ANNAPOLIS – A Prince George’s County ban on pit bulls may be extended statewide if a bill introduced into the Maryland General Assembly passes, but some animal lovers fear the law may have unintended negative effects.
In 1996, in response to a spate of pit bull attacks, Prince George’s County banned the animals. If Harford Republican Delegate Charles R. Boutin’s proposed bill passes, no new pit bulls would be allowed in Maryland, either.
“I can’t have a cheetah. I can’t have a leopard,” Boutin said. “It just seems like we shouldn’t have these things.”
Boutin’s bill bans the American bulldog, American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and the Staffordshire bull terrier, or any mixed breed exhibiting the physical characteristics of those dogs.
The ban has produced the opposite of the intended effect in Prince George’s County because people are choosing other, more dangerous dogs.
“We’re starting to see other breeds. We’re starting to see presa canarios (Canary Islands cattle dogs) and cane corsos (Italian mastiffs),” said Rodney Taylor, associate director of the Prince George’s County Animal Management Division. “That’s why a really specific law is never the way to go.”
Both dogs Taylor named are massive canines, with males topping 100 pounds, used for protection and herding.
One of the dogs that attacked and killed a woman in San Francisco on January 26 was a mixture of a presa canario and an English bull mastiff.
Pit bulls are popular dogs. At the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, where a volunteer had his hand nearly severed by a pit bull in 1998, the dogs often make up 40 percent of those in the shelter.
Kerry Vinkler, director of humane education and public relations at the shelter, said a ban could make the situation more dangerous.
Other dogs, such as the presa canario, are actually more aggressive toward humans than pit bulls, she said.
“[Pit bulls] were bred to fight each other. They were not bred to be aggressive to people,” Vinkler said.
Pit bulls were responsible for the 66 fatal attacks in the United States since the Centers for Disease Control began keeping statistics in 1979, the most of any breed. Rottweilers were next with 39.
However, most animal workers agree owners and not dogs are responsible for vicious behavior.
“We tend to try and avoid breed-specific legislation,” said Howard White of the Humane Society of the United States. “It’s not a question of breeds, per se, it’s how people treat those breeds.”
One pit bull breeder blames the media and bad owners for the breed’s bad reputation.
“I’ve never had any problems with any of mine,” said Donald Cooper Jr., who breeds American pit bull terriers in Easton. “It all depends on how you train them. They’re awesome around children.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals supports a pit bull ban because they are the most susceptible to abuse.
“Many people are surprised to hear that we are in support of legislation that would ban pit bulls,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, a senior case worker with PETA. “But it’s the only way to protect the dogs. The bottom line is at this point the breed that is the most abused is the pit bull.”
PETA is against the breeding of any dogs, because it says there are already too many dogs on the street.
Boutin expects a lot of opposition to his bill from dog owners.
“I know some people are probably going to come at me with their pit bulls,” he said. “But I’ll be ready.”