More than 600 animal bites have been reported in Baltimore since the start of 2013, but only 35 of those cases wound up before the city's Animal Hearing Panel, which decides whether pets are dangerous enough to be euthanized or placed under safety restrictions.

Baltimore Health Department data shows that 20 animals have been deemed "dangerous" this year. Four have been declared "vicious" and put to death, and four have been given neither designation. Seven other cases never got decided, which officials said usually happens when an owner agrees to voluntarily give up a pet

It's rare that a bite winds up before the hearing panel, though, largely because the animal enforcement officers that investigate incidents generally find that the pets are not dangerous enough to warrant such a review.

City officials said a pit bull involved in a fatal attack on its owner this month got no hearing after the dog bit her nephew because the animal bit the boy as he moved pick up some food he had dropped.

Mary Beth Haller, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Environmental Health, said that was "provocation" enough for the dog not to be considered reasonably dangerous. The Health Department returned the pit bull to its owner, 56-year-old Terry Douglass, after it was vaccinated for rabies and the quarantine period had expired.

"You only have a hearing if the officer has a reasonable belief that the dog is dangerous," Haller said. "The reasonable belief was that the dog is not dangerous because it doesn't meet the definition of dangerous because it was provoked."

The code provides four definitions for "dangerous animal," but biting or attacking without provocation is listed first and is the most important, according to Haller.