Miami’s longstanding ban against Pit Bull Terriers may soon be repealed after an August 14 vote.
The ban includes American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, “or any other dog that substantially conforms to any of these breeds’ characteristics,” according to the Miami-Dade County site.
The Miami-Dade County, Fla., ban was first initiated in 1989, after then 7-year-old Melissa Moreira was attacked by a dog who bore resemblance to a Pit Bull. Moreira’s face was severely injured, the skin torn back to the bone in places. Her injuries required eight reconstructive surgeries, the story of her attack making headlines across the country.
Supporters of the repeal are calling on voters to overturn a policy that punishes responsible dog owners and loving dogs.
Miami-Dade County District 4 Commissioner Sally Heyman called the 23-year-old ban on Pit Bull Terriers and their lookalikes “an emotional response to a travesty in 1989.” Commissioner Heyman is one of the leaders in the fight to overturn the county’s unfair Pit Bull policy. “Now it’s time for us to make an intelligent decision,” Heyman told The Miami Herald.
“There are well-tempered family dogs that are seized and killed each day. It’s horrible to imagine that you could come home and find your dog not being in your own home,” Pit Bull Crew volunteer Jeanette Jolly told Fox 4 News.
Miami’s push to end all forms of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) in their city corresponds with the city commission’s recent adoption of a “no-kill” goal, which aims to decrease the number of animals euthanized in their animal control facilities to ten percent or less.
Though Miami-Dade County is the only Southwest Florida county that currently has a no-Pit Bull policy in place, many apartment buildings, rental complexes, homeowners associations, and insurance companies will not allow dogs fitting the Pit Bull description. Many also target other so-called dangerous dog breeds like the Rottweiler, the German Shepherd, the American Bulldog, and the Akita.
In fact, breed bans are prohibited in the state of Florida; the Miami-Dade ban on Pit Bulls was grandfathered in after the state voted to outlaw BSL.
The Miami breed ban made headlines last winter when pitcher Mark Buehrle signed on with the Miami Marlins baseball team and was unable to live in Miami because of the Pit Bull ban. Buehrle and his wife Jamie had to move to neighboring Broward County in order to keep their American Staffordshire Terrier, Slater.
“It’s kind of ridiculous that because of the way a dog looks, people will ban it,” Mark Buehrle told The Miami Herald. “Every dog has good and bad, and that depends on the handlers.”
“It’s just discrimination,” says Jamie Buehrle, “there’s no other way around it, there’s no other way to describe it.”
But supporters of the breed ban — like Melissa Moreira, whose injuries prompted the ban over two decades ago — believe that it is a matter of public safety. Moreira, now a 31-year-old hospital administrator, still bears visible scars — both physical and emotional — and believes that the Pit Bull breed is to blame.
“I think that if I were bit by a Poodle, I wouldn’t have had to have eight major reconstructive plastic surgeries,” Moreira told SFGate.com.
Miami-Dade Animal Services Director Alex Munoz says that though nearly 3,000 dog bites are reported within the county each year, Pit Bulls are not necessarily behind the majority of the incidents.
“If you asked me if there was a predominance of Pit Bull bites versus other dogs, we don’t see a predominance of Pit Bull bites,” Munoz explained. “Some say it’s that the ban works. Some say it’s just because they’re no different from any other dog,” he added.
The official vote will take place on August 14, but early voting is available until August 11 at several locations. A list of polling places can be found on the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation site.