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Dog owners challenge Prince George’s pit bull ban in federal court

Several dog owners are challenging Prince George’s County’s ban on pit bulls in federal court with a proposed class-action lawsuit that claims the ban violates their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, accuses Prince George’s County of declaring some dogs pit bulls based on their appearance regardless of the dogs’ actual genetic makeup.

The complaint asks a federal judge to block the county from enforcing the pit bull ban, which has been in place since 1997, because it violates the U.S. Constitution’s bar on unlawful seizures under the Fourth Amendment and due process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The plaintiffs are Denise, Sophia and Stephany Venero, whose two dogs were impounded after they escaped from a fenced-in yard and got into a fight with another dog on July 4.

The dogs are not pit bulls, according to the complaint, but were deemed pit bulls by county animal services officials and held for about two weeks before being returned to their owners. The dogs were returned after a hearing in federal court on the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order, records show. Under the agreement, the dogs are being housed outside Prince George’s County.

The plaintiffs have since filed another motion for a temporary restraining order on behalf of a Prince George’s County man whose dogs were impounded in late June. The man is not scheduled to have a hearing on the removal of his dogs until October, the motion claims.

The complaint claims that Prince George’s County is not offering preliminary hearings to people whose dogs are seized, and that the county uses subjective measures like appearance to decide whether a dog is a pit bull.

“If the process of determining whether a dog is a ‘pit bull’ is based upon a system which eliminates scientific evidence that would show whether or not the dog is in actuality a ‘pit bull,’ there can be no rational relationship between the purpose of the ordinance, that being to protect the health and safety of the public, and the classification set forth in the ordinance,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Richard B. Rosenthal, wrote in the complaint.

Gina Ford, a spokesperson for Prince George’s County, declined to comment because the litigation is pending. A preliminary injunction hearing is set for Tuesday in federal court.

In an interview, Rosenthal said the method used to determine whether a dog is a pit bull does not use scientific evidence.

“We cant allow our laws to be enforced by happenstance and sheer luck, and that’s what we believe this case is going to come down to,” he said.

PB Proud, an advocacy group devoted to repealing Prince George’s County’s pit bull ban, said in a statement that breed-specific legislation is “ineffective, archaic, misinformed, and rooted in racism.”

“PG residents have left as a result, and it is an expensive and inefficient use of taxpayer money that has not been shown to improve community safety,” the group said.