Random Musings on Dogs, Photography, and the Vagaries of Life

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

MD Pit Bull Ruling: A Crying Shame

Having grown up in New Jersey, the state butt of many jokes, I never thought I’d ever feel ashamed of my adopted state of Maryland. But today I am.

The Maryland Court of Appeals has taken discrimination to a new level, ruling that some dogs—by virtue of their genetic heritage alone—are “inherently vicious,” “aggressive,” and “dangerous.”

Discrimination against pit bull terriers is nothing new. They are already banned in municipalities (including mine) throughout the United States. Although established with the best of intentions—to protect the public—such bans are misguided, costly, and infective; and respected animal welfare organizations have been working, in some cases successfully, to have them overturned.

In my home county of Prince George’s, we have yet to achieve this goal. And now, instead of Prince George’s taking a step forward, the state of Maryland has taken a step back.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those diehard pit bull lovers who think all pit bulls are—or could be—great dogs. I believe there are pit bulls that because of neglect, mistreatment, or just plain bad genetics cannot safely live in a home environment. But I also believe such dogs exist among the ranks of every breed.

More importantly, I also know from personal experience that there are many wonderful, even-tempered, genetically sound pit bulls who are—or could be if given the chance—extraordinary, loyal, loving companions. Through my work and volunteer activities, I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with many such dogs. Some, including Asha (above)—who was used as “bait” to train fighting dogs and required more than 100 stitches to close her wounds—have suffered greatly at the hands of humans, but have managed to hold onto their faith or learned to trust once again. I’m not sure most people could overcome the odds these dogs have.

But this ruling ignores the existence of such dogs. In a society that, at least in theory, values justice so highly, it provides for none…for pit bull owners, landlords who rent to pit bull owners, the shelters and animal welfare organizations that work tirelessly to find homes for all good dogs in their care…or pit bulls, themselves.

I’m all for personal responsibility and laws that hold people accountable for their actions…and for the actions of their animals. Strong, enforceable dangerous dog laws are useful tools in the public safety arsenal. But breed specific legislation, which by its very nature assumes that some breeds of dogs are “bad,” plain and simple, are not.

If Maryland’s high court ruling stands, homeowners will lose their insurance, renters will lose their homes, pit bull owners will give up their beloved dogs, shelters will fill with pit bulls no one wants…and good dogs—like those below—will die.

And that would be a crying shame.