Pit bull ruling outrages rescue groups, owners


(CBS News) A court decision on pit bulls has outraged many dog owners and rescue groups while some parents and victims are cheering. Maryland's highest court ruled last week that pit bulls are "inherently dangerous." But now, there's concern for what legal implications could be in the rest of the country.

In Maryland now, if your pit bull bites, negligence no longer needs to be proven. Under the ruling, not just pit bull owners, but landlords who have the dogs living on their property are now liable for their actions. The decision stemmed from a series of cases where individuals were violently attacked.

Court records state, "Over the last 13 years, there have been no less than seven instances of serious maulings by pit bulls upon Maryland residents resulting in either serious injuries or death..."

Ten-year-old Dominick Solesky narrowly survived a pit bull attack in 2007. Tony Solesky, Dominick's father, said the dog "tackled him, bit him the face, drug him to the ground, and ultimately, it got him in the femoral artery."

Ryan Zimmerman says his three-legged friend Zelda hardly fits the label she's been branded with by Maryland's top court. Zimmerman told CBS News his dog is not "inherently dangerous" - she's actually inherently shy. He adopted Zelda last summer after she was found under a porch, neglected with a broken and infected leg.

He's worried last week's ruling puts an unfair burden on well-intentioned dog owners like him. Zimmerman said, "It can make a number of landlords charge more for rent for the higher costs of the insurance, and also for a lot of the pits that won't be able to be adopted, a lot of them will probably be put down."

Colleen Lynn, who runs an education website about dangerous dogs called DogsBite.org, wrote a brief to the Maryland court supporting the decision. She told CBS News, "When they attack, they don't stop. This is what ends up killing people. Pit bulls are the top killing dog breed. "

Lynn hopes other states will follow Maryland's lead. The Maryland SPCA hopes they don't. They have several pit bulls waiting to be adopted, and they say it's nurture, not nature that gives the breed a bad reputation.

Cheryl Bernard Smith, of the Maryland SPCA, said, "Every animal is an individual, so to say that all pit bulls are inherently dangerous is absolutely untrue."

Now, dog rescue groups fear this decision will overwhelm their shelters and lead to more animals being put down. They're seeking help from state lawmakers and are vowing to fight.

Watch Whit Johnson's full report and discussion on "CBS This Morning" about pit bulls in the video above.