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The Dogs Have Their Day – In Court

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.

ENDNOTE:

(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.

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