Well, obviously pit bulls exist — it’d be kind of weird if a type of dog as discussed as this one were mythical — but a Maryland court decision hinges on whether or not the pit bull is a legitimate breed of dog, and some experts are arguing otherwise.
The April decision in Tracey v. Solesky ruled that pit bulls and pit bull-mixes are inherently dangerous, holding landlords liable for damages in an attack by those dogs. On August 21, the Maryland Court of Appeals ordered that all references to pit bulls and pit mixes be removed from the April decision.
That call comes from the lack of clarity over just what a pit bull is, and what is meant when a dog is described as such. Lisa Peterson, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club, said that instead of being a specific breed, “pit bull” is a term used to describe a series of characteristics of dogs and could refer to both purebred and mixed-breed animals.
The term pit bull is sometimes used to identify the American pit bull terrier, a breed recognized by the United Kennel Club but not the American Kennel Club, said Erin Sullivan, education director for Pit Bull Rescue Central and a landlord in Maryland.
But it also is often applied to pure-bred dogs, including American Staffordshire terriers, dogo argentino and Staffordshire bull terrier and even boxers, Reaver said. She described times she has been called to rescue a dog believed to be a pit bull that turned out to be something else.
Because of this, identifying a pit bull — and in the case of the Maryland decision, identifying a dog that could lead to liability for a landlord in an attack — is imprecise and often based on looks, which is inconsistent and unfair, said Erin Sullivan of Pit Bull Rescue Central. DNA tests can look for certain breed markers, but may not be accepted as proof of breed by a court. A kennel club could look at a dog’s pedigree — if such documentation even exists for a particular animal, which it often doesn’t. And the Maryland ruling offers no specific definition of the kind of dog it applies to. This situation leaves the decision on what is and is not a pit bull to police and the courts, which is unreliable for obvious reasons.
In any case, pit bulls and mixed breeds continue to remain controversial, and this is one more example of why bans and other rulings on the dogs are problematic. Here’s a reminder of all the good in these dogs as well, whether they’re a “real” breed or not.
Photo by Suzanne Phillips