Pit bull ban continues in Miami-Dade County despite opposition from South Florida Veterinary Medical Association

Voters overwhelmingly uphold ban; county acted in July to make animal services 'no kill.'
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Oct 01, 2012

Voters in Florida's Miami-Dade County voted 63 percent to 37 percent to uphold the county's ban on pit bull and pit bull-related breeds despite the efforts of supporters of a repeal, including the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation (MCABSL) and the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association (SFVMA).

MCABSL founder Dahlia Canes says she wasn't surprised by the results of the vote. She says repeal supporters were working against a deep-rooted stigma associated with dogs that resemble pit bulls. "Then throw in the confusing ballot language and the words 'pit bull' next to 'dangerous' and you have a recipe for one hell of an uphill battle," she told DVM Newsmagazine.

The ballot read, "Shall the ordinance repealing the county's 23-year-old law prohibiting the ownership of pit bulls as a dangerous breed of dogs become effective?"

Miami-Dade is the only county in Florida with a breed-specific ban. State legislation was passed in 1990 prohibiting regulation by breed, but Miami-Dade was exempted since it passed its ban in 1989. That was the year resident Melissa Moreira, then 8, was attacked outside her home by a neighbor's pit bull. The resulting "pit bull law" made it illegal to own or keep American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers or any other dog that "substantially conforms to any of these breeds' characteristics."

The county's Animal Services department is responsible for evaluating breeds for residents, taking reports of pit bull violations and conducting investigations. Pit bulls picked up by Animal Services as strays that are not registered or licensed are held for five days and then euthanized. Pit bulls picked up with identification or lost pets that are registered are held for five days and the owner is sent a citation. The owner is given the opportunity to remove the dog from Miami-Dade County.

Supporters of a repeal often cite an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) report titled "Welfare Implications of the Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention," issued April 17, 2012. According to the report, a range of studies has found that the breeds most likely to be aggressive toward people are small to medium-sized dogs, but because of their size they are less likely to inflict serious injury. What's more, controlled studies have not identified pit bull-type dogs "as disproportionately dangerous." The report concludes, "While some study authors suggest limiting ownership of specific breeds might reduce injuries, it has not been demonstrated that breed-specific bans affect the rate or severity of bite injuries occurring in the community." The report suggests that a more effective strategy is to actively enforce dog control ordinances.

In addition to the continued ban on pit bulls, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners voted July 3 to designate its Animal Services shelter a "no-kill" facility. According to a county release, Animal Services must maintain a 90 percent or better rate of animals saved. Regarding how the continued ban will correlate with the county's new no-kill status, Animal Services spokeswoman Kathleen Labrada says only that the department will continue to offer pit bulls for adoption or rescue to residents outside the county—without addressing the shelter's prior practice of euthanizing unlicensed and unregistered pit bulls.

SFVMA President James Anderson, DVM, MBA, says Miami-area veterinarians are disappointed with the results of the vote and confirms that the SFVMA is looking into the implications of the no-kill status in relation to the ban.