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Legislative Updates: Small Victories for BSL; Reprieve for California Groomers

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a new animal welfare law on August 23, 2012, that prohibits municipalities from creating breed-specific regulations, according to local CBS affiliate WBZ-TV in Boston.

The Massachusetts SPCA has outlined measures included in the new law, which includes mandatory training for animal control officers, initiation of a statewide spay/neuter fund, and a requirement that dogs kept by local municipalities receive a certain level of care. The law also “prevents municipalities from regulating dogs based on breed.”

Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources’ Division of Animal Health was quoted as saying, “There is no evidence to support that breed-specific ordinances work. The animal control bill is designed to be breed-neutral and work on a case-by-case basis to prevent good owners and good dogs from being punished unfairly.”

However, at least one Boston councilman vocally opposed the changes to the law. Rob Consalvo, who helped pass legislation in 2004 that targeted a specific type of dog, was quoted as saying, “I think the state made a huge mistake passing a law that would wipe out ordinances to deal with dangerous pit bulls.” Consalvo and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino are reportedly considering asking the state for a home rule petition, which could exempt the city from part of the law.

In another small victory for opponents of breed-specific legislation, the Akron, Ohio, West Side Leader reports that Summit County is considering legislation that will mirror a new state law that eliminates references to specific dog breeds.

On February 21, 2012, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 14, which repealed state law under which dogs “commonly referred to as pit bulls” were deemed inherently vicious regardless of behavior. Prior to passage of HB 14, Ohio was the only state that designated a single breed as dangerous, defining a “vicious dog” as one that, without provocation, had seriously injured a person, killed another dog or belonged to the general breed of “pit bull.”

HB 14 dropped the “pit bull” reference all together, redefined what would constitute “vicious” and “dangerous” dogs, created a third category of “nuisance dog” and created a process for dog owners to appeal if law enforcement negatively labels their dogs. The legislation took effect on May 20.

The Summit County council will review recommendations made by its Rules Committee for a new law and revisit the matter later this year.

On August 21, 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed a portion of its April 26, 2012, decision under which it declared that anyone with the “power to control a pit bull or pit bull mix’s presence on a property” were liable if the dog attacked someone. This would include owners and also landlords. That ruling meant that prior dangerous behavior did not have to be proven for the owner and/or landlord to be held liable for an attack.

Maryland’s prior law said that a dog’s owner had to be aware of its vicious or dangerous tendencies in order to be liable.

The April ruling caused outrage among dog owners and animal-welfare groups, and it became apparent that landlords around the state might force tenants to choose between their homes and their dogs. The Court of Appeals reconsidered its ruling and determined that its inclusion of cross-bred pit bulls was “gratuitous and erroneous,” according to Judge Alan Wilner. He elaborated by saying that it was unclear what “cross-bred” means.

However, owners of purebred dogs that fall into the “pit bull” category are still liable under the April decision, as are their landlords. According to the Cecil Whig, one of Maryland’s oldest newspapers, one Baltimore housing cooperative that includes 1,500 households notified its residents last week that “pit bull-type dogs and mixes” would be prohibited beginning immediately.

On July 17, 2012, Best In Show Daily reported that a bill had been proposed in California that would create a voluntary certification program for pet groomers in the state. Senate Bill 969, submitted by Sen. Juan Vargas, was voted down in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 8. However, according to Vargas’ aide Janine Pairis, his office has already heard from the coalition that formed to support the program that they plan to reintroduce another bill next year.

Best In Show Daily provides a biweekly look at dog-related legislation that is pending and has passed around the country. AKC also posts regular updates in its Legislative Alerts section online.

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.
  • Judy Higgins Kasper September 2, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Good synopsis, thanks Christi.

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