Supporting justice in dog ownership! By: Aja Brown

Some of you may know, I am a (now) former member of Baltimore City’s “Animal Matters Hearing Panel.” (AHP) For over five years, I helped to decide the safety of dogs in their communities after dog bite incidents. The AHP hears cases of these incidents, prepared by animal control, and has the ability to determine if a dog is not at fault for the incident, is dangerous but can go home with corrective actions to ensure the community’s safety, or if the dog is vicious and must be humanely euthanized.

I would like to tell you why I submitted my resignation to this panel, which provides a useful service that not all cities/counties have available to it’s citizens.

In the past, all decisions that the AHP made were able to be appealed. The process WAS similar to that of a court case: the first appeal went to the health commissioner, and any second appeals would go to the District Court of Baltimore City. Thanks to City Council Bill 14-0442 that was passed, the ability for judicial review has since been removed.

Why is this important? Well, in Maryland, dogs are your property. The AHP has the ability to make decisions with regard to your property and it’s disposition. (Read: your dog can be taken, and euthanized.) While vicious dog hearings must be, not all decisions made by panel members must be made in a group. Certain decisions, such as your ability to own an animal in Baltimore (if in question) can be made by a single panel member. Panel members are appointed by the health commissioner, and not all members have the same amount of animal expertise. The AHP experience level that existed yesterday, may not exist tomorrow. While I believe that the decisions made during my time on the panel were fair and just, that doesn’t mean that I am never wrong.

As it stands now, if the panel is wrong and an individual wants to appeal the decision, it goes to the health commissioner. The very person that appointed the panel in the first place. A person that, with all of her experience, is not someone adept at interpreting animal behavior, or the law. From there? The end. Judicial review is gone. Justice is inhibited. The way the law is now written, nothing more can be done. As fair and correct as I may think my decision making is, taking away another person’s rights and removing due process is not something I will support. This is the reason I have resigned from the City’s AHP.

 

Questions? Comments? Please share your thoughts. . .

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