UPPER MARLBORO – Residents of Prince George’s County want legislators to keep something in mind: you cannot judge a dog by its breed.
Nearly 20 years after the breed specific legislation (BSL) passed in 1996 and became law in 1997, the residents of the county continue to rally against the pit bull ban after numerous failed attempts to overturn it.
Amanda Mosher, a resident of Accokeek, created a petition on Change.org to fight the breed specific legislation aimed towards pit bulls in Prince George’s County. She asked County Council Chairman Mel Franklin to take action against the ban against pit bull terriers.
“I wanted to show him that this is a general public issue. I don’t have pit bulls but it still affects me because I’m a dog lover and I pay taxes in the county and I don’t want my money going toward killing dogs that could be somebody’s pet,” she said. “So I started the petition to show him that people really do care.”
Mosher was attacked by an aggressive dog as child, but said she didn’t harbor any anger toward the dog. She said she has always felt a “great deal of empathy” for animals, especially since they cannot speak for themselves.
“I have an urge to speak for those that cannot speak for themselves and dogs can’t speak up for what’s going on with them and stuff like that,” she said. “So they really rely on humans to speak for them.”
Mosher does not have a pit bull herself, but said the pit bull ban is of great importance to the county. The law breaks apart families, punishes dogs for simply being and continues unfair stereotypes, she said.
Mosher’s petition is part of a larger movement within the county to end the discrimination against a specific breed of dogs. The petition has already garnered over 600 signatures in three weeks.
Adrianne Lefkowitz, the executive director of the Maryland Dog Federation (MDF), said she has been fighting the ban since the day it became law.
“We've been around as the Maryland Dog Federation since, I believe, 2002. That's almost 13 years. Before that I worked with other organizations to try and get the ban stopped in the county,” she said. “I’ve been working since the day it was voted on, working since 1996.”
Lefkowitz said the MDF has attempted to lift the ban from the county numerous times. These tactics included lawsuits against the county, introduction of bills for legislature, and multiple appeals to county administration.
“Last year, we introduced (House Bill) 422, which would have preempted the breed ban at the state level. And the state delegation was fine with it, it was the county that said no, no, no,” Lefkowitz said.
Lefkowitz was also part of a task force commissioned in 2003 by a county council resolution. The “Vicious Animal Task Force” gathered and analyzed data to determine the effects the ban had on the county.
“We demonstrated that the breed ban doesn't work, and most importantly, the breed ban is very costly,” she said. “It costs a lot of money. It still costs a lot of money.”
The task force estimated it costs $186 per day per dog to confiscate, maintain and “dispose” of pit bulls in the county. The county spends between $250,000 and $500,000 a year on pit bull related costs. The task force also reported the Animal Management Division, under the Department of the Environment in Prince George’s County, receives nearly 27,000 total calls for service each year. Of those calls, 3,000 are related to pit bulls.
The specific law passed in 1996 is vague in its description of pit bulls and the enforcement of the ban. It states a pit bull terrier can be any of the following:
(A) Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed of dogs;
(B) American Staffordshire Terrier breed of dogs;
(C) American Pit Bull Terrier breed of dogs;
(D) A dog that has the appearance like any of the above
(E) Dogs which have been registered at any time as a Pit Bull Terrier.
The breed specific legislation states a dog can be removed from a household for merely looking like a pit bull.
Lauren Kindard, a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, said enforcement of the ban does not rest solely on animal management. The county police are also tasked with answering calls on pit bulls, furthering the difficulties of enforcement.
“The challenge in identifying a mixed pit bull is the difficulty in determining which characteristics are attributed to the pit bull versus other breeds,” the department said. “There is no recognized standard criteria or training to identify a pit bull based on observation of physical characteristics, this determination can be very subjective to the individual viewing the dog.”
However, despite the difficulties of identifying pit bulls and enforcing the ban, animal management still averages 686 pit bulls taken in each year, the department said.
Lefkowitz said this further proves the ban is ineffective in the county.
“That's very high and that's not much less than when they first started the ban, and we've had a ban for almost 20 years. So it’s clearly not working,” she said.
Although MDF and other organizations continue to protest the BSL, the county council has not voted to over turn the legislation.
Mosher contacted County Council Chairman Mel Franklin several times to consider revamping the legislation but he insisted county residents did not want the ban overturned.
“The Council does not believe the general public supports revisiting this issue at this time,” he said in an email to Mosher obtained by The Sentinel.
Councilmember Franklin did not respond to inquiries by The Sentinel about the breed specific legislation.
The council has also cited a decrease in bites in the county since the ban passed. They said statistics showed a significant decrease in dog bites across the county and declined to rescind the ban in 2005.
But Lefkowitz said numbers in the county are influenced by a variety a different factors, including the re-identification of pit bulls in the county. She said many residents call their pit bulls by other breed names to avoid the removal of their pet or the hefty fines and possible jail time associated with owning a pit bull in the county.
The rally against BSL in Prince George’s County also comes at a time where pit bulls are on the national stage. Countless organization across the country call for a nation-wide pit bull ban, such as Dogsbite.org and Ban Pit Bulls Across America. Time Magazine released an article in June 2014 suggesting breed-specific sterilization (spay or neuter).
Nearly a fourth of counties in the country have breed specific legislation, though not all of the 22 percent of counties’ laws pertain solely to pit bulls or ban the breed. Some such counties simply acknowledge pit bulls as a dangerous breed without outright banning the dogs. Others restrict the lifestyle of identified “dangerous” animals.
Despite the Prince George’s County Council concluding the ban is still relevant and necessary, statistics do not indicate pit bulls alone account for more the majority of dog bites in the state.
The Maryland Department of Legislative Services found in 2013 that often dog bite statistics are skewed by quick and inaccurate identification of breeds. They said more often than not a dog in an attack is not identified or its breed cannot be determined.
In analyzing data, the department found numbers between Dogbite.org, a BSL favorable website, and the National Canine Resource Council often did not match up.
“For the three years of available data from NCRC, the total number of dog related fatalities matched the total number of dog related fatalities reported by Dogsbite.org, except for one fatality in 2009 which NCRC did not count because the individual died of an infection almost a week after the incident,” the report read. “The NCRC data shows that in over 50 percent of the fatalities, the dog breed could not be identified. In 2011, NCRC could only identify 2 dogs as pit bulls, whereas DogsBite.org identified 22 dogs as pit bulls.”
Lefkowitz said this further proves the rally against pit bulls is unjustified and part of a “media frenzy” against the breed.
“I really don't understand the whole fear. I've worked in a shelter and, you know, they're just like other dogs. Their behavior and temperament run the whole spectrum, from really laid back to wild and crazy, and that's with all dogs,” she said.
Both Lefkowitz and Mosher said it is time for the county to move on from the ban and look at other options.
“We have breed neutral laws, and we've always had them,” Lefkowitz said. “Enforce the breed neutral laws and I think that that's the way all other municipalities that don't have breed bans do it. Why do we need a breed ban? I don’t think we need one at all.”