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Maryland to Consider Two Bills to Overturn BSL Ruling on January 23

(Friday, January 17, 2014)

On Thursday, January 23, the Maryland General Assembly will once again consider bills to overturn a 2012 court ruling that declared all "pit bulls" as dangerous. Maryland residents are encouraged to contact the Maryland House Judiciary Committee and ask them to support overturning this discriminatory ruling. Residents are also encouraged to express any other comments you have on House Bill 73 and House Bill 80.

Summary:

Since the Tracey v. Solesky ruling, many dogs have automatically been ruled as dangerous regardless of their actions. The ruling also stated that landlords should be held liable for allowing tenants to keep such dogs on their property. Several bills have been introduced to overturn this ruling, but to date none have passed.

The House Judiciary Committee will consider two bills on January 23 that again seek to overturn the breed-specific court ruling. The bills each contain different provisions.

Here is a summary of how the two bills would address a dog's aggressive actions:

House Bill 73 creates strict liability for all dog owners – regardless of breed. If a dog causes personal injury or death, there is then a "rebuttable presumption" that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities. The judge may not make a determination on the rebuttable presumption, however, until after the jury has issued a verdict.

Maryland state law already has definitions of "potentially dangerous" and "dangerous" dogs that are based on a dog's specific actions and behavior. This bill would hold dog owners responsible for their pet's behavior regardless of whether they have previously been designated "dangerous" or "potentially dangerous". The AKC appreciates that this is a compromise measure that seeks to address many concerns. It is unclear, however, how these new legal provisions would impact owners of dogs that cause injury or death.

House Bill 80 holds owners liable if their dog is running at large and causes personal injury or death. The owner will be held accountable regardless of whether the dog has shown dangerous or vicious behavior in the past. The owner is exempt, however, if the dog was provoked, or if the victim was trespassing, committing a criminal offense, negligent, or had previously assumed the risk for the dog. Exemptions are also made for police and military dogs, service dogs, veterinary hospitals, dog walkers, animal control, pet stores, commercial kennels, or people who are temporarily keeping or harboring a dog.

While we support the intent of both House Bill 73 and House Bill 80 to overturn the Tracey v. Solesky ruling, we believe that House Bill 80 will prove more effective than House Bill 73 in protecting the rights of responsible dog owners in cases where a dog acts out of protection or defense.  Read AKC's letter to the House Judiciary Committee.

What You Can Do:

AKC encourages Maryland residents to contact the committee members regarding House Bill 73 and House Bill 80. Residents may also consider attending the hearings. The information is as follows:

House Judiciary Committee (click on the link to access contact information)
Thursday, January 23, 2014
2:00 p.m.
House Office Building, Room 100
Annapolis, MD 21401
** If you wish to testify in committee, you must take 35 copies of your remarks to the committee clerk at least 1 hour prior to the hearing, and sign the witness register before the hearing begins.

The American Kennel Club Government Relations Department (AKC GR) will continue to monitor these bills and provide updates. For more information, contact AKC GR at (919) 816-3720 or doglaw@akc.org or the Maryland Dog Federation at marylanddogfederation@yahoo.com.

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