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Pit Bull Update: Surrendered Pets Increase, Adoptions Fall

Maryland rescue adopts out-of-state, Humane Society launches helpline, Baltimore man files suit.

By Sophie Petit, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

More owners are surrendering their pit bulls to shelters, which are struggling to adopt the dogs out since the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled purebred pit bulls "inherently dangerous," and decided property owners also are liable for pit-bull-related incidents.

In response, the Humane Society of the United States launched Project Maryland Dogs Helpline last week to help landlords and pit-bull-owning renters come to educated decisions and hopefully avoid giving the dogs up, said KC Theisen, director of pet care issues for the Humane Society.

For the first time, the Anne Arundel SPCA created Pit Bull Appreciation Month, in which pit bulls and pit bull mixes are 50 percent off in September.

The sale may help break stereotypes and encourage adoption by getting people to consider dogs they may not have even looked at before, SPCA volunteer coordinator Kim Teter said.

Maryland is the first state to implement third-party strict liability for a specific dog breed, and the only one that currently declares pit bulls dangerous statewide.

Residents Fear Eviction

Almost immediately after the court ruling, Armistead Homes, which manages the Baltimore neighborhood where Joseph Weigel lives, required all residents to get rid of their pit bulls and pit bull mixes or be evicted.

On Wednesday, Weigel filed a federal lawsuit against Maryland and Armistead Homes Corp., said Charles H. Edwards IV, a lawyer representing Weigel.

The suit challenges the law's constitutionality and enforceability because, he said, it violates residents' 14th Amendment due process property rights and fails to define "pit bull" or "pit bull mix."

The initial April ruling was amended in August to exclude pit bull mixes, so now "it comes down to what is a mix, what is this, what is that?" Edwards said. "You don't know. It's undefined."

Theisen of the Humane Society said the ruling is unsound because "it falls to a property manager to determine from physical appearance what a dog's genetic history is."

Do you think one dog breed is more dangerous than others? Tell us in the comments.

Other Maryland residents, concerned their landlords will change their leases to ban pit bulls and pit bull mixes because of the ruling, have already contacted the Humane Society's helpline with questions, Theisen said.

Joe Mayer rents a house in Annapolis with his pit bull, Princess. For now, his landlord hasn't asked him to get rid of Princess, but he worries about finding a place that takes pit bulls when his lease ends.

Rescues Turn to DNA, Other States

The adoption rate at Jasmine's House, a Maryland-based pit bull and pit bull mix rescue that opened in 2010, has dropped, while the number of surrendered pit bulls has jumped two-thirds, said Heather Cole, the rescue's adoption and foster care coordinator. Before the ruling, the rescue averaged one adoption per week, but now up to three weeks will go by without adoption requests.

Jasmine's House is trying to adopt pit bulls from overcrowded Maryland shelters out to homes in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where landlords cannot be held liable for pit bull attacks, Cole said. The rescue is also reaching out to more pit bull "foster parents," people who take dogs in temporarily until they're adopted.

The SPCA of Anne Arundel County doesn't DNA test dogs, but at least a quarter of those now at the shelter are considered pit bulls or pit bull mixes, said SPCA volunteer coordinator Kim Teter. Most of them are longer-term residents. Mali, a 2-year-old pit-bull mix, has been at the shelter since Christmas.

Callers to the Humane Society hotline are reminded the ruling does not include pit bull mixes, Theisen said, and urged to get breed documentation for their dogs since "pit bull" is a generic term, and "there really is no such thing as a true pit bull."

Jasmine's House DNA tests each pit bull, costing $50 per dog, to provide potential owners with proof of breed, Cole said.

However, canine DNA testing is "notorious for being incorrect," said Edwards, Weigel's attorney. It's much more complex than DNA testing a human, which makes defining a pit bull an "I-know-it-if-I-see-it issue."

Helpline callers are also advised to get their dogs behaviorally assessed, Theisen said, and, ideally, should introduce them to their landlords to show they don't pose a threat.

Behavior assessment should be based on the individual dog, not the breed, said Theisen, who added: "All breeds bite."

Theisen said she hopes shelters will refer pit bull foster parents and adopters to the helpline with any concerns about having a pit bull in Maryland.

To contact the helpline, call 1-855-633-6471 and visit www.humanesociety.org/protectmddogs.

debbie bell September 16, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Odd how "there's no such thing as a pit bull" when pit mongers want to deny pit traits. The UKC, The registry for the American Pit Bull Terrier, believes that there is such a thing as a "pit bull". In fact, the UKC registration #1 was given to the founder's own pit bull "Bennett's Ring" in 1898. The UKC is not simply a beauty pageant for dogs, as is the AKC, but stresses form and FUNCTION, that is, the UKC registered dog had to prove he could perform his breed's "job" in order to be granted Champion status. Bird dogs had to flush, point, hunt birds, coonhounds had to hunt coons. What did the APBT need to do, to become a Champion? Did he need to prove he was a good "nanny dog"? Nope, that nickname wouldn't be invented until the 1980's. No, the APBT (he/she) had to win three DOG FIGHTS. That is what pits were created to do and many do it well: attack for no reason, attack without trying to avoid a confrontation and worst of all, attack without warning, which means that you cannot accurately temperament test a "good" pit bull. A good pit bull will also keep mauling/tugging crushing even if the other submits/yelp/says uncle/is down/is dead. A good pit bull will keep mauling/tugging crushing even after being severely injured. Why would anyone who actually cares about dog welfare want to continue making more dogs created to silently kill other dogs? The answer: we don't. Those who do want to continue breeding pits/pit mixes do NOT care about dog welfare.
debbie bell September 16, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Try as you might, you cannot adopt your way out of killing surplus pit bulls as long as too many are being produced. Here in PA, with no BSL, we kill them by the TON in pounds all across our state. Others disappear off Craig's List "not good with other dogs"... to probably become fighting dogs. Many/most people who acquire pits do so for reasons other than companionship: for weapons, for status symbols, for fighting, for the vicarious power and aggression pits provide their owners. Therefore, pit welfare is of litttle or no importance to these owners. Therefore, these owners do not spay/neuter their dogs, so pits breed and therefore die like flies. I agree that pits are not more angry or mean than other dogs. Tragically, they can be happy immediately before, during and after tugging a neighbor (dog/human) into pieces. A beagle is not angry or mean when acting on his instincts to chase rabbits, sniff, bark, although the rabbit fears for his life. A pit is only acting on his instincts when he escapes his yard, and then leaps up and bites the elderly neighbor's shoulder, pulls her to the ground and literally "rips her arm off." If you want to reduce the dispropportionate pit suffering and death, ban their breeding and sale of puppies. Enact/enforce spay/neuter microchipping of all pits/pit mixes/all dog aggressive dogs. Pit mongers insist that pits are "just dogs, just like other dogs". OK, Let pits become extinct. Adopt any non-pit. Everyone wins.
Toni DeVito September 16, 2012 at 11:23 AM
I have been around dogs all my life and the small "yappy" dogs have bitten me four times. Two biters were beagles, one a Pomeranian, and one a Poodle mix. Jack Russell Terriers have always been aggressive toward me and my dog. I have a real fear of small yappies. I had a pit bull and he was gentle - always. Go after the owners of ANY aggressive dog. Don't condemn a breed because of owners who train their dogs to be aggressive.
Polly September 16, 2012 at 01:38 PM
@Toni DeVito - I get the small "yappy" dog issue, I do. BUT, have you ever in your life heard of or seen anyone being mauled to death by any of those small "yappy" dogs? How many horror stories have you heard or read where the sweetest pit bull attacked an elderly neighbor or the little child riding a bike or just walking/playing in the neighborhood? How many sweet, docile pits have turned on their owners' seemingly out of nowhere? That, is the issue. It's inherent in the breed and not always a result of training or lack thereof.
k September 16, 2012 at 04:28 PM
@Toni DeVito You proved your own point. Four times attacked by small yappy dogs are you are still here. Had any of those attacks been by pit bulls, then chances are you would not be here to defend them the same way, or you would most certainly be disfigured if you did survive.
Gwen Lebec September 16, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Excellent advice.
Karen Goodyear September 20, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Pit Bulls are inherently dangerous, purebreeds & mixes. I was attacked 4 months ago by a pit bull. The attack was unprevoked and yes he did attack without warning and yes he crushed then tried to rip my left arm off. He would not let go and had to have his jaws pried open to get him off my arm. I have been left with horrific scars and disfigurement and permanent nerve damage. My hand feels like I am being shocked. The dog owner would not step up to the plate to assume the responsibility of my injuries and neither is their homeowner's insurance carrier. In fact, the dog owner has abandoned their home and dissappeared. So excuse me if I don't like pit bulls and people who defend them. If these dogs didn't have such a bad reputation then you wouldn't be wasting your time having to defend them.
Polly September 20, 2012 at 07:59 AM
@Karen Goodyear - I am so sorry for the pain and suffering that you have had to endure. This just further proves my point about pits & pit mixes. I'm sure an attorney could track the useless POSs that owned this animal and then abandoned their home. As for the homeowner's policy, just a guess, but, I bet they didn't disclose to them that they had a pit and is therefore not covered. Again, discuss with an attorney and see if they can help.

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