The General Assembly’s pit bull task force met Thursday for the first time since this summer.
While no concrete decisions were made and only six of the 10 members of the task force attended, the group discussed how to determine whether a dog is at fault in the case of an attack.
As a recap: The task force is supposed to discuss legislation in response to an Court of Appeals decision earlier this year that ruled pit bulls are “inherently dangerous” and landlords and owners are liable in the case of an attack.
In a special session this summer, the General Assembly tried, but failed, to pass legislation dealing with the issue. Both the Senate and House of Delegates agreed that landlords should not be liable in attacks. While the Senate passed a bill making all dog owners liable in the case of a dog bite, the House of Delegates wanted narrower legislation that would limit liability only when a dog is running around “at large.”
In Thursday’s hour-and-a-half meeting, the group discussed the complexities of determining whether a dog bite is intentional and if a dog is at fault if he/she is provoked by a human.
“Is there any state in which it is allowed for a dog to be cross-examined?” Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, questioned during the work session.
Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, D-Montgomery, said other states have had animal psychologists testify in court.
“We have to look at this from an animal’s perspective,” Kramer said. “From an animal’s perspective, this was provocation.”
Frosh, however, questioned Kramer.
“Do we really want to go down that road?” Frosh said.
Kramer said that while the task force should try and steer away from that, it should be cautious in proceeding with legislation. Most court cases across the country dealing with liability in dog attacks stemmed from dogs running at large, he said.
“How about we take a measured approach that reflects what has been at issue in every single one of the cases the court referred to?” Kramer said.
Kramer also advocated having state senators talk with the task force about whether they could accept the House’s more limited approach to legislation.
“Universally, the House did not seem to find appealing the dramatic changes that took strict liability across the board to all bites in all circumstances,” Kramer said. “If we find out Senate members would find the more measured approach of the House more acceptable, it would give us an idea of where we might be able to go with this.”
Because not enough members of the task force attended the meeting, the group resolved to meet again later at an undetermined time. The task force will likely meet sometime before the end of the year or in the first week of next year’s legislative session.
Dog advocacy groups and property owner associations who attended the session, however, pushed for decisions on future legislation to be made as soon as possible.
“Our members have started to receive homeowners associations and condo associations banning pit bulls outright,” said Di Matteson, secretary of B-More Dog Inc., a dog advocacy group. “There’s a huge urgency and if something isn’t addressed people don’t want to be here in Maryland and would move before they would give up their dogs.”