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  News from the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association                                                   Fall 2012

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Legislative Update 2012 - Focus on Breed Specific Legislation
by James B. Reed, DVM

On May 7, 2012 the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association released a statement by then President Thomas Armitage, and supported by the Board of Directors, in opposition of breed specific legislation. This was in response to a recent court ruling that changed the common law practice of a “no assumed liability” if a dog with no prior history of being dangerous bites the first time. The Tracey v Solesky decision instead imposes strict liability on owners of “pit bulls and pit bull mixes” when dogs so designated bite a person.

http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2012/53a11.pdf

The Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, along with other animal related associations including the AVMA, has released similar statements in support of the appeal. Alternatively legislation that addresses the issue of responsible dog ownership and bite incidences without designating a specific breed would be endorsed. Maryland is currently the only state with a court ruling that places liability on a specific breed.

The court’s attempt to promote responsible dog ownership and safety for the communities of Maryland has erroneously assumed that all pit bull looking dogs are inherently dangerous. Additionally, the sources relied upon for this ruling is questionable. We are unaware of any scientific knowledge that verifies one breed of dog is more likely to bite or injure a person, and currently there is lack of any reliable DNA testing which distinguishes a pit bull from a pit bull mix or any other breed.

Recently the court of appeals did return a ruling that removes the “pit bull mix” from the decision. The Maryland Legislature in a special session also formed a task force to investigate these concerns, and the House of Representatives formulated a bill through the Judicial Committee that instead left liability to only dogs that were running at large. This bill failed however, and is not currently scheduled for further review.

The state of Maryland is currently in a state of political stalemate. The January session will no doubt revisit this issue, but in the meantime, the ruling of Tracey v Solesky stands. Currently in the state of Maryland there are a number of counties where animal control administrations either do not adopt out pit bulls when abandoned or have laws preventing ownership. Rescue groups have long been overwhelmed with the current restrictions and have complained that this has created yet another obstacle to finding needed homes for dogs that have proven adoptable. Veterinarians are also feeling the impact, with increasing numbers of requests for records to reflect a dog to be a “pit bull mix” and not a pit bull. Since there exists no specific testing for documenting a “pit bull” veterinarians are obligated to accept the client’s word on this matter.

The Board of Directors and the Legislative committee will continue to follow events this upcoming year and report to the membership our positions and efforts.

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Summary of Tracey v Solesky

 

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