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Miami-Dade could require online “dangerous dog” registry

Dogs that attack people or other pets could very soon face the same fate as human sex offenders: Their names and photos could be posted on a Miami-Dade County online registry for everyone to see.

Whether a yippy Chihuahua biting a mail carrier or a regal Great Dane taking a chunk out of a neighbor, whether on the pet owner’s property or at a park, the penalty would be the same: a $1,000 fine — and inclusion in the online animal hall of shame.

The proposed law is one of two up for consideration at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting that would tighten local animal regulations and expand on the county’s “dangerous dog” ordinance.

Commissioner Sally Heyman has proposed a bill that would require owners of dogs designated as “dangerous” to carry $50,000 worth of insurance, and allow law enforcement to confiscate dogs, an act that now falls to Animal Services workers.

Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz’s measure would go much further, requiring an online mug shot and biography of any dog deemed dangerous, and fines of $1,000 — double the current sanction — for anyone who trains their dogs to fight, or whose animals injure or kill other animals. The same fine would be enforced if a dog attacks, bites or chases a human in a “menacing fashion.”

If you abuse an animal, it will cost you $1,000. The dangerous-dog registry on the county’s Animal Services website would also include the circumstances of any attack and the owner’s address.

Diaz said the point of his ordinance, which would increase fines for repeat offenders to $2,000 or higher if further offenses occur, is to keep the public safe and informed, and to get pet owners to train their dogs responsibly.

“People abuse animals. Sometimes people acquire animals and don’t know if they’re vicious,” said Diaz, pointing out that it is the responsibility of the owner to train a dog properly or keep it away from others.

The county already has a dangerous-dog ordinance on the books. The new measure would beef it up by expanding the type of acts considered cruel to animals, creating new regulations for aggressive dogs, and placing new restrictions on irresponsible owners, Diaz said.

Under county law, a dog can be declared dangerous if it attacks another animal or a human without provocation and causes severe injury or death, or if it approaches a human in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack.

After a report is made, an Animal Services officer is required to visit an attack site while the dog is quarantined. Even if the victim chooses not to pursue a complaint, the investigator can initiate a case. A dog owner can appeal a “dangerous” designation to a county hearing officer, then to Circuit Court.

Current law also states that if a dog is declared dangerous, it must be sterilized, microchipped and confined if kept outdoors. Diaz’s bill would expand the term “confinement,” requiring a dangerous animal to be kept in a pen or structure that children cannot enter, like a four-sided cage with a secured top. If an animal is kept in the house, there must be clearly visible “dangerous dog” signs at each entrance to the home.

If a dog is a repeat offender, a judge could even decide to put it to death.

Animal Services staff members can remember only one court-ordered dog death in the past 12 years: Five years ago a judge ordered two American Bulldogs to be euthanized after they almost killed an 80-year-old man.

“It’s extremely rare,” said Animal Services Director Alex Muñoz.

The high-profile mauling of a waitress over the Labor Day weekend by a black Mastiff breed called a Cane Corso at the Van Dyke Café on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach is the type of incident that would fall under Diaz’s proposed ordinance, said Assistant County Attorney Dennis Kerbel, who wrote both of Tuesday’s bills.

Witnesses said that as Amy Calandrella bent down to give the Cane Corso named Olympia a bowl of water, Olympia bit her face, which required more than 300 stitches. Though Calandrella is considering legal action against the dog’s owner, she has not filed a complaint with the county. Muñoz said his department has initiated a dangerous-dog case nevertheless

Kerbel said Diaz’s proposed ordinance, if adopted, would apply retroactively, meaning a photo of the Cane Corso, her information and a brief report of the attack at Van Dyke would be posted on the county’s dangerous-dog website. The owner also would be likely to face a $1,000 fine, he said.

The proposed law has caused some concern among advocates who see a big difference between an aggressive animal and one that is provoked. Michael Rosenberg, president and founder of Pets’ Trust Miami, an agency created to save animals, said he has no issue with a website providing information about a dog that “bites out of the blue.”

“But if it’s taunted, it’s not necessarily a dangerous dog,” said Rosenberg. “Humans have a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law; dogs should have it, too.”

Dangerous-dog registries are not uncommon. Orange, Seminole and Charlotte counties have online sites similar to the one proposed for Miami-Dade. Some cities have created dog hearing boards that determine penalties and punishment.

Muñoz expects his department to receive close to 100 dangerous-dog complaints a year. The ordinance would be “in place to protect both people and pets. This just makes [the current ordinance] stronger, and educates the public,” he said.