Pit Bull Ban Won't Be Put To Popular Vote Any Time Soon
Photo by Taylor Wray
The current countywide ban on pit bulls seems safe from renewed scrutiny from Miami-Dade voters in the coming years. After an attempt to repeal the ban failed by a 63 percent to 37 percent margin in 2012, keeping the decades-old ban in place, activists say they've all but given up hope in changing the legislation.
"The people of Miami-Dade were trained for 20 years to fear anything with a big head and a tail that looks like a pit bull," said Dahlia Canes, the founder of the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation.
The defeat in 2012 was too hard to stomach, she explained, and that it made the likelihood of another crack at beating it down at the polls slim to none. No electoral repeal campaign is planned for 2014 or beyond, she said.
"It was total devastation. That's how I would describe the feeling in the pit bull community," Canes said of the loss.
The ordinance, passed in 1989 due to the public cry over the savage mauling of an 8-year-old, makes 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," according to a county website devoted to the matter.
Former Miami Marlins pitcher (before the most recent massive sell-off of the team) Mark Buehrle is one of the most prominent aggrieved former victims of the ban. During his time with the Fish, Buehrle had to live in Broward county and commute to Marlins Park because his family had a young American Staffordshire terrier. This sort of lifestyle-changing law is seen as damaging by some, and is not at all uncommon.
Courtesy of Ian Kupkee
Ian Kupkee is the lead veterinarian at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic. He went to vet school in Chicago and adopted a pit bull puppy that was given up to that institution due to health concerns. He helped nurse the dog back to health and became emotionally connected to it- so much so, that he adopted it.
Things were great until he came to Miami.
"I couldn't imagine bringing her to a city where she could be taken away from me and killed just because of her breed," Kupkee said. "Since my future job was here, I made the decision to let someone else take her. I think of that dog a lot."
If you are caught with a pit bull in the county, you must pay a $500 fine and remove the dog from Miami. Strays are picked up by animal control and euthanized five days later if no one claims them. This is particularly problematic in the face of a 2012 county commission action that made Miami-Dade a "Kill Free" shelter community.
"This mess with the pit bulls is our fault, not theirs," said Andrea Seamans, the director of a documentary on the issue titled Miami's Pit Fall. "We are the ones that abuse them, over breed them, fight them till their death. We are the reason why we can't have pit bulls in Miami-Dade County."
Kupkee, the vet, got actively involved in the 2012 repeal efforts and was shocked by the result of the election.
"I honestly thought that if we gave people the facts and showed them the science, they would make an educated, informed decision. I really thought I could help voters sort through years of fear, bias, and misinformation," Kupkee said. "My wife is a tough Italian from Jersey - it takes a lot to make her cry. When we got the news that the ban was staying put, we both cried."
With that raw emotion still lingering over the heads of many in the repeal community, pit bull advocates say they'll look for other ways to help the animals.
"I never say no, but I don't see it happening again," Canes said of an electoral repeal campaign.
Canes said that she hopes that the county commission repeals the ban outright, or that a legal action proves successful. "This fight is never ending," Canes said.
Send your story tips to Cultist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.