MD: PG County ordered to return pit bull service dog to owner; Judge rules ADA trumps county ordinance

Pit bull advocates have won a big battle in Maryland.  Last week, a Circuit Court judge for the Seventh Judicial Circuit ordered Prince George’s County, which has banned “pit bulls” since 1997, to return a disabled woman’s service dog to her. In addition, the judge ruled that the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) takes precedence over the county’s ban on pit bulls.

This past spring, animal control officers told Daniella Guglieimi, who is partially paralyzed from childhood polio, and has relied on her dog, Storm, to help her with ordinary life activities, such as getting up from a sitting position and walking, that she had two days to send her dog elsewhere.  After months of Storm being housed in various foster facilities, and Guglieimi suffering injuries from falls during this period away from her service animal, they have now been reunited.

According to E. Anne Benaroya, director of the Maryland Animal Law Center and the attorney representing Guglieimi, she and Storm face some licensing issues, but they are now back together.  “Every disabled person in P.G. County who has a service animal, bona fide, is entitled to keep that dog, whether it’s a pit bull or any other. And that is a big deal.” said Benaroya.

With respect to the significant problems associated with the Prince George’s County ban in general, a Vicious Animal Legislation Task Force was assembled in 2003 to study the ordinance.  The task force found that enforcement of the county’s pit bull ban was costly and ineffective, and recommended repealing the breed ban and putting in its place stronger penalties for irresponsible owners and educational programs to promote responsible ownership.  Despite this, the County has continued to enforce its inherently flawed law.  In doing so, stories have abounded of family pets taken and, in many cases destroyed, for no reason other than their breed.

So, even though Guglieimi and Storm have been reunited, the fight to end Prince George’s County’s breed ban in its entirety is just beginning.  Her attorney has filed papers in the case asking that Prince George’s County be enjoined from enforcing any part of its pit ball ban, not just from enforcing it against residents with service dogs.  In addition, they are asking the Maryland General Assembly to take up pit bull friendly legislation during the next legislative session.

We are certainly extremely happy that Ms. Guglieimi has been reunited with her much needed helper and beloved companion, Storm, and we look forward to watching this case unfold and (hopefully) a BSL-free Prince George’s County in the near future.

Congratulations to Ms. Guglieimi and her legal team on their big win!

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