It will be a long time before a majority of Miami-Dade residents will view the group of dogs defined as pit bulls as cute and docile as their advocates make them out to be. Some horrific dog attacks in the late 1980s led the county to impose a ban on dogs that come under the umbrella, fairly or not, of “pit bull.”
However, the ban has not eliminated these dogs, often an ambiguous mix of breeds, from Miami-Dade County. They are all over the place, some the low-key pets of loving dog owners, others trained to be security dogs, others owned to give their masters that “bad-boy” image. And rounding them up is way down on the Animal Services Department’s to-do list. Then there’s this: In 2007, Broward County, which does not have a pit-bull ban, reported that Labrador retrievers, which score much higher on the cute-and-cuddly meter, ranked second to pit bulls in the number of biting incidents.
So, Miami-Dade County’s 23-year-old pit-bull ban has not worked well, but searing images of maimed and bloodied attack victims understandably still loom large among residents. Should county residents vote to repeal the ban on pit bulls?
We say yes, but that should not be the end of the issue. Rather, it should be the beginning of enacting smarter legislation that helps prevent pit-bull attacks, that identifies dangerous dogs in a community no matter their breed and that resolutely punishes owners who are negligent, abusive or who tether their dogs outside on a chain — key indicators as to whether a dog, any dog, is prone to attack. There are already laws on the books that go after tethering.
As Herald writer Elinor Brecher reported Sunday in Miami-Dade set to vote on repeal of pit bull ban, if someone reports a pit bull, investigators evaluate the dog. “If it conforms to 70 percent of American Staffordshire or Staffordshire Bull breed characteristics, it’s considered illegal, and the owner gets a warning to remove the dog from the county within 48 hours, though in some cases, owners get 30 days.”
But unless there is another complaint, Animal Services investigators do not return to the property, usually calling only to ask the owners for faxed proof that the dog has been moved. If not, the owner faces a $500 fine and gets 20 days to appeal, with a stay of enforcement. After that, the dog can be seized as the case crawls through the courts. That’s a waste of time and money for a dog that likely hasn’t attacked anyone. Plus, such cases are few and far between.
Miami-Dade can look to other cities that have enacted better targeted laws: Little Rock, Ark., requires pit bulls to be spayed or neutered, registered and microchipped. In addition, regardless of the breed, dogs are not allowed to be chained up outside. San Francisco, too, requires pit bulls to be sterilized. Unneutered males are the most prone to attack. There is no mandatory spay-or-neuter law, though dogs adopted from Animal Services are sterilized before being handed over to new owners. The point is to prevent attacks on children and adults, not just to act after the fact.
The Miami Coalition Against Breed-Specific Legislation has persuaded county commissioners to discuss, in September, strengthening the county’s dangerous-dog ordinance; the creation of a dangerous-dog registry and toughening fines against irresponsible owners. Miami-Dade County can refine this ban and crack down on all dangerous dogs, no matter their breed. The Herald recommends a vote of YES on Question No. 500, to repeal the pit-bull ban.