Pit bull owners say neighborhood ban won't make them part with dogs

Shelly Kizina, a resident of Armistead Gardens in Northeast Baltimore, says she'll "sell my house before I get rid of" Jada, her 6-year-old pit bull.
Shelly Kizina, a resident of Armistead Gardens in Northeast Baltimore, says she'll "sell my house before I get rid of" Jada, her 6-year-old pit bull. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kevin Rector)

Since Shelly Kizina adopted her pit bull Jada four years ago after finding the dog abused and tied to a tree in North Carolina, the Northeast Baltimore resident and her pet have been practically inseparable, she said.

"I brought her here, and she's been like my best friend. She follows me everywhere," Kizina said on her porch in the Armistead Gardens neighborhood Sunday, as family members watched the Ravens game inside and Jada sat by her side.

That Armistead Homes Corp., which manages the low-income housing cooperative, has demanded Kizina and other neighborhood residents with pit bulls get rid of their pets is "insane," Kizina said.

"I don't care what they do," Kizina said. "I'll sell my house before I get rid of my dog."

Whether Kizina will have to make that choice is unclear.

Armistead Homes sent a letter to all neighborhood residents last month telling them to either get rid of their purebred and mixed pit bulls or face eviction, following a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals that purebred pit bulls are "inherently dangerous" and that landlords could potentially be liable if a pit bull attacks a person on their property.

But on Wednesday, another resident and pit bull owner, Joseph Weigel, filed a complaint in federal court saying the appeals court unconstitutionally disregarded his property rights by making him choose between his home and pet. Weigel is suing the state, asking for relief from the court's order and a judgment that the order is unconstitutional. He is also suing Armistead Homes, in hopes the federal court will bar it from enforcing its pit bull policy.

According to Weigel's attorney, Charles H. Edwards, of the Law Office of Barry R. Glazer, Armistead has until Wednesday to respond to the request for a temporary stay on evicting residents, and the state has until Sept. 27 to respond to the request for a temporary restraining order against the appeals court's decision.

Kizina and her two sisters, Paula Burke and Amber Craig, who also live in the neighborhood, said they hope Weigel is successful and the neighborhood policy is overturned.

"It's going to cause problems not just with the dogs, but with the entire neighborhood," Burke said.

Said Kizina: "It's going to cause an uproar.

Edwards said the policy would affect as many as 500 animals in the Armistead Gardens neighborhood. Craig, who said she adopted her own 5-year-old mixed pit bull Leia from an abusive situation that left a scar across the dog's snout, said there are many neighbors with pit bulls that aren't causing any trouble.

Leia and Jada are "both scared of their own shadows," Craig said. "I'm not getting rid of my dog. She's a member of the family."

Kizina, who has a sticker that reads "My Pit Bull is Family" on her mailbox, said she's waiting to see whether Armistead will enforce the rule but is somewhat confused by its use — like the court's use — of the colloquial term "pit bull." Jada is officially a Staffordshire bull terrier.

Kizina said that if the policy is upheld, already overwhelmed shelters will be inundated with animals and have to euthanize them.

"It's not fair," she said, running her hand along Jada's back as the dog looked up at her sheepishly, a mix of kids, Chihuahuas and Kizina's cat Chewy all around her. "She's getting the blunt end of the stick, and she didn't do anything."



Recommended on Baltimore Sun