Maryland’s supreme court has made a ruling that promises to become a slippery slope and may impact many dog owners across the nation. In their ruling, the Maryland supreme court declared all pit bulls “inherently dangerous.” Where did this come from and why single out pit bulls? What does that mean for the rest of the nation? Why could this become a slippery slope that not only affects pit bull owners, but other dog owners as well?
My first question, where did this come from and why single out pit bulls, may seem to have an obvious answer. One of the organizations in support of the Maryland court decision, DogsBite.org, has a large collection of statistics on dog bites by breed. I took a look at their data between 1982 and 2011. Indeed when you look at their chart and their conclusions, it does appear that pit bulls are much more "dangerous" than other breeds on the chart. But I have a trained eye when it comes to statistics and noticed something funny. They included numbers for the percentage of the dog population each breed accounts for. A quick scan of the chart and you start to realize that the numbers don’t mean much because they are not normalized by population. Sure pit bull terriers accounted for 1970 incidents of bodily harm compared to 481 incidents by rottweilers, but there are 10 times as many pit bull terriers!
To make sense of the chart, I normalized the data by percentage of dog population. The results change the picture quite a bit:
When you look at the numbers, it makes sense that rottweilers are responsible for more bites than pit bulls when you take population into account. That fact is lost on the organization where this data came from though because they have a specific agenda in mind.
So what does this ruling mean? It means that if you own a pit bull in Maryland you are liable for anything it does, regardless of prior knowledge of it being dangerous. It also means if you are a landlord and rent to someone that owns a pit bull, you are liable as well. This ruling sets an important precedent that will resonate across the nation and have widespread ramifications not limited to Maryland. This ruling could mean that, if you own a pit bull, it will become increasingly difficult to be able to rent a house, apartment, or townhouse because the landlord doesn’t want to risk liability. It also means that pit bulls in shelters will be left there to be put down in large numbers. It could mean insurance companies may start to charge homeowners higher rates if they own a pit bull, largely pricing them out of ownership of most people.
The most important aspect of this case, and the reason I am so adamantly against the ruling, is what this means going forward. Will other breeds be deemed “inherently dangerous?" Will they also become unaffordable to own due to the inability to find a place to live should you own such a breed or due to rising insurance costs?
I find the whole concept of labeling specific dog breeds as “inherently dangerous” as repulsive as I find racism within our own culture. In fact, this whole thing could be called racism in a different species of animal. Maybe we should coin the term “breedism” and brand it in the same negative light as racism. In either case, the slippery slope aspect is very concerning to me because I am the proud owner of one breed that makes the list above. Let me introduce you to Leo von Braun:
I am very proud of Leo and I have taught him very well. Just like most German shepherds, he is very protective of me and serves a great notice to anyone coming to our door that he is there. Of course once you come inside and say hello to Leo, his tune changes. He has never been aggressive towards anyone. In fact, he really is a chicken when it comes to strange noises and movements. Most of my friends would tell you that Leo would run away before attacking anyone.
Yet well before this ruling, Leo and I have experienced breedism in the past on many occasions. Growing up as a puppy, I would take Leo to the dog park several times a week. As he grew older and bigger, I started to get complaints from other dog owners at the park because of Leo’s play style. Let me be clear, I know the difference between a fighting dog and a playing dog. It’s not hard to tell if two dogs are playing or fighting, yet many people don’t understand the differences. On several occasions I was told by other dog owners I needed to “control my dog” because he was playing with their dog in a rough manner. Welcome to big dog ownership! Eventually, I got tired of people complaining and stopped taking Leo to the dog park. I saw way too many instances of dogs really fighting each other, with their owners not caring one bit about it, which also played into my decision to stop bringing him there.
The point is, breedism already exists and without a doubt extends to German shepherds. So how long will it be until they are deemed “inherently dangerous?" If you ask me, there needs to be an uprising amongst dog owners now before things get out of hand. We don’t need the government declaring certain dog breeds “inherently dangerous” and thus making them unaffordable to own. Any dog breed can be raised to be a loving and disciplined pet. The focus should be on those owners who neglect and abuse their dogs and are not being responsible owners when taking them out in public. Breedism must stop now, before it is too late!
What do you think? Could this declaration extend to other breeds in the future? Should no one own a pit bull or any other breed on this list?