Miami dog lovers vote today to end 23 year-old pit bull ban

For the first time since 1989, Miami voters have a chance today to strike down one of the nation’s longest-standing breed discrimination laws.

Animal advocates and animal rights organizations have joined with a united voice in calling for the repeal of the current legislation, which designates pit bull-type dogs as inherently dangerous. The controversial ban, which is the only one of its kind in Florida, was imposed after a dog identified as a “pit bull” attacked then-8 yr-old Melissa Moreira.

Moreira and her family, were instrumental in getting the ban passed in Miami-Dade, and are among those calling for the current legislation to stand. “I am always self-conscious, always insecure because of the scars,” said Moreira.

At the time, the decision was hailed by many as an appropriate solution to a perceived public safety problem. However, since then, a growing body of research has shifted the focus from the dogs, to where critics of the legislation believe it should be: dog owners.

Elderbull and certified therapy dog, Sarge Wolf-Stringer was beloved by many. In Miami-Dade County, he would have been killed for his appearance.

After Marlins player Mark Buehrle and his wife were forced to settle in Broward County so they could keep their family pet, a pit bull named Slater, the Florida legislature recently tried – and failed – to erase Miami-Dade’s law. Last May, Miami-Dade commissioners voted 11-1 to end the ban if voters approve today’s ballot.

The commissioners came to their decision after hearing from a number of experts in animal welfare and animal care, including Miami-Dade enforcement manager for Miami-Dade Animal Services, Kathy Labrada.

Labrada pointed out that the current legislation relies on a designated set of physical characteristics to identify a dog as a “pit bull”, and Labrada says, “This checklist is subjective.”

It is often difficult to get reliable statistics on the number of dog bites that occur in an area. Dog bites that occur in the home are under-reported, and no government agency keeps track of the dog bites reported nationally. Director of Miami-Dade animal services, Alex Munoz, said roughly 3,000 dog bites are reported to the county each year, but the agency doesn’t break down the data by breed.

“If you asked me if there was a predominance of pit bull bites versus other dogs, we don’t see a predominance of pit bull bites,” Munoz said. “Some say it’s that the ban works. Some say it’s just because they’re no different from any other dog.”

Other experts concur. In a recent report on dog-bite prevention, published in April, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the nation’s leading veterinary organization, concluded: “Owners of pit bull-type dogs deal with a strong breed stigma. However, controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous.”

The report points out that pit bulls are not more prone to biting than breeds such as German shepherds, Rottweilers, Jack Russell terriers and even collies and St. Bernards, but some are made dangerous by owners who abuse them or use them for fighting. A pit bull’s size and strength can make its attacks more lethal, but that also applies to other large dogs, the report said.

The AVMA concluded that because of the lack of solid data, “it is difficult to support the targeting of this breed as a basis for dog bite prevention.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, offering this statement: “There is currently no accurate way to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill.”

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) also opposes breed-specific legislation, arguing that such legislation is discriminatory and costly to taxpayers, and results in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of innocent dogs.

In Miami-Dade County, owning American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers or any dog “substantially conforming” to any of the checklist of characteristics has been illegal since 1989. A dog in the county shelter that is identified as meeting these characteristics – even if there is no DNA proof of “pit bull” genes – is only eligible for adoption outside Miami-Dade county boundaries. If the dog is not adopted, it is euthanized, regardless of whether it has any bite history at all.

This means that any “pit bull” that winds up in the county shelter, even the most gentle family pet, faces almost certain death.

The HSUS points out that killing innocent dogs fails to address the real issues of irresponsible dog ownership, animal abuse, and public safety.

According to a statement from HSUS, “Breed alone is not an adequate indicator of a dog’s propensity to bite… Restrictions placed on a specific breed fail to address the larger problems of abuse, aggression training and irresponsible dog ownership.

HSUS proposes that public funds would be better spent promoting responsible dog ownership, rather than investing in largely unenforceable breed discrimination laws.

To overturn the ban Miami-Dade voters are urged to vote “Yes” on County Question “Repeal of County’s Pit Bull Dog Ban”, on line 500

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