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What the what, Maryland Court of Appeals? I hate you.
We’re through, Maryland. Consider all future trips to Baltimore and whatever other “cities” you’ve got cancelled. I mean, I’ll continue watching DVDs of The Wire, but that is IT. And here’s something you won’t like to hear: I don’t even like crab. Yeah, that’s right.
I don’t mean to take my ire out on the entire state (though my distaste for crab is completely genuine), but recently, the Maryland Court of Appeals passed a ruling that pit bulls are an “inherently dangerous” breed, and the owner of a pit bull or a pit mix that harms someone is to be held liable for damages, as is the landlord who allows such a beast in a rental.
This is obviously upsetting to me. I won’t go into all the ways in which I have already defended this misunderstood and misrepresented breed, though suffice to say I certainly disagree with the ruling and find it to be a perilous message to send to the public. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Confirming simplistic and largely uneducated fear people have of pit bulls will only lend legitimacy and even a sense of permission to the ongoing mistreatment and ill-breeding the dogs suffer. If the law says they’re vicious, why should anyone stop people from treating them as such and raising them to act as dangerously as they must inevitably do? And why would anyone adopt a dog which unwittingly carries with it such a heavy burden? No landlord will now magnanimously be the one to subject him or herself to liability for a prospective tenant with an unknown dog. Even bleeding hearts can’t afford to put themselves at financial risk. More pits will be put to death in overcrowded shelters, and the people who work hard on their behalf will get little support. It’s heart-breaking.
But more than that, it’s confusing. Does this ruling imply that owners aren’t always supposed to be held responsible if their dog attacks someone or another animal? If a Jack Russel terrier bites me or my dog (and they have), is its owner somehow any less liable because the pet in question isn’t borne of an “inherently dangerous” breed? I honestly don’t understand it. Dogs are animals. Domesticated and tamed, yes. But animals nonetheless. When a person chooses to own one, that person should invariably become completely accountable for the pet’s actions. If it poops, you pick it up. If it destroys someone’s property, you pay for it. And if it bites, it’s your problem. Whether or not you thought the dog had a hereditary and ineluctable mean streak when you picked him out.
The Maryland Court of Appeals has essentially doomed the pit bull to remain a prisoner of its stereotype, making it impossible for people ever to see the issue in shades of grey or judge individual dogs on the basis of their behavior and upbringing. This kind of decree is not only narrow-minded, it’s tantamount to animal cruelty.
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Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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