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Court Was Unfair to Pit Bull, Appeal Finds

(CN) - A pit bull terrier that fought back when a German shepherd attacked it should not have been labeled a "dangerous dog," a New York appeals court ruled.

The fight broke out while Diana Shanks and her daughter were walking the pitbull, Ghost, down a street in Oneonta, N.Y., in November 2011.

When Ranger, a German shepherd, spotted Ghost, it broke free of the leash chaining it to its owner's porch railing.

Shanks held onto Ghost's leash during the fight and called for help.

Ranger's owner, Ana-Marie Blasetti, testified that she came out of her house to find Ghost holding Ranger by the throat.

A neighbor managed to separate the dogs by dousing them with two bowls of water.

Ghost left the fight with some ripped toenails, while Ranger's throat was punctured to the point that his carotid artery and jugular vein were exposed.

Shanks, who had been pregnant at the time of the incident, suffered a miscarriage later that evening.

Blasetti argued that Ghost is dangerous by virtue of being a pit bull, a breed that "has a history of being violent."

The town court agreed, finding Ghost to be a "dangerous dog" that must be muzzled and kept on a short leash in public. It said dogs are "by nature stupid and aggressive," and that Ghost was an "aggressive, powerful and vicious" pit bull.

In a further slap at Shanks, the court said her decision to walk Ghost while pregnant "shows a lack of judgment."

In addition to the "dangerous dog" finding, the court also ordered Shanks to pay 65 percent of the combined veterinary bills.

Shanks appealed, but the Otsego County Court also ordered that Ghost should be neutered, spayed or microchipped.

Ghost's owner finally found relief with the Appellate Division's Albany-based Third Judicial Department.

It noted that the town court made no mention of Ranger's breed even though German shepherds are also "regularly characterized as ... aggressive."

"We find insufficient evidence to sustain a finding that Ghost is a dangerous dog within the meaning of the Agriculture and Markets Law," Justice Edward Spain wrote for a four-member panel. "A dangerous dog is defined as 'a dog that without justification attacks a person, companion animal or domestic animal and causes physical injury or death or behaves in a manner which a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious injury or death to one or more companion animals.'" (Emphasis in original.)

"Given the undisputed evidence adduced at the hearing, the only conclusion that may be reached is that Ghost injured Ranger in defense of himself and his owner and, thus, his actions were justified," Spain added.

The appellate panel also chided the town court for its findings about Shanks' actions while pregnant.

"Even were there sufficient evidence to sustain the dangerous dog finding, based on Town Court's admitted general opinions about dogs and its specific opinion about respondent, we would be compelled to reverse this decision based on judicial bias," Spain wrote.

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