Maryland General Assembly Says No to Dog Owner Discrimination, Passes Effective Breed Neutral Liability

On April 3, 2014, the Maryland House of Delegates gave final approval to breed neutral dog bite liability legislation that would abrogate the 2012 Court of Appeals ruling in Tracey v. Solesky, which imposed “breed”-specific liability on dog owners, custodians, and landlords.

From the beginning, Maryland residents and lawmakers have been in agreement that the Tracey v. Solesky ruling was not acceptable, but the House and the Senate disagreed on the appropriate standard for dog owner liability. This legislation, SB 247 and HB 73, championed by Sen. Brian Frosh and Del. Luiz Simmons, is the product of two years of negotiations between the chambers to arrive at a compromise for dog owner liability. Dog bite victims and dog owners alike benefit from the legislation, which presumes that dog owners know that all dogs can bite (regardless of breed), preserves the dog owner’s ability to present evidence in their dog’s defense, and holds dog owners strictly liable for injuries inflicted while a dog is running at large. It also removes the strict liability imposed by the Court on landlords and other third parties. SB 247 has gone to Governor O’Malley for his signature, and HB 73 is expected to receive a final vote today.

“I am glad we could work out a compromise that is fair to victims, dog owners, and landlords,” said Sen. Frosh, who sponsored SB 247.

Del. Simmons, who sponsored HB 73, said: “I am grateful to the many citizens of our state who have worked together with me to craft a compromise that protects both the victims of dog bites and the owners of dogs. This compromise includes greater protections for those injured by dogs while preserving the important due process rights of dog owners and the cherished right to defend oneself in court.”

A large coalition of animal welfare groups, animal shelters, dog owner advocacy organizations, rental housing providers, individuals, advocates, and others supported this legislation. National Canine Research Council is proud to have been invited to provide expert testimony and factual information to the lawmakers as they crafted this legislative solution.

The new law equally protects all Maryland citizens from negligent and reckless dog owners, regardless of the type of dog involved in an incident. It also raises the bar for responsible dog ownership across the board as all dog owners are to be held equally accountable for their actions and the actions of the dogs, regardless of dog breed or appearance. The action of the Maryland legislature to reverse the breed-specific liability is in line with expert recommendations and recent legislative trends against breed-specific legislation, including the recent passage of two more state laws preempting municipalities from passing such legislation.

All dog owners should be held to the same standards of humane care, custody, and control of their dogs, regardless of breed. The action of the Maryland legislature puts the responsibility for dog-related injuries where it belongs: on the dog owners.

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South Dakota and Utah to be the 17th and 18th states to preempt breed-specific legislation.

South Dakota has passed a bill to protect pets and people by preventing local governments from enacting legislation that regulates dog ownership based on a dog’s breed or breed mix. Governor Dennis Daugaard signed the bill on March 14, 2014[1]. The bill, SB 75[2], states that:

No local government, as defined in § 6-1-12, may enact, maintain, or enforce any ordinance, policy, resolution, or other enactment that is specific as to the breed or perceived breed of a dog. This section does not impair the right of any local government unit to enact, maintain, or enforce any form of regulation that applies to all dogs.

South Dakota’s SB 75 makes clear that responsible pet ownership is a legitimate and important government concern and that its responsible pet ownership obligations apply to everyone equally.

The Utah legislature has also passed a similar bill[3], which is awaiting final signature into law from Governor Gary Herbert.

South Dakota and Utah join the growing roster of states that adopted similar measures. In 2013, Nevada, Connecticut, and Rhode Island all enacted similar state laws prohibiting regulation of dogs on the basis of breed. This trend shows a growing recognition among legislators of the wisdom of the recommendations of the American Bar Association and the White House, along with the consistent position of animal experts and animal welfare organizations that regulating dogs on the basis of breed or appearance is never an effective solution for community safety. Instead, community safety benefits from a responsible pet ownership model, which applies clear principles to all dog owners.




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Adam Miklósi of The Family Dog Project joins NCRC Advisors

Dr. Adam Miklósi, head of the Ethology Department at Eötvös University in Budapest and one of the founders of the world-renowned Family Dog Project, has joined the NCRC group of advisors. Dr. Miklósi is a leading authority on the social competence of dogs, the mental abilities that make possible the unique relationship that is the human-canine bond. Or as the title of one of his recent papers puts it, “What does it take to become ‘best friends’?”  The mission of the Family Dog Project is the study of the “evolutionary and ethological foundations of dog-human relationship.” Ethology is the study of animals in their natural environment, rather than under laboratory conditions. It was once considered only appropriate to the study of wild animals. To place the study of domestic dogs firmly in the science of ethology, as the Family Project has done, is to make a statement that human beings are their natural habitat. Dr. Miklósi has done groundbreaking research on the concept of the 21st century family dog as an animal whose behavior is profoundly shaped by his interactions with people. We welcome him as an advisor with unique qualifications to help us enhance public understanding of the human-canine bond in the modern world.

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Florida animal services agency strikes breed labels from kennel cards and website

Evidence has mounted in recent years that guesses as to a dog’s breed or breeds usually do not correspond with breed identification using DNA technology. Different observers, even those engaged in dog-related professions, frequently disagree with each other when looking at the same dog.

Animal behavior and ethology studies have demonstrated that we cannot reliably predict the future behavior of a purebred dog on the basis of its breed or breed mix, whether or not we have documented the pedigree or employed DNA technology to obtain the mix of breeds.

Humans exert a profound influence on the personalities of the dogs in their care, an influence that trumps supposed breed-specific personality traits.

And, in a world where most dogs are either bred for looks or are not the result of planned breeding at all, and where dogs of so many different sizes and shapes succeed as loved family companions, there is little, if any, relevance of a dog’s presumed breed to its suitability for family life.

How should the nation’s animal shelters respond to the accumulating science, in order reunite lost dogs with owners and make good adoption matches for the others?

Public agencies across the United States have addressed the first of these breed-label problems, reuniting lost dogs with owners. In some cases, the owner can query the agency database using the fields animal type, gender, age, size and main color grouping. However, no field asking for a  breed label is displayed. If the owner thinks of his dog as an X, but animal services entered it into their database as a Y, an entry in such a field could delay, or even prevent, a hoped-for reunion. Other agencies post a photo array of dogs that have been found, so that an owner can examine the photos to see if his/her dog is among them.  The clear picture is worth a thousand words.

Orange County (Florida) Animal Services has taken the important next step. They have removed breed labels from all kennel cards and from the website. Prospective adopters read short descriptions often accompanied by full-body photographs of the available dogs, but unencumbered by a breed label that is inaccurate more often than not, and does not furnish the kind of information needed to decide if this might be the right dog to join their family. The website’s photo array includes lost dogs, as well, but never a breed label.

For anyone who has lost a dog, or anyone looking for a new best friend, the animal services website is a good place to start; but there is no substitute for visiting the shelter in person.

Orange County, population 1.2 million, includes Orlando and a dozen other incorporated communities. Animal Services is an open admission facility, taking in, according to its website, approximately 20,000 animals each year.

Those interested in reading about Orange County Animal Services new policy, and seeing how they display and describe their dogs, can do so here:




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National Canine Research Council Preliminary 2013 Update on Dog Bite-Related Fatalities

In our journalism and our conversations, we tend to talk about things in isolation, focusing on what’s happening right now and failing to connect the dots. The present outrage becomes our complete obsession; the countless frustrations that telegraphed it fade from view.

– Frank Bruni, New York Times, 10/5/13


Dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) have always been exceedingly rare, but often seem more frequent than they are because of the publicity that they provoke. The annual total of DBRFs has risen and fallen with no discernible pattern or trend, even as the human and canine populations have increased.


NCRC is currently investigating 31 incidents that occurred during 2013 which may qualify as DBRFs. A list appears at the end of this preliminary report. (By way of comparison, in 2011, the last year for which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data is presently available, there were 15,953 homicides and 38,285 suicides.[1])

The verified number of DBRFs in 2013 will appear in the final version of this report which will be released when all the cases have been fully investigated. We define a DBRF as a death resulting from the mechanical trauma of a dog bite. We do not include persons dying of causes such as infection following a dog bite or other trauma associated with a dog-related incident (e.g., a fall). The cases will be analyzed according to the methodology described in the ten-year study published this December in the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) and discussed more fully below.[2] NCRC’s final report will add the verified results from the 2013 cases to the totals dating from 2000, in order to offer a broad perspective, and to prevent focus on short-term fluctuations that are misleading in sample sizes as small as the annual number of DBRFs.


In December 2013, JAVMA published the most comprehensive multifactorial study of DBRFs to be completed since the subject was first studied in the 1970’s. Covering all incidents that occurred during the ten-year period 2000 – 2009, it is based on investigative techniques and data developed by NCRC not previously employed in dog bite or DBRF studies. The study reliably identifies seven factors potentially within the control of dog owners and caretakers that co-occurred, in various combinations, in the overwhelming majority of DBRFs the authors examined.


Cases from 2000-2009 with this factor present

No able-bodied person being present to intervene.


The victim having no familiar relationship with the dog(s).


The owner failing to neuter/spay the dog(s).


A victim’s compromised ability, whether based on age or physical condition, to manage their interactions with the dog(s).


The owner keeping dog(s) as resident, rather than as a family pet.


The owner’s prior mismanagement of the dog(s).


The owner’s abuse or neglect of the dog(s).


The study, as had DBRF studies published previously, found no evidence that one kind of dog is more likely to injure a human being than another kind of dog.


Four or more of the factors identified co-occurred in 80.5% of the incidents during the 10-year period studied. Only very rarely (in 2.5% of the cases) was there only one factor identified.  Serious and fatal dog bite incidents are complex, multifactorial events.

Number of Co-occuring Factors Present


The authors of the JAVMA paper – a veterinary epidemiologist, a medical epidemiologist (Dr. Jeffrey Sacks, who was lead author on earlier studies of DBRFs), a veterinary behaviorist, and two NCRC staff members — recommend their coding method to improve the quantity and quality of data compiled in future investigations of any dog bite-related injuries. This offers an excellent opportunity for policy makers, physicians, journalists, indeed, anyone concerned with the prevention of dog bite-related injuries, to develop an understanding of the multifactorial nature of both serious and fatal incidents. 


Published news reports may conflict with each other, or contain substantive, even egregious errors. The CBS affiliate in Little Rock, Arkansas, for example, accompanied its report of a dog bite-related fatality in November with a photograph of the two dogs supposedly involved. The photo had been obtained from a Facebook page, and was not a picture of the dogs involved!

NCRC contacts officials in each case, re-interviewing media sources and locating others including police investigators, animal control officers, coroners, veterinarians, health department officials, dog owners, and eye witnesses. We examine official reports which often do not agree with news accounts including incident reports, bite reports, human and animal autopsy reports, and crime scene data and photographs. Not all are available with respect to every case, but many cases are subjects of extensive official investigations, and allow us to supplement or correct media reports with relevant, material information in over 90% of these incidents.


The news media frequently described the dogs as “family” dogs. However, our preliminary investigations of incidents that occurred in 2013 are consistent with our findings dating back to 2000. The majority of dogs were not family pets, but “resident” dogs – isolated from positive human interaction,  often kept alone on chains, in junk-yards, in basements, or left to roam unattended.** The data in the chart below is taken from the JAVMA paper reporting on DBRFs from 2000-2009.

Percentage of Cases Involving Resident Dogs

“Dogs cannot be characterized without humans”

- Dorit U. Feddersen-Peterson

Department of Zoology, University of Kiel


The interactions between dogs and humans are so numerous and complex that no one factor can possibly be considered the sole cause of a serious or fatal incident.  And it is certainly important to remember that for every dog that injured someone and who had been denied a positive human relationship, untold numbers similarly kept injured no one.

NCRC’s mission is to preserve the human-canine bond. These rare tragedies are a result of the co-occurrence of multiple factors potentially within the control of dog owners. As such, they serve as a reminder that all dog owners are responsible for humane care (providing proper diet, veterinary care, socialization and training), humane custody (licensing and providing permanent ID) and humane control (following leash laws and not allowing pets to become threats or nuisances to the community).

“The whole model is about responsible pet ownership.”

- Bill Bruce, former Executive Director,

Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services


Jan. 8: Betty Chapman Todd, 65 yrs., Greenwood, SC

Jan. 19: Christian Gormanous, 4 yrs., Montgomery, TX

Feb. 8: Elsie Grace, 91 yrs., Riverside, CA

Feb. 16: Isaiah Aguilar, 2 yrs., Uvalde, TX

Mar. 2: Ryan Maxwell, 7 yrs., Knox, IL

Mar. 6: Daxton Borchardt, 14 mo., Walworth, WI

Mar. 17: Monica Laminack, 21 mo., Bryan, GA, criminal charges

Apr. 2: Tyler Jett, 7 yrs., Bay, FL, criminal charges

Apr. 11: Claudia Gallardo, 38 yrs., San Joaquin, CA, criminal charges

Apr. 22: Jordyn Arndt, 4 yrs., Jasper, IA, criminal charges

Apr. 24: Beau Rutledge, 2 yrs., Fulton, GA

Apr. 30: Rachael Honabarger, 35 yrs., Coshocton, OH

May 8: Carlton Freeman, 80 yrs., Dorchester, SC

May 9: Pamela Marie Devitt, 63 yrs., Los Angeles, CA, criminal charges

Jun. 9: Ayden Evans, 5 yrs., Garland, AR

Jun. 17: Nephi Selu, 6 yrs., Alameda, CA

Jun. 25: Arianna Merrbach, 5 yrs., Florence, SC

Jul. 1: Linda Oliver, 63 yrs., Liberty, TX

Sept. 13: Jordan Lee Reed, 5 yrs., Kotzebue, AK

Sept. 22: Daniel “Doe,” 2 yrs., Maricopa, AZ

Sept. 23: Samuel Zamudio, 2 yrs., San Bernardino, CA, criminal charges

Sept. 27: Jordan Ryan, 5 yrs., Baker, OR

Oct. 30: Nga Woodhead, 65 yrs., Pierce, WA

Nov. 1: Terry Douglass, 56 yrs., Baltimore, MD

Nov 5: Katherine Atkins, 25 yrs., Forsyth, NC

Nov. 8: Levi Watson, 4 yrs., White, AR

Nov. 21: Joan Kappen, 75 yrs., Hot Springs, AR

Dec. 7: Jah’niyah White, 2 yrs., Chicago, IL, ruled a homicide

Dec. 10: Mia Gibson, 2 mos., Franklin, OH

Dec. 13: Michal Nelson, 41 yrs., Valencia County, NM

Dec. 28: Thomas Vick, 64 yrs., Bullhead City, AZ


** Resident dogs are dogs, whether confined within a dwelling or otherwise, whose owners maintain them in ways that isolate them from regular, positive human interactions. The isolation and lack of exposure to the family unit results in the display of behaviors different from Family dogs. Family dogs are dogs whose owners keep them in or near the home and also integrate them into the family unit, so that the dogs learn appropriate behavior through interaction with humans on a regular basis in positive and humane ways.


31 December 2013



[1] Hoyert, D.L. & Xu, J. (2012). Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011. National Vital Statistics Reports, 61(6). Retrieved from:

[2] Patronek, G.J., Sacks, J.J., Delise, K.M., Cleary, D.V., & Marder, A.R. (2013). Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States (2000-2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243(12), 1726-1736. Retrieved from:


Click here for a PDF of this document.

2013 Preliminary Thumb

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