How can pit bull problems be prevented?

May 08, 2012

I want to pick up where Pamela Reid and Kristen Collins of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals left off in their recent letter to the editor ("Dangerous dogs are a problem; scapegoating pit bulls won't solve it," May 3).

"The problem of dangerous dogs does require serious attention, but it won't be remedied by the 'quick fix' of breed specific laws," the authors point out. "Rather, we should seek the effective enforcement of breed neutral laws that hold dog owners accountable for the actions of their animals."

I am an attorney, and last week, a pastor of an inner city Baltimore church, my client, called for advice. The custodian of his church was taking out the trash to the dumpster when a pit bull got loose and chased him. The custodian avoided harm from the dog by running and jumping up on the roof of a near-by garage.

The pastor was grateful that no injury or harm was done and expressed concern that there was nothing the police could do in this situation. But he was also concerned about what might have happened had the pit bull chased a member of the congregation who was young, elderly or otherwise not as agile as the church employee? What if the dog caused a member to hurt himself trying to flee to safety?

We talked about the recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision finding dogs of the pit bull breed inherently dangerous, and how that ruling may be of assistance were one to bring a civil suit.

But what to do in his current situation?

My advice to the reverend, beyond addressing safety with the congregation, was to meet with and engage a number of people, starting with the owner of the dog and/or the property owner, the area police commander, other area pastors, the neighborhood or community association, and the City Council representative for that immediate area of West Baltimore.

The purpose would be to explain the danger posed by a dog who jumps the fence or otherwise gets loose and goes on a romp and how that might play out for anyone coming to the church for business, services or worship, for people just out for a stroll, or kids out at play in the neighborhood. Summer's coming.

My hope is after the dust settles on this matter, folk will step back from their respective positions, take a breath, appreciate opposing points of view, gain a different perspective, embrace collaboration and achieve a win-win for all.

As a personal matter, I am frightened at the mere sight of a pit bull, especially having seen pictures of some of the damage they can inflict on humans and other animals. But I've also seen instances where owners of pit bulls play with their dogs like I use to play with my late canine friend and family member, Bear, whom I loved very much. She was like the daughter I never had.

My call for discussion and engagement may seem trite with all the challenges clamoring for our attention. But it would be a shame if people not only felt unsafe to worship at their church and stopped attending but also felt powerless to do anything about it. We can make a difference and take action before a tragedy occurs.

I promised the pastor that I would inquire with the SPCA for any suggestions they may have relating to how to approach owners of pit bull dogs about accountability. We don't want to shut down meaningful conversation before it begins.

Pamela? Kristen? Anybody?

Leronia A. Josey, Lochearn

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