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Laurel Leader

Dog owner's group pushing to end Prince George's County pit bull ownership ban

With Prince George's County pit bull terrier ban still in effect, the Maryland Dog Federation task force continues to push the County Council to revisit the 1997 legislation that prohibits residents, including those of Laurel city, to own the breed.

According to Prince George's County's Animal Management Division, the county code states no person can "own, keep or harbor" a pit bull terrier, such as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier or the American Pit Bull Terrier. If a resident has owned the breed prior to November 1, 1996, they are allowed to keep the dog as long as it is registered by the Animal Control administrator. The dog must also kept in a building or secure kennel, only taken out using an "unbreakable leash" under the owner's control.

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Maryland Dog Federation advocate Adrianne Lefkowitz said she has been fighting discriminatory breed laws for roughly 20 years, volunteering with the American Dog Owners Association and the Animal Fanciers of Prince George's County. Lefkowitz later joined the federation when it was created in 2003.

"Its main finding was that the breed ban was costly, ineffective, and that public safety was hampered by the time and resources expended to impound benign dogs instead of problem dogs," Lefkowitz said. "If you look at the cost [and] the number of [pit bulls] that are coming in because of the ban, not much has changed."

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As of 2015, Best Friends Animal Society estimates that there are almost 178,000 dogs in Prince George's County, with 12,848 being pit bull terrier-like dogs. The non-profit animal welfare group estimates costs to maintain the breed-discriminatory legislation, including enforcement, kenneling and veterinary care, euthanizing and disposal, litigation and DNA testing, at more than $1.3 million annually.

"You'd think after 20 years, we'd have far fewer dogs," Lefkowitz said. "The ban was originally advertised as [getting] rid of the breed within 10 years. That has not happened because they're very popular dogs."

So much so, Lefkowitz said, that some Laurel residents keep their pit bulls hidden with tall fences.

"We have a few people in Laurel who won't walk their dogs because of the ban," she said. "They just hope they're not going to get caught. They're not hiding their dogs because they're bad people. They're hiding their dogs because they're family and want to keep them."

After analyzing pit bull-related incident statistics in the county, Lefkowitz said 90 percent of the incidents were not severe, with only a few a year defined as "severe" by the county patrol code.

Tony Solesky of DogsBite.org, a national dog bite victims' group, disagreed with Lefkowitz, explaining that all domesticated animals are bred for a purpose with a concentration on specific traits.

"A Golden Retriever is a dog with golden fur and with instincts to retrieve," Solesky said. "Pit bulls are called pit bulls because they are trained to have the bite stamina to kill a bull."

In 2007, the Towson resident's then-10-year-old son, Dominic, was mauled by a pit bull, resulting in a ruptured femoral artery as well as facial scarring. Following his son's trauma surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a year of rehabilitation, Solesky has worked to tighten laws and restrictions on the breed.

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When asked about Laurel residents reputed to be hiding their pit bulls, Solesky said they should know better.

"First of all, it's illegal," he said. "Second of all, if you keep it illegally, when someone is injured with that type of dog, it gives the person more recourse. In this instance, you have people who are procreating an animal that's encroaching on man's habitat. An outcome of this breed is not suitable for man's environment."

Current county legislation states that keeping a pit bull illegally will lead to the animal's impoundment, with fines up to $1,000 or six months in jail.

Lefkowitz said the Maryland Dog Federation plans to meet with County Council members to reconsider the ban.

"I always question why people agree with the breed ban because their response is, 'I don't want dangerous dogs in the neighborhood,'" Lefkowitz said. "My response is that we have dangerous dog laws."

Otherwise, she said, the dogs are a reflection of the owners' attention.

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"The owners are always the last word in a dog's behavior because we're the ones that have the leash and we're the ones who instruct the dog on how to behave in a household, whether we realize it or not," Lefkowitz said. "It's how a dog is managed."


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