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Miami-Dade Commission signs off on online dangerous-dog registry

Miami-Dade County commissioners voted Tuesday to display pictures of menacing canines online, and doubled the fines for dog attacks on humans and other animals, and for training a dog to fight.

Apart from the dangerous-dog registry, which will post the dog’s photo and its owner’s address online, many sanctions against wayward dogs are already available under county and state law — even if they are not always enforced.

Voting 9-1, commissioners doubled to $1,000 the fines for dog attacks and for inflicting cruel acts on dogs. For the first time, they imposed a $1,000 fine for teaching a dog to fight.

Animal Services Director Alex Muñoz said he expects the county to have about 100 dangerous dogs registered online and available for public view each year — the same number listed in county records that are currently available only through a public-records request.

“Except for the [online] registry, we are actually capturing this information today,” Muñoz told commissioners during Tuesday’s hour-long discussion on the ordinance, sponsored by Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz. Only Commissioner Lynda Bell voted against the measure, expressing concerns about the cash-strapped department taking on more work.

Muñoz thanked commissioners for adding an officer to his staff this year and said he did not expect many additional expenses, other than the minor cost of creating the website for the dangerous-dog registry. He did not say the department is understaffed, but Kathy Labrada, chief of operations and enforcement for animal services, said her six investigators are trying to get to a backlog of calls.

Asked whether the department, which has a $10 million annual budget, has enough staff, Labrada told a reporter: “I would say no.”

Also Tuesday, the board voted 10-2 for a similar bill sponsored by Commissioner Sally Heyman that allows police officers to confiscate dogs they consider dangerous. Bell and Chairman Joe Martinez voted against it. Heyman removed a provision that would have forced owners to purchase $50,000 worth of insurance if a dog is declared dangerous, saying it was too controversial.

Labrada said she believes the dangerous-dog ordinances were set in motion because some commissioners expected that the county’s pit-bull ban would be overturned by the public last August. Voters overwhelmingly chose to keep it in place.

A Labor Day weekend incident involving Olympia, a 100-plus-pound black mastiff-breed cane corso that severely bit a waitress at the Van Dyke Café on Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road, illustrates the difficulty county investigators could encounter in chasing down what they believe to be a dangerous dog.

Witnesses said the waitress, Amy Calandrella, bent down to give Olympia a bowl of water, and the dog attacked, inflicting bites around Calandrella’s lips that required 300 stitches.

Labrada said Animal Services investigator Keith Pinnock dropped a packet off at Calandrella’s home Sept. 30, including an affidavit seeking her explanation of how the incident occurred. If she doesn’t return it, Labrada said, it won’t matter; the agency has enough information through police and doctor reports to move forward with labeling Olympia a dangerous dog.

Animal Services will give Calandrella 30 days to respond. Even if she is not heard from, Olympia’s owners will be given notice of the designation, and will have seven days to appeal.

If Olympia is deemed dangerous, the owners will be fined a minimum of $500 for the attack — the fine in effect at the time of the attack — and possibly more for other violations, Labrada said.

Olympia will have to be sterilized, microchipped and muzzled when taken for walks. — all existing requirements under county code or state statute. If her owners don’t abide, state statute allows law enforcement to seize the animal, or Animal Services could seek a court order.

The dog also would be placed on the online dangerous dog registry, though her owner’s address might be exempt because she was married to a law enforcement officer whose identifying information was protected.

Commissioners also gave unanimous approval to paying a tenant named Wright Way Farms $225,000 for evicting it from Homestead General Aviation Airport without seeking a court ruling.