Laws on Owning Pit Bulls

Posted December 27, 2012 in Animal Law Your Home & The Law by


Each decade has its “dangerous dog.” In the 1970s, it was Doberman pinschers. In the 1980s, it was German shepherds. In the 1990s, it was Rottweilers. Today, it’s pit bull terriers.

Pit bulls were bred, originally in England, to combine the gameness of terrier breeds with the strength and athleticism of bulldog breeds. The term usually includes American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire terriers and any crosses among the three.


Pet or Pariah?

When properly exercised, trained and controlled, pit bulls can be loyal and protective family pets. Today, they are increasingly popular among young adults. At the other end of the spectrum, the breed has become identified with illegal dog fighting or crime-related guard or attack dogs. Together, pit bulls and Rottweilers accounted for half of the 4.7 million dog bites reported in the United States in 2011.


Breed Specific Legislation

These statistics have resulted in the enactment of “breed-specific” legislation in numerous cities and town. Federal and state courts have upheld the constitutionality of such laws restricting or banning the ownership of specific breeds of dogs.

Currently, no states have restricted pit bulls, although the Maryland General Assembly will consider legislation to do so in 2013. In 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that the owners of purebred pit bulls, as well as landlords who permit tenants to own pit bulls, are strictly liable for damages arising from an attack by these dogs. As a result, many landlords have initiated eviction proceedings.


Outright Bans on Pit Bulls

Bans, such as those in force in Denver and Miami, make it illegal to own, house, harbor, import, train or breed any of the listed dogs. Possession of a pit bull or other banned dog can lead to prison time and fines, especially if the banned dog bites someone. Existing dogs are usually grandfathered in, but their owners must comply with additional regulations. (See below.)

Some airlines ban certain dog breeds from transport on their planes. The U.S. District Court in Sioux City, Iowa, ruled that a pit bull can be exempted from breed-specific bans when classified under the American with Disabilities Act as a service dog. Felons are often forbidden ownership of restricted breeds.


Regulation of Pit Bulls

Regulation legislation does not ban a breed outright, but makes ownership more difficult. Restrictions can include mandatory spaying/neutering, microchip implantation, obedience classes, liability insurance, muzzling and leashing in public places, and restrictions in public places (like playgrounds). Before making the decision to own a pit bull, carefully check regulations in your city or town.


A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding ownership of pit bulls and other restricted dog breeds can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, you can contact an attorney on

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