On April 14, 1989, a law took effect that banned pit bull-type dogs from Miami-Dade County.
The ban followed a rash of attacks across the country, including one on a Kendall-area girl horribly bitten in the face.
Had the ban worked, Miami-Dade would have been pit bull-free years ago, since family pets grandfathered in under the law would be long dead.
Yet they’re everywhere, in neighborhoods both swanky and seedy. Last year, 400 entered the Miami-Dade Animal Services Department shelter, mainly strays.
Pit bulls are so common and, advocates say, normalized, that Miami-Dade commissioners overwhelming voted to allow a ban repeal on the Aug. 14 ballot.
Commissioner Sally Heyman, a repeal supporter, said the original measure was “an emotional response to a travesty in 1989...Now it’s time for us to make an intelligent decision.’’
There’s recent precedent. Earlier this year, the Ohio Legislature lifted a statewide ban. Ohio activist Jean Keating said that the story of NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s 51 illegal fighting dogs helped, by showing them as victims of uncaring humans, “not the perpetrators.’’
Only three were euthanized after federal agents raided Vick’s Virginia fighting operation in 2007. Most of the rest live with families or in sanctuaries, and several became therapy dogs.
That tale of redemption “enabled people to enter into a conversation, whereas before, when the ‘pit bull’ word came up, the door slammed shut,’’ said Keating.
After the door opened, lawmakers looked at the data, and “that was the key to turning the tide. We had people who were willing to put aside the emotional stuff and work together. ‘’
The data show the following:
• Breed-specific legislation (BSL), the umbrella term for targeted restrictions and bans, gives forbidden breeds a certain desperado cachet, so that exactly the wrong people want them.
“The rise of pit bull ownership among gang members and others in the late 1980s coincided with the first round of breed-specific legislation,’’ says an American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) position paper on breed-specific legislation. “If you outlaw a breed, then outlaws are attracted to that breed...to bolster their own self image as living outside of the rules of mainstream society.’’
Animal Services officials say that illegal dog fighting has waned. The department hasn’t handled a case in five years, said Operations and Enforcement chief, Kathleen Labrada. Even the pits that Animal Services picks up as strays are “sociable,’’ she said.
• Pit bulls are no more aggressive than other breeds. The South Florida Veterinary Medical Association recently issued a statement supporting the repeal that cited a 40-year American Veterinary Medical Association bite study released in April, which notes that “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 South Florida group also noted that the ban “increases the already-exorbitant euthanasia rate in our county shelter, because the banned breeds are unable to be adopted by Miami-Dade residents.’’