Dogs Don’t Lie About Love. Or Licenses.
Guglieimi/Maryland Dog Federation v. Prince George’s County Animal Management Division
Day Ten, October 3, 2013
Prince George’s County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC, with a population of almost 900,000 people, is the second largest municipality in the U.S. with a breed ban. On September 26, 2013, a private individual and the Maryland Dog Federation sued Prince George’s County’s Animal Management Division (PGCAMD) for failure to uphold the rights of people with disabilities and the unlawful enforcement of the dog breed ban.
There are two parts to this lawsuit and this court date concentrated on the service dog aspect. In March 2013, an Animal Management Division (AMD) officer visited the home of Plaintiff Dani Gugliemi to inform her there was a report of an “illegal pit bull” on the premises. She was given 48 hours to remove the dog or risk seizure and arrest, jail time and fine. Dani informed the Animal Control officer (ACO) that Storm was a service dog. The ACO allowed Dani to “spot” license her pet dog, Zoey that evening, but would not allow her to license Storm the service dog, because the dog was of an illegal breed and had to be removed from the county permanently.
In order to keep her service dog safe, Dani and her husband traveled through the night to take Storm to their vacation home until they could figure out what to do. For the next six months, Storm was shuttled between boarding kennels, friends and families across four states and countless counties in an effort to keep her from being seized. During her exile, Storm lost weight, missed her family, and was beginning to lose her skills as a service dog.
Sure enough, two weeks post-exile, the Animal Control officer returned with another report that Storm was seen in the neighborhood. That report was fabricated. The ACO again threatened Dani, “if we find that your dog was back in the county you are going to jail and we’re taking your dog.”
During the months without Storm, Dani fell and injured herself on more than one occasion, was bedridden for weeks and unable to do all those normal activities of daily living that she could do with Storm’s help. Dani was losing hope too.
For six months, despite Dani’s multiple statements that Storm was her service dog, despite multiple unanswered voicemail messages to AMD officials, and despite the county’s clear and blatant violation of the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); the only position the county took was that, as a “pit bull”, Storm was illegal and not permitted in Prince George’s County.
The county’s story, as told on the witness stand by Rodney Taylor, AMD Administrator, was quite different. And, as it turns out, not quite plausible.
In court, Mr. Taylor tried to blame Dani for not getting a “guide dog” license for Storm. He also claimed she should have been aware of it, and further, claimed said license is and has always been available for “pit bulls”. Taylor further testified AMD receives “dozens of calls a week” for the license. However, as we later discovered, the licenses have apparently only been issued 17 times for dogs of any type in a county of almost 900,000 people and, in apparent violation of letter and spirit of state law and the ADA, NEVER for a dog identified as a “pit bull”.
The judge clearly saw through the County’s testimony and ruled PGAMD must establish a process and procedure by which owners of legitimate pit bull service dogs can obtain a license for that dog, AND plainly publish information on the AMD website on how to obtain such a license, AND that Dani must be provided with Storm’s service dog license within 24 hours. Because of this lawsuit we scored a huge victory on Day 10 of our court case (1). We forced Prince George’s County to retroactively license service dogs that are “pit bulls”.
We will let everyone know when the next part of the case goes back into court…the part to entirely dismantle the Prince George’s County breed ban. Until then, please consider a contribution to the Prince George’s County Family Dog Legal Defense Fund. We fully expect the county to fight us every step of the way. Every penny of your contribution is earmarked to this case.
(1) To recap our court case successes thus far:
1. Because we sued them, and only because we sued them, every “pit bull” in Prince George’s County that is a guide/service dog is exempted from the ban.
2. Per the county’s admission, the exemption dates back to the day the ban was passed so anyone wanting to register a “pit bull” as a bona fide “guide/service dog” may do so as of October 3, 2013, regardless of when the dog was acquired and regardless of what the county may have told the resident previously.
September 24, 2013, GREENBELT, MARYLAND – A Maryland Circuit Court judge has ruled that Prince George’s County is in violation of state law, ordering the immediate return of a mobility assistance service dog named Storm to her Beltsville owner who needs her dog to get around safely. The Maryland Animal Law Center’s Anne Benaroya, Esq., is the attorney for plaintiffs Dani Gugliemi and the Maryland Dog Federation, who is representing a number of its members whose dogs have been seized under this law.
Since early July of this year, trained service dog Storm has been prohibited from the county for being a “pit bull”, sight unseen, after an anonymous complaint made to Prince George’s County Animal Management. According to current county law, dogs of three breeds, mixes of those breeds, or dogs that resemble those breeds are banned from the county. Such dogs are subject to confiscation and death by lethal injection; their owners are subject to fine and up to six months in jail. But State and Federal law does not permit breed discriminatory laws such as the county’s ban to affect a person with a disability or her service dog. Storm’s owner, a polio, cancer, and chemotherapy survivor with obvious mobility impairment, was threatened with arrest if Storm was ever found in the county.
Additionally, a preliminary injunction to completely stop the enforcement of the county’s “pit bull ban” is scheduled for October 3rd. If signed, it would require the county to immediately stop seizing dogs from their families simply for what they look like. A trial to stop enforcement permanently would follow which would eliminate the breed specific dog law throughout the county.
“This will be a true David and Golliath case,” says Maryland Dog Federation Executive Director Adrianne Lefkowitz. “We are a local grassroots organization with limited resources going up against a huge county. This case has just begun and fighting for our rights is an expensive process. We expect a lot of resistance from the county and that’s why we need the support of everyone who cares about this issue.” For more information visit the federation website http://www.marylanddogfederation.com/local or contribute to the Prince George’s County Family Dog Legal Defense Fund: http://bit.ly/PGFamDogs .
Prince George’s County is the second largest municipality in the United States to have breed discriminatory law, which was enacted in 1997. Like thousands of other jurisdictions across the country, the county has a number of other breed neutral, behavior specific laws that protect the public from dangerous, stray, and nuisance dogs. Breed bans allow for dogs to be seized and killed for doing nothing wrong.
A 2005 county task force report concluded the county breed specific law costs hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to enforce, yet hundreds and hundreds of dogs identified as “pit bulls” still enter the county shelter and there seems to be no appreciable decrease of illegal dogs in the county. Although the “breed ban” is a criminal offense, many residents have had their dogs shot by the police or taken away by Animal Management without even being charged with a crime and therefore, without a right to a public defender or jury trial.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, III, has stated he would like to see the Prince George’s county ban repealed and the breed neutral dangerous animal laws well enforced.
Based on myth and misinformation, a 2012 ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals declared “purebred pit bulls” to be inherently dangerous and landlords be held responsible for injuries incurred as a result of those dogs’ involvement in a dog bite incident on their rental property. 2013 legislation to nullify this ruling failed in the 11th hour. It is anticipated that the Maryland General Assembly will again attempt to nullify the ruling during the upcoming General Assembly session, scheduled to begin in January 2014.
Bo says NO! to BSL, so does his dad.
August 19, 2013: GREENBELT, MARYLAND — From the Top: The White House has issued an official response to dog breed bans exactly like the one in effect in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
This is the Official White House Response to Breed Discriminatory Laws:
“We don’t support breed-specific legislation — research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources.
In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at twenty years of data about dog bites and human fatalities in the United States. They found that fatal attacks represent a very small proportion of dog bite injuries to people and that it’s virtually impossible to calculate bite rates for specific breeds.
The CDC also noted that the types of people who look to exploit dogs aren’t deterred by breed regulations — when their communities establish a ban, these people just seek out new, unregulated breeds. And the simple fact is that dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they’re intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive.
For all those reasons, the CDC officially recommends against breed-specific legislation — which they call inappropriate. You can read more from them here.
As an alternative to breed-specific policies, the CDC recommends a community-based approach to prevent dog bites. And ultimately, we think that’s a much more promising way to build stronger communities of pets and pet owners.”
Prince George’s is a suburb of Washington, D.C. With a population of almost 900,000 people, it is the second largest municipality with a breed ban in the United States. If The White House response was shouted from the roof of the West Wing, Prince George’s County officials would have heard it…we’re THAT close. We ask the County Council to re-examine and repeal this law when they reconvene in September.
17 states now prohibit dog breed specific dangerous dog laws, with proposals in the pipelines for similar laws in other states. Prince George’s County has determined its own 15-year breed ban costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each year with no measurable increase in public safety (Report of the Prince George’s County Vicious Animal Law Task Force, 2005).
Breed-specific measures such as the law in Prince George’s County, Maryland, often declare a particular dog as dangerous simply by its outward physical characteristics. However, a number of studies indicate that, not only does a dog’s breed or appearance not portend behavior, but also that as much as 75% of visual dog identifications of “pit bulls” by animal professionals are WRONG. The consequences of these mis-identifications in Prince George’s County are death or exile as hundreds and hundreds of beloved pets are seized from living rooms, often right out from under the embrace of young children, then killed by Prince George’s County government. Usually for doing absolutely nothing wrong.
According to Ledy VanKavage, American Bar Association, Past Committee Chair, “People love their pets, no matter what their appearance. This is America. Responsible pet owners should be allowed to own whatever breed they want. They should not have to live in fear of their pets being seized and killed simply because of their appearance.”
7/18/2013 — After the Maryland Dog Federation sent a Maryland Public Information Act letter requesting information to help Harford county citizens find out where their hard earned animal care tax dollars go, county attorney Robert McCord has informed the federation that the shelter has prohibited him from releasing any animal intake and disposition numbers Humane Society of Harford County.
“…I will note that I have been advised by the attorney for the Humane Society that they have objected to the disclosure of any records…” Robert McCord, Harford County Attorney
Recently, the Humane Society of Harford County (HSHC), a private, 501(c)(3) organization contracted by county government to be THEIR shelter, killed an eighteen-year old, spayed, declawed cat only a few hours after it was brought into the shelter, seemingly ignoring a state and county law that required a 72-hour hold on stray cats to give owners some time to find their lost pets. Despite the fact the cat was placed in a carrier without incident and brought in by a neighbor who didn’t realize she belonged right next door, HSHC board president David Fang claimed the cat was “so feral” they needed to kill her for “safety concerns”. An animal is “feral” when it is born in and lives in the wild and does not accept direct human contact. While a feral cat might be spayed, feral cats are certainly NOT declawed, certainly not handleable enough for the neighbor to place it in a carrier, and are usually not eighteen years old! Basically, unaware of the difference between a feral cat and a frightened one, and ignoring the history that they DID have, the shelter killed a terrified, beloved lap cat within a few hours of its being brought in. It is their job to know the difference — it’s what the county pays them to do. Owner Bob Brooks, who was actively searching for his beloved pet Mistoffelees and unaware that his cat had already been killed by the shelter, is devastated and looking for real answers.
The Humane Society of Harford County — the shelter — acts as a government proxy, accepting all animals brought in to them from county animal control and from the public, disposes of the animals in accord with state and county laws (supposedly), accepts fines and penalties as determined by animal control and applicable laws, statutes, and regulations, takes ownership of stray and surrendered animals, and keeps revenue and fees associated with adoptions, surrenders, and animals returned to owner. In addition, Harford County pays HSHC a set amount annually through a Memorandum of Understanding to perform these animal sheltering services on behalf of the county. HSHC clearly acts in a quasi-government capacity in dealing with the county’s homeless pets. The citizens of Harford county surely expect and deserve to know how their county shelter handles animals, if it acts within the confines of the law, and how their tax dollars are spent.
Although the Maryland Dog Federation has received a refusal from the county to provide the information we’ve requested, we are still pursuing the data directly from the Harford County pound through letters emailed to Executive Director Mary Leavens and HSHC board member Charles Wellington and expect a response from HSHC within the time allowed by the Maryland Public Information Act. We can only guess why this organization, broadly funded by Harford county taxpayer dollars, would object to the county attorney releasing information and why county officials would not expect full and transparent disclosure from a publicly funded community partner.
What does shacking up and German and Belgian Shepherd Dogs have in common?
In Virginia, both were prohibited until recently.
On July 1st, Virginia officially repealed its 136 year-old law that has remained on the books, largely unenforced in the “modern age”, that prohibited a man and a woman from living under the same roof without benefit of marriage…
Why repeal it? Because it no longer makes sense and society has moved on.
In 2001, Virginia officially repealed a then 63 year-old breed specific law, also largely unenforced in recent decades, that prohibited the new ownership or importation of German and Belgian Shepherd Dogs from a number of counties in the Commonwealth.
Yes, that’s right. German Shepherds were prohibited in Virginia.
German Shepherd dogs, their mixes, and dogs that look like german shepherds, are about the most popular kind of dog in the state. That makes BSL about as effective as the law against Cohabitation Without Benefit of Marriage. That is to say, not very effective at all. OK all you sinners and lawbreakers, you can come out now. Bring your dogs out too.
Why repeal breed specific laws? Because it no longer makes sense and society has moved on.
Seventy-some years ago the Virginia legislature thought it needed breed bans because of hysteria, overblown media reports, myths and mis-information. The hysteria, myths and mis-information have been refuted. My, how times change, huh? Meh, maybe not so much, especially not for Virginia’s neighbor, Maryland, who apparently hasn’t gotten the message yet.
The state of Virginia had enough of a bad taste for BSL 20 years ago that they passed a law prohibiting it. Today, 15 other states have laws that prohibit regulating dogs because of their breed. Rhode Island will be number 17 as soon as the governor signs it, and New Mexico has legislation in the pipeline that would make it number 18.
Why? Because it no longer makes sense and society has moved on.
Prince George’s County has gone TOO FAR this time, taking a service dog away from someone who needs her dog to get around and live a more normalized life…because of its breed.
Breed discriminatory legislation fails the Public Good because behavior cannot be predicted by what a dog looks like AND because it takes too many innocent Family Dogs who are of immeasurable benefit to their people whether a pet or a Service Dog, simply because of unfounded hysteria.
The Maryland Animal Law Center is working with the dog’s owner to challenge the county for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You can read more from the MALC about this case below.
The Maryland Dog Federation is pleased to be a participant in this case in order to challenge other troubling aspects of the breed ban; that the law as enforced in Prince George’s County in particular does not give a dog owner sufficient Due Process, and that the law was enacted improperly. We are looking for additional plaintiffs…Are you a Prince George’s resident who has had his or her Family Dog taken away under the county breed ban? The more participants we have, the better. It’s possible that your situation, your loss, will be the one that clearly demonstrates the need to eliminate this ineffective, unfair law. Please contact us at email@example.com, or fill out our survey at http://bit.ly/PGBanSurvey
Let’s fight this once and for all!
With a canine population in the United States of over 70 million, and billions of dollars spent taking care of them, we are clearly a nation of dog lovers. Dogs are family members that provide immeasurable health benefits to us; some very special canines provide invaluable, life-saving assistance to those in our community who are differently abled and tackle challenges head-on every day. Taking a service dog from someone because of a breed ban is a special kind of mean, an above and beyond kind of mean. The exact kind of mean the federal courts have already ruled against when they determined the Americans with Disabilities Act trumps ANY breed specific law. Breed discrimination is bad enough when families are torn apart; it’s worse when it prevents someone from getting around safely and living their life.
Announcement From the Maryland Animal Law Center:
We are pleased to announce our upcoming challenges to the Prince George’s County “Pitbull” Ban. Federal regulations for service animals preempt the ban, and our case involves a mobility-impaired polio survivor whose service dog, a “pitbull”, was impounded simply because of her ‘breed’.
Gary Norman, Esq., of the Maryland Human Rights Commission will be Of-Counsel in this and future cases. Mr. Norman is blind and an established civil rights leader, specializing in issues affecting the ever-growing disabled population. Mr. Norman, accompanied by his Guide Dog, Pilot, and will argue the case in the courtroom, alongside a sighted attorney. The service animal challenge should carve out a large exception into the “ban”; and, we hope the other arguments, the law was not passed by correct procedures and that its enforcement doesn’t comply with Due Process, will nullify the ban altogether. Enforcement procedures in Prince George’s County are unique to that county, don’t exist elsewhere in the state or country, and defy all precedent. The arguments here are novel, and we hope they succeed.
“Pit bulls” are great dogs…if you raise them right/treat them right” is a statement I see scrolling across my Facebook newsfeed at least a dozen times each and every day. It’s a phatic expression, “thinklessly” repeated by people who really love their “pit bull” family dogs and know they have a great dog that the public seems to pick on too much. Dogs that are often in their second, third or even fourth homes. Sometimes the dogs are believed to have endured hardship, even neglect or abuse in their prior situations, but most of the time no one really knows anything about their dog’s past life. Sometimes when a dog loses his or her home it’s through absolutely no fault of the dog’s – or the prior owner. Frankly, there isn’t even a universally accepted definition of what a “pit bull” is.
I’ve never really believed that “pit bulls” are great dogs if you raise them right or treat them right. Because that would conversely mean if they weren’t raised or treated right, they would be bad dogs. I’ve seen some that weren’t raised right and I’ve seen some that were treated badly and downright neglected and even abused terribly.
They were great dogs in spite of it.
I have been a breed advocate for almost 20 years now and, no, I don’t believe it at all.
All dogs, not just “pit bulls”, can be raised wrong and treated wrong, even come from the most horrific of circumstances, and STILL go on to be a good family dog, sometimes with or without special intervention. It is no more accurate to say “pit bulls are bad dogs because…” than it is to say “pit bulls are good dogs if…” Why? Because concentrating on a dog’s looks or breed says nothing about the dog’s behavior.
What I do believe is that dogs are generally resilient, malleable, and forgiving. Certainly they must be if they have gone from a wild canid to 700 varieties of bed hog! Pit Bulls are assumed to have a ”sad past” and a presumed reputation as ghetto dogs, status symbols, fighters. But that’s all from mis-information, myth, and media hype. The experts agree that each dog, “pit bull” or otherwise, is an individual that occupies a tiny place on a behavior continuum shared with all other domestic dogs (from independents to alphas to omegas, from love bugs to mushes, from lifes of the party to couch potatoes, from suspicious of people to body slammers to “only dogs” and everything inbetween). Each dog, pit bull or Pomeranian or Heinz 57, has its own unique, ingratiating personalities and styles.
So, by all means, raise them right and treat them right. And stick up for them when necessary. But when you look into the adoring eyes of your “pit bull” mix, whose past you truly know nothing about, whose true ancestry you may never know, remember she is a good dog despite her upbringing or prior treatment. She’s a good dog simply because she is living in the moment and wants to know how to live peaceably in your world. Dogs are WTAIWTA*.
I understand how easy it is to respond personally to the negative media reports. But think about this: when another type of dog bites someone (if it even makes the news), I don’t seen the same communal guilt from owners of “that” breed as when an alleged “pit bull” bites someone. I know why…because if a “Labrador” bites, no one cares. If a “pit bull” even jumps on someone, legislators start getting all tingly. Let’s change OUR response in an effort to change THEIRS.
Sometimes when a dog hurts someone, it’s minor. Sometimes, the person who was hurt did a very stupid thing. Sometimes, it’s a lack of enforcement of already established laws. Sometimes, it’s a perfect storm of events that could have been prevented if only someone realized in time what was happening. Sometimes an owner was truly, truly reckless. Sometimes, it was really just an accident. Any dog CAN bite, few ever do, and only a few of those cause serious injury.
It wasn’t my dog. I wasn’t there. Repeat after me. Go ahead, say it out loud. “It wasn’t my dog. I wasn’t there.” Actually feels pretty good.
Instead of communally reacting to every incident across the nation with “it’s not the dog it’s the owner”, or “it’s how they are trained/raised”, let’s just respond with something like, “every dog is an individual, every incident is discrete. Rational conclusions cannot be drawn about one dog or an entire breed type based on the actions of a dog down the street or a hundred miles away.” Cut and paste away.
Then, after a few thousand of those, let’s just stop reacting.
*What They Are Is What They Are