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  • Davion E. Percy

The Case for Pit Bulls

A pending lawsuit in federal court challenges the constitutionality of the Pit Bull Ban in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Filed in July 2022, this class-action lawsuit calls out the decades-old ordinance for its discriminatory and vague policy.


This blog post explores the history of pit bull bans in Prince George’s County and the United States. Discover why dog breed-specific legislation is harmful to both animals and owners and should not exist in our society as a free people.


Background of the Prince George’s County Pit Bull Ban Case


Denise, Sophia, and Stephany Venero are among the plaintiffs involved in the Prince George’s County case. The county seized the family’s dogs and refused to return them. It claimed that the dogs were pit bulls, making them illegal under local law. However, the county registry recorded the dogs as mixed breed and mastiff.


The Venero family contacted New York-based attorney Richard Rosenthal, popularly known as “The Dog Lawyer,” for legal representation. Although the owners successfully got their dogs back after arranging a deal with the county, the lawsuit claimed that the dogs lost weight and got sick. Rosenthal also represents other potential plaintiffs in similar dog lover vs. county disputes.


Breed-specific Legislation Across America


So far, only nine states have laws prohibiting local governments from regulating dogs by breed. Similarly, 12 states prohibit local governments from declaring that specific dog breeds are potentially vicious or dangerous.


Virginia and District of Columbia are among the states that have no breed restrictions. However, the neighboring Prince George’s County in Maryland outright bans pit bull breeds, which has been challenging for local activists to change.


The local pit bull ban has been in place since 1997. For over 25 years, ban supporters maintain that its rules highlight public safety concerns. However, animal advocates argue that the ordinance is racist, classist, and has no scientific bases.


How Are Pit Bull Bans Discriminatory?


Animal lovers have called out dog bans for discrimination against communities of color and low-income communities. In a 2018 study, Ann Linder explored the social context of breed-specific legislation. The results show that pet owners of color are more likely to own a pit bull. Perceived distributions of pet ownership also highlight that Black pet owners, in particular, would own pit bulls.


Considering America’s deep-rooted history of racism against Black communities, these findings are consistent with the idea that legislators target pit bulls specifically because of their racial bias. Ban supporters who insist on the regulation’s existence for safety purposes may fail to realize that dog aggression does not lie solely on the animal’s breed.


Meanwhile, the Venero family from the Prince George’s County case also illustrates how the local ban on pit bulls discriminates against vulnerable communities. This family’s dogs are emotional support animals, which help relieve loneliness, anxiety, and depression. The way that the county took away the dogs from the family put its members at risk of exacerbating the conditions their members have been living with.


Enforcing Pit Bull Bans Waste Taxpayer Dollars


According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), breed-specific bans are ineffective on the premise that they make communities safer. Moreover, a 2010 analysis highlights how a pit bull ban would waste taxpayer dollars.


Legislators impose bans believing that they would help prevent dog bites. In addition, they may associate pit bulls with being more aggressive and more likely to bite people. However, the Platte Institute’s research showed that a city with no breed-specific laws in place had fewer dog bite hospitalizations than a neighboring city with a breed ban.


The analysis argued against the Omaha City Council, stating that enacting a ban would cost over half a million dollars annually. Now, over a decade later, it will most likely be more expensive considering inflation adjustments. Legislators may want to consider redirecting that budget elsewhere.


Alternative Solutions


If public safety truly is the main concern for enacting such county laws, the International Municipal Lawyers Association already approved a model language in 2018 that legislators can use for comprehensive guidance that covers all dangerous animals.


The IMLA Model Ordinance Regulating Dangerous Dogs prohibits the declaration of dogs as potentially dangerous or vicious based solely on size, breed, mix, or appearance. It also highlights responsible ownership, noting that dog owners must take certain actions should their animal truly be dangerous.


Final Words: Keep Dog Legislation Breed-neutral Instead


Prince George’s County has a pending case against its 25-year-old anti-pit bull ordinance. Local animal rights activists have been constantly fighting for the rights of pets and their owners.


They highlight how breed-specific legislation is a case of government overreach that does little to no good against irresponsible pet owners while impacting the rights of the responsible ones. While the case is pending, it’s important for dog lovers throughout the county to realize how these kinds of laws affect all pet owners.


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