In Miami-Dade, pit bulls remain illegal

Pit bulls might still be outlaws in Miami-Dade, but their fans aren’t through fighting to decriminalize them.

Tuesday’s vote to retain a 23-year-old ban “showed me that, not only do I need to continue to educate about the ‘pit bull type dog’ breed, but I also need to continue to stress the importance of responsible pet ownership,’’ said Jamie Buehrle, a marquee activist in the ban repeal effort, and the wife of Marlin’s pitcher Mark Buehrle.

“We, as a society, need to hold the person at the other end of the leash accountable, regardless of breed.’’

The Buehrle family settled in Broward after learning that their pit bull, Slater, couldn’t live in Miami-Dade.

Voters overwhelming opted to keep a 1989 ban on American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and high-content mixes of both.

The vote was 63.2 percent to 36.8 percent to keep the ban, adopted in 1989 after a dog thought to be a pit bull ripped apart the face of a Kendall 8-year-old.

Voters Patrick and Sonia Reid of West Kendall, who consider the dogs “vicious,’’ went with the majority.

“People don’t always do what they are supposed to do,’’ said Patrick Reid. “They are supposed to keep them secured.”

But on the flip side, graphic designer and mother Lily Sanchez voted for repeal.

“These dogs shouldn’t be discriminated. It’s up to the owners and breeders on how they train their dog," Sanchez said. “With a 23-year ban, it’s time to stop.”

Dahlia Canes, the Hialeah paralegal who founded the Miami Coalition Against Breed-Specific Legislation in 2008, the group that spearheaded the ban repeal, was disappointed but not surprised.

“We didn’t think it would pass,’’ said Canes. “This was handed to us [by the County Commission] whether we liked it or not and we had to take up the challenge. We only had a few months to reeducate an entire county that has been brainwashed for 23 years.’’

In February, a group of Miami-Dade commissioners short-circuited what appeared to be a winning effort in the state legislature to abolish the ban, calling it an attack on the county’s home rule authority.

Canes also said that putting the words “pit bull’’ and “dangerous dog’’ in the same sentence in the ballot question all but doomed the effort.

Ally Debi Day of No Kill Nation, which helped finance the repeal campaign, vowed that “the fight does not end here. Plans B, C and D will go into effect immediately. We will not let the pit bulls and their owners be forever victim to this discriminatory law.’’

No Kill Nation, an animal-welfare advocacy group, recently won a “no kill’’ pledge from both Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, where thousands of dogs and cats are euthanized every year for lack of adopters.

Reaching that goal, which the Miami-Dade Commission approved, is impossible as long as breed-specific legislation prevents county residents from adopting pit bulls.

Last year, 400 came into the Miami-Dade Animal Services Department shelter; more than half died there.

Animal Services Director Alex Munoz said in a statement that the department “respects the will of the electorate and its decision to not repeal the ‘pit bull’ ban...We want the public to know that while this ban continues, the department will continue to work with rescue organizations and adopters to find new lifelong homes for ‘pit bulls’ outside of Miami-Dade County.’’

Pit bull owners still face a $500 fine and the possibility of a court order to remove any dog that meets the “pit bull’’ description. That would be conforming to at least 70 percent of the features on a 15-point visual checklist for American Staffordshire terriers or Staffordshire bull terriers.

Repeal advocates waged a passionate grassroots campaign with the help of celebrities like the Buehrles and Shorty Rossi, from the reality show “Pit Boss.’’

They say that pit bull-type dogs suffer from unwarranted stereotyping as vicious killers with nearly supernatural powers of destruction, and that thousands live peacefully as family pets all over Miami-Dade despite the ban.

During the day Tuesday, repeal supporter posted pictures of their illegal dogs on the Coalition’s Facebook page with from-the-dog comments like: “I can’t wait to go to the dog park!’’ and “Waiting for the results so I can walk down the street for the first time in my 10 years of life. They say every dog has their day and today is my day!!’’

A woman named Jennifer, who didn’t want to be identified, said that she took the day off from work and voted with tears in her eyes because it’s such a personal issue. Her children have grown up with pit bulls, she said.

“They’re the best family dog you can possibly have,’’ she said. “I have one now that has been beaten up by cats three times.’’

Her veterinarian has no problem treating the dog – classified ‘’terrier mix’’ for county registration purposes —“because he understand it’s the deed, not the breed…Helen Keller’s dog was a pit bull!’’

Herald writers Stephanie Parra, Andrea Torres, Lidia Dinkova and Sabrina Rodriguez, contributed to this report.