):
Upon a plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull cross, and that the owner, or other person(s) who has the right to control the pit bull’s presence on the subject premises (including a landlord who has a right to prohibit such dogs on leased premises) knows, or 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. In that case a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of negligence. When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous.

The facts of this case stem from a 2007 pit bull attack in Towson, Maryland that almost killed 10-year-old Dominic Solesky and seriously injured 9-year-old Scotty Mason.

Dominic's parents sued the dog's 27-year-old owner who retrieved the dog but did not tend to the injured boys who were covered in blood, nor did he call emergency 911.

Deaths from dog bites are quite rare (only about 30 a year -- far less than for swimming pools), but serious dog bites are not rare, and the majority of deaths and serious dog bites in this country are committed by Pit Bull-type dogs.

Yes, there is data on this -- look it up.

Does this mean that Pit Bulls should be banned?  The court said No.

Does that mean that Pit Bull ownership should come with strict liability? The court said Yes.

We recognize the problems that exist when breed specific legislation is proposed - which is opposed by pit bull breeders, owners and fanciers. Such opposition has been present for many years. Our opinion in the present case does not ban pit bulls, but puts a greater responsibility for vicious dogs where pit bull advocates have long argued it should be -- with the owners and others who have the power of control over such dogs. Our opinion imposes greater duties by reducing the standards necessary to hold owners and others liable for the attacks of their pit bulls.


Where you stand on the question of Pit Bulls depends, in no small degree, to whether or not you really stand for the dogs.

You see, both questions about banning Pit Bulls and strict liability are framed as if the Pit Bull issue is solely about the rights of dog owners and the rights of dog bite victims.

It's not.

It's also about the nearly one million Pit Bulls
that are killed every year in America's shelters -- over 40 MILLION POUNDS of dead Pit Bulls a year.

These dogs are bred by Pit Bull "lovers" and then sold to other "Pit Bull lovers" who then abandon these dogs to "shelters" where they are put down because no one wants them.

To put a point on it, more Pit Bull dogs are killed every year in America than the total number of dogs registered by the American Kennel Club every year.

This "Pit Bull problem" is not caused by people who hate Pit Bulls.

It is not caused by Dachshund owners or by unsympathetic landlords, or by State Judges, or by frustrated City Council members.

It is not caused by small children who are mauled while playing in city parks.

The Pit Bull problem is caused by Pit Bull owners who will not stop breeding these dogs despite the fact that there are far too many of them in the wrong hands.

The Pit Bull problem is, in short, caused by the toxic combination of over-amped dogs and sub-wattage human beings.

Absent action other than hand wringing by the Pit Bull community -- which has NOT proposed workable solutions on its own -- others have stepped in and will continue to step in with their solutions.

Will those solutions be workable?

One thing is for sure: they will not be less workable.

Denver has simply banned the dog and now has the lowest Pit Bull kill rate in the country.

San Francisco has mandatory spay-neuter and, as a consequence, Pit Bull deaths have plummeted.

Boston has mandatory spay-neuter laws and a muzzle law as well, and, as a consequence, Pit Bull deaths have plummetted

In every single case, legislation proposed and adopted by City Councils and opposed by the Pit Bull community, has resulted in legislation worked to reduce Pit Bull deaths.

Is that a win?

It is if you stand for Pit Bulls
.


18 comments:

Sharon Yildiz said...

I love you, Terrierman! Another excellent article. Kudos to the Maryland Court of Appeals for taking this step, and hopefully they will consider BSL in the near future.

Your point about pit bulls being bred by pit "lovers" even though nobody wants them is an excellent one. What kind of love is that?

By contrast, I have a small dog breed known for being friendly with adults, kids and other pets of every type. This is an old breed that has been around isnce the 1500's. Because they have small litters, people have to get on waiting lists for up to 2 years to get a good-quality one.

I just checked Petfinder, and there are 565 of this breed (and its mixes) up for adoption nationwide. In my state, there are 2 purebreds and 6 mixes available in the entire state.

By contrast, there are 19,321 pit bulls listed today on Petfinder, with an average of nearly 400 per state. And remember that most pit bulls are falsely advertised by shelters and rescues as being something completely different: a "boxer mix," "Lab mix," or simply a "terrier." In addition, many (most?) open-admission shelters euthanize pit bulls rather than adopt them out. So the true numbers of unwanted pit bulls cannot be seen accurately via these Petfinder numbers.

We need nationwide, enforced BSL and mandatory spay/neuter programs for pit bulls immediately. If so-called pit bull "lovers" really love pit bulls, they would agree. Only pit bull haters can enjoy the situation with 1 million being euthanized every year.

CJ said...

I am a pit bull advocate who, time and time again, finds myself frustrated by the torture and neglect pit bulls endure thanks to the people who claim to love them.

I used to be an extremist on both sides of the fence. So I know what it is like to have a completely brainwashed negative and positive view on pit bulls. But I think most people go through the extremist phase when forming views on controversial topics. Especially when information on both sides is so polar.

There are two victims, the people who endure pit bull attacks and the pit bulls who endure the poor natures and instability too often seen in certain lines due to careless breeding. Both should be taken into equal consideration. With victims being compensated in full for any mental and physical trauma along with punishment for the owner if they avoid the law. And pit bulls going through licensed and limited breeding. This will produce better more stable dogs, and limit the number produced. Hopefully there could be a future scheme were breeders are mandated to home and screen check possible owners before placing a pup.

These poor dogs suffer too much because breeders and owners fail to see the inherent liabilities that pit bulls have more often form situations they support or purposefully created through poor placement and breeding. :/

I don't think most of them are bad dogs. And many are great dogs in the right hands I'm sure! I've known several to be good due to previous and more recent exposures.

But at the same time this breed type is not for everyone and should not be recommended as such. They are for experienced hands only. And by experienced I mean people who have successfully owned or handled large or highly prey driven breeds.

The problem is the solution to help pits and people are very easy and simple! But many advocates don't want to do them and I don't understand why... Especially since it doesn't punish or hurt pit bulls. It would help place them in good homes, with good temperaments, and few would die.

You are the only pit bull advocate who has sense about themselves. And it's honestly because of you and my exposure to both the pros and cons of pits that I've more recently become level headed about them.

Keep doing what it is you do, Patrick. You are a true advocate for victims, both people and pit bull alike. Hopefully more voices like yours will be of higher influence in the welfare of both.

CJ said...

I am a pit bull advocate who, time and time again, finds myself frustrated by the torture and neglect pit bulls endure thanks to the people who claim to love them.

I used to be an extremist on both sides of the fence. So I know what it is like to have a completely brainwashed negative and positive view on pit bulls. But I think most people go through the extremist phase when forming views on controversial topics. Especially when information on both sides is so polar.

There are two victims, the people who endure pit bull attacks and the pit bulls who endure the poor natures and instability too often seen in certain lines due to careless breeding. Both should be taken into equal consideration. With victims being compensated in full for any mental and physical trauma along with punishment for the owner if they avoid the law. And pit bulls going through licensed and limited breeding. This will produce better more stable dogs, and limit the number produced. Hopefully there could be a future scheme were breeders are mandated to home and screen check possible owners before placing a pup.

These poor dogs suffer too much because breeders and owners fail to see the inherent liabilities that pit bulls have more often form situations they support or purposefully created through poor placement and breeding. :/

I don't think most of them are bad dogs. And many are great dogs in the right hands I'm sure! I've known several to be good due to previous and more recent exposures.

But at the same time this breed type is not for everyone and should not be recommended as such. They are for experienced hands only. And by experienced I mean people who have successfully owned or handled large or highly prey driven breeds.

The problem is the solution to help pits and people are very easy and simple! But many advocates don't want to do them and I don't understand why... Especially since it doesn't punish or hurt pit bulls. It would help place them in good homes, with good temperaments, and few would die.

You are the only pit bull advocate who has sense about themselves. And it's honestly because of you and my exposure to both the pros and cons of pits that I've more recently become level headed about them.

Keep doing what it is you do, Patrick. You are a true advocate for victims, both people and pit bull alike. Hopefully more voices like yours will be of higher influence in the welfare of both.

CJ said...

I would also like to add, that I don't think pit bulls should be banned either. But I think they should be under strict regulations until the rest of the pit bull community is more willing to be more responsible than it currently is. Because too many people and pits are suffering due to the negligence and equal and realistic considerations from the higher ups of the pit bull community.

Scribo Ergo Sum said...

As a Maryland resident, I was hoping you would weigh in on this case, particularly in light of your balanced coverage in prior pieces about Pit Bulls. With all the emotion surrounding the issue, it sure is nice to read a bit of rational coverage by a dog savvy person.

Sweetie Pie said...

Given what they were bred for, and the statistics, including the unpredictability of attacks and the frequency with which the trigger remains baffling, I'm wondering what you would consider 'the right hands' or a rational reason for wanting one of these dogs.

PBurns said...

Most of these dogs were, to be clear, NOT bred for fighting but for quick cash. Most of the dogs down at the shelters have nothing to do with dog fighting and that is true going back generations.

That said, random breeding does not necessarily wash out the high amps in these dogs, and not all Pit Bulls are "pet bulls" no matter what people might help. Yes, nurture matters, but nature is not a blank slate with all dogs, is it?

The most important thing for an owner of these dogs is that they go to stable people in stable living situations, i.e. that they not be teenagers and young adults living as tenants without steady incomes and access to fenced yards.

The second thing is that the dog has to come first and that means excercise, socialization and training from a very early age. Not for a week, not for a month, but for a lifetime which is likely to last a decade.

It is always best if these dogs are owned by experienced dog owners -- if not actual dog trainers, then at least people who have at least trained a dog to retrieve a frisbee or a ball.

Pit Bulls can be great dogs in the right hands, but there are not many right hands. Most dog owners needed a cat not a dog, most dog owners do not want to exercise their dogs on a daily basis, most dog owners are not really interested in a dog that needs this much taining and oversight, nor are they prepared for the human and animal conflicts that can come with a young Pit Bull.

PipedreamFarm said...

I heard on WTOP (DC Radio News) this morning that Frederick Co (MD) Animal Control has ceased all adoptions of pit bulls and pit bull mixes as a direct result of this ruling. I wonder if adoption agencies worry they may be held liable for the placement of these dogs in the event of an attack (knowingly adopting a dangerous dog based upon its breed/type).

PipedreamFarm said...

Another outcome of this ruling that is being reported is landlords are pressuring tenants with pit bull type dogs to leave or remove their dogs.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/fallout-from-ruling-that-pit-bulls-are-inherently-dangerous/2012/05/02/gIQAlOiEwT_story.html

Mark

Sam Asciano said...

I have a different take that's possibly naive and ill-informed. My thought is it isn't the over-loving that are creating the problem, it is, as in most cases, the over-greedy.

First let's put the onus on the seller to control the quality of the supply.

I have always wondered why the rest of the nation doesn't follow Wisconsin and force ALL dog sellers to be licensed. http://datcp.wi.gov/Animals/Dog_Seller_and_Shelters/Requirements_for_License_Holders/index.aspx#whoneedsalicense

This cuts to the root of the problem - the unscrupulous who sell the unknown to the unknowing for quick profit.

I would be even more aggressive. Professional breeders and backyard breeders alike should be made to go through a formal licensing process which includes carrying liability insurance or a bond. Other businesses (contractors as an example)have to do it, why not?

Most professionals care about their dogs temperament and what homes their dogs go to. Many don't.

There should be a clear process to not only pull a breeders license but make them accountable (via insurance or a bond) should they produce man-aggressive dogs that land up in the wrong homes (or say routinely unhealthy pets). Breeders would put serious thought into the stability of the sire and dam they breed and the offspring produced. Better yet, it would mean a heavier investment in terms of time and money for the breeder and the quick buck artist would find another business all together.

Additionally, I would think that that any non-professional that sells a dog for a one-time profit must have those puppies spayed or neutered and pay tax on that transaction.

Next let's tackle the demand side of the equation.

If you want to buy a dog, you should have to go through a licensing process. If you really want a dog that's going to be with you for a decade or more - a few hours and couple of dollars shouldn't matter, should it?

When I wanted my hunting license, I needed to watch 3 or 4 hour film on hunting responsibility. Maybe for dogs that are more challenging, more rigorous standards. Also mandate that owners of certain breeds be forced to have additional coverage on their home owners policy.

If it becomes more expensive and more time consuming, the less-serious individual will probably walk away or look at a different breed.

PBurns said...

Since almost all Pit Bulls who go to "shelters" now are killed now because no one wants them, I am not sure this changes too much.

Read this piece on WTOP >> http://www.wtop.com/70/2849700/Blog-Bad-owners-make-bad-dogs--its-a-matter-of-fact

Notice the complete lack of mention about all the dogs being killed down at the shelters this year, last year, the year before, the year before that, the year before that.

No mention at all that all that those Pit Bulls were bred and dumped by Pit Bull lovers.

You would think the Pit Bull debate was only about owner and victims -- that the dogs never entered the picture.

And what does the Maryland court decision say? Simply that OWNERS will be held responsible for their dog's behavior. No "one free bite" rule in play any more. That's ALL it says.

Yet, this person commenting on WTOP sounds like he would salute that (because, you know, owner are the problem) -- but he doesn't.

PipedreamFarm said...

I have no issues with holding owners responsible (liable) for their dog's actions.

Do you think landlords should be liable for their tenants actions and their tenants dog's actions?

Also, the way I read this, any bite by a pit bull can automatically be considered from a dangerous dog; won't this open up greater liability for minor bites possibly caused by the vitims actions (not everyone is dog savvy)?

Mark

PipedreamFarm said...

"And what does the Maryland court decision say? Simply that OWNERS will be held responsible for their dog's behavior. No "one free bite" rule in play any more. That's ALL it says."

Actually it says this for only one type of dog and it also holds a landlord responsible.

PBurns said...

Yep.

The court is saying that: 1) you know what you have; 2) because you know what you have you have a responsibility to secure it, and; 3) if you fail to secure it you are liable for the damage done -- no more, no less.

There is no "it's OK to be negligent with a Pit Bull" clause any more.

If a Pit Bull bites someone, it's prima facie evidence of negligence, same as if my shotguns "accidentally" pepper my neighbors (for whatever reason and no matter what the story).

Of course, if you can show that you were NOT negligent, then you have an affirmative defense.

For example, and to use the shotgun example: Did I have the guns in a locked gun vault? Did they have trigger locks on? Were the guns unloaded and the ammunition kept locked in a separate location? Had I taken a gun safety course? Were the guns stolen by a criminal with a previous record who managed to get past my electronic home alarm systems and all five of my hard locks?

All of that is an affirmative defense.

For a Pit Bull owner, it would be the same thing: Did you have the dog inside? Was it on a cable run inside a well-fenced yard? Was that fence installed by a qualified contractor? Did you and the dog attend a real dog training course? Was your dog on a leash? Did the dog have a muzzle on? Is there a clear track record of this dog being exercised on a daily basis? Has this dog ever been fought?

The court is NOT saying that a jury will assess damage or hold you liable if there was no damage or if you have a good affirmative defense.

It IS saying, there is no "one free bite" rule for Pit Bulls any more.

Since there is no "free bite" rule WITHOUT LIABILITY OR RESPONSIBILITY under any and all circumstances, then a dog owner and his or her landlord should get a damn good fence, a good leash and maybe a muzzle and do what a RESPONSIBLE Pit Bull owner does anyway.

Will this ruling cause some landlords to REALLY look at their tenants and their dogs (and require insurance)? Will it make it harder for young people without stable lives to casually move around while owning Pit Bulls?

Yep. No doubt about that.

Owning a Pit Bull will come with more expense, and will require more owners to suit up for more training and more security. And fewer landlords will say yes to Pit Bulls.

But why has this come about?

Because the Pit Bull problem has remained unaddressed by the Pit Bull community for over 30 years.

Dogs are ALWAYS killed because of a failure of human responsibility. If people will not step up, the law will step in. One thins is for certain: No one has done more violence to Pit Bulls than those who breed them and those who are SILENT about those who breed them.

Mary Paddock said...

Back in February someone dumped four pit bull/boxer mixes (about four months old) on my doorstep. I live in a rural area. I already have six well cared for dogs (all rescues). We are at maximum capacity. NO room at the inn. This dumping was not an accident. Word gets around in small towns.


I guess I should say that my exposure to pit-type breeds is limited and most of what I knew was by reputation. But they were puppies and they were skin and bones and there was no way I could pretend they were not my problem. Around here the phrase "God has his reasons" is uttered a lot.

My husband was upset and so was I, but kindness isn't always convenient. So we set up a temporary pen and went about looking for homes for them. I got a crash course in what owning a pit-type breed means. First--they were the nicest pups I've ever run across. Period. Amazing temperaments, extremely bright and anxious to bond. Super soft with us. But we learned almost immediately that they could not be fed together, nor did they share toys well. I mean--they really didn't. As in blood and lots of it. No major damage, but as I went about trying to distract them--intervene (get one sister to let got of the other sister's neck), I remember thinking, "Ohhh. This is why." It shook me up, but it answered a lot of questions all at once.

So when we looked for homes for them, we made sure they went to seasoned owners and sought out people who didn't already have dogs, or at least not dogs of the same sex. And it goes without saying that they all immediately neutered and spayed them. We got lucky--placed all pups in just under two weeks. But the people we gave them to love the breed and understand what they are. This is the kind of people who should have them. Too bad they're not in the majority.

Despite its reputation, I've been amazed to learn how popular this breed is. I had many, many emails from interested prospective owners--I didn't expect that at all. It made finding a good home much easier, but it was also very telling.

The fact that someone had four puppies "to spare" means there are too many pit bulls and mixes in the world. So it's no wonder to me that they are responsible for the majority of the nasty bites and fatalities. Some of it is in the numbers themselves.

Branwyne Finch said...

It seems that the primary argument the pit bull advocates are making is that they anticipate lots of renters who own pit bulls to have to give them up because their landlords will no longer want the liability. A simple solution for a "responsible" pit bull owner would be to get an umbrella policy that covered his pit bull and show proof of insurance to the landlord. But the reality is, most pit bull owners are flying under the radar of their insurance providers, or are simply uninsured. And that is the biggest problem for victims.

The majority of pit bull owners are judgement proof...so if their dog does attack someone, the victim is usually stuck with the medical bills. I don't necesarily think this law will change that, but it will allow victims some recourse by holding landlords accountable for their tenants dog's behavior.

What suprised me most about the reponse to the ruling was the fact that humane organizations seem to support the idea of renters owning pit bulls. Craiglist is filled with pit bulls being dumped by renters every day...young, transient people in apartments, with no fenced yard or ability to safely exersize a dog off leash...its a recipe for disaster. I can't imagine many landlords currently are willing to rent to pit bull owners, (its difficult for anyone with a large breed dog to find rental housing, much less a pit bull) So the predicted tidal wave of relinquished pit bulls is either hyperbole or a prediction that absentee landlords and slumlords will now be put on notice to better police their tenants. The end result will be fewer "irresponsible" owners of pit bulls, something the pit bull advocates claim to want.

This ruling will have no impact on "responsible" pit bull owners, as they already train, excersize and contain their dogs. And "responsible" pit bull owners have insurance that covers their pit bull, as ALL responsible owners of large breed dogs do.

What it will do is make it harder for irresponsible people to own pit bulls, and easier for victims to get compensation for their sometimes catastrophic injuries. So everybody wins.

Tay said...

1. People who love their pit bull would NEVER just dispose of it at a shelter. The people who do that dont care about their dog and are irresponsible. The breed doesnt matter. If a person loved their lab, they woulnt just drop it off at a shelter to go and possible be put down.
2. The problem is irresponsible owners who could care less if their dog is well mannered and properly socialized. When you have owners like that, who truley dont know anything about their dog or have spent time with training their dog, how are they suppost to be able to read their dogs body language or know anything about their dog.
3. I am NOT blaming any victums of dog attacks but. With ANY breed, if a child is hitting a dog with a stick or clearly taughnting it, and the dog is clearly becoming frustrated, yet the taughnting continutes. Whos fault is that? The dog for getting upset and having enough (whether the dog is a pit bull, golden, or beagle)? Is it the parents fault for not teaching their child how to treat animals? Or is it the childs fault for being disrespectful?

I think that mandatory spay/neuter need to take place for ALL breeds (+cats) unlesss you are a lisenced breeder or show dogs, in which then you need to have qualifications to get that liscence. Also if a person wants to adopt a pit bull they should have to go through a mandatory obedience class with the dog with a proffecional dog trainer so they can learn about their dog and how to read its body language. Muzzling pit bull type dogs is not the answer and neither is banning them. It solves nothing. Those pit bulls who love people and other dogs (mine) get punnished and have to wear a muzzle when they go out in public, thats not fair at all.
The public needs to be more educated about dogs. For example you DO NOT leave a young baby with a dog alone, wheather its a pit bull or golden, you just dont do it.

SecondThoughtsOptional said...

I fear I must disagree somewhat Tay. If we love dogs, we have to acknowledge

1. It is not a crime to rehome dogs -- circumstances change, one acquires a dog that with the best will in the world one is unable to manage. The problem is that shelters have repurposed themselves as slaughterhouses.

2. I'm all for sterilising non-breeding animals, but mandatory spay-neuter is utter rot. The thing is, there aren't that many unwanted animals: strange but true, the vast majority of pets stay with their owners. It does nothing to address behavioural problems, which are rooted in the owner. Licensing breeders does nothing for puppy millers who, if anything, can crank up production to fill the increased demand.

The countries with the lowest numbers of unwanted dogs, both absolute and relative, (such as the northern European nations) have the least emphasis on sterilisation (indeed, absent a medical reason, you can be hard-pressed to get your dog 'fixed'). What they *do* have is a culture of responsible ownership and strict liability for any damage caused by dogs.

3. It's about time to acknowledge that pit bulls and other bully breeds are different, come with additional responsibility and can and should be restricted in ownership. Individually, most are wonderful animals, friendly, intelligent, forgiving. But they're also energetic, high in prey, lousy at backing down from a fight and have a capacity for inflicting some of the nastiest bites you'll ever see from a dog.

They should never be bought thoughtlessly as so many are. I don't support a ban, but laws that make people think twice before buying one are only to the good. Laws that make people think three times before breeding one are even better. If you look in shelters, they're full of these dogs as owner after well-meaning owner realises that this animal is far too much for them. Pit bulls, staffies, am staffs, and all their related ilk should be rare dogs, primarily owned by experienced dog owners.