In 1987, weeks after a 7-year-old girl barely survived a brutal attack by a neighbor's pit bull, Miami-Dade became the one of the first counties in the nation to ban the entire breed of dog.
The law remains on the books today, even as it's earned the scorn of everyone from the Humane Society to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
As we wrote last year, the ban is expensive, impossible to enforce and leads to the death of hundreds of dogs that probably aren't even pit bulls. In 2008 alone, Miami-Dade officials confiscated more than 800 dogs under the law and euthanized more than 650.
Now a filmmaker from Tennessee hopes to change that.
Libby R. Sherrill, a former HGTV producer turned indie director, has made a documentary called "Beyond the Myth" that looks at pit bull bans in Miami, Denver and Cincinnati and at recent attempts to draft a ban in San Francisco.
Her film premieres this Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Colony Theater in South Beach. Click through for a Q&A with Sherrill.
Tickets are still available for Saturday's premiere at the Colony Theater box office. In addition to the film, musician Kimber Cleveland will perform live a song written for the documentary.
The film includes interviews with several key players in Miami-Dade's pit bull ban, including Dahlia Canes, whose efforts to overturn the ban we wrote about last year.
New Times: How did this project come about?
Libby Sherril: I was in grad school three years ago (at the University of Tennessee) and I had to come up with a project instead of a thesis ... I was in a relationship with someone at the time who had two rescued pit bulls. They were the only pitbulls I had ever interacted with, andI pretty quickly learned about the misconceptions about them when a neighbor called and started complaining about me having pit bulls in the yard.
So I started doing more research, and I was shocked when I learned about these outright bans in Miami and elsewhere. After I graduated, I decided to turn the project into a full documentary.
Why did you focus on Miami's pit bull ban?
The film is pretty much shot in Miami, Denver, San Fran and Cincinatti, because Miami Denver and Cincinatti have bans and San Francisco was trying to pass one.
What did you learn about pit bull bans in the course of researching and filming?
Every city is different in terms of the statutes and how they're enforced, but it's the same as far as how it affects people. They lose their animals unjustly.
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Breed-specific legislation, regardless of the breed you focus on, is a flawed principal in concept. It's taking a complicated problem and trying to solve it with a simple solution. It's like throwing out a big net, you might catch some dangerous dogs, too, but a lot of innocent dogs are going to get caught up.
I'm not advocating that pit bulls are the most wonderful dogs ever. They're just dogs like any other. They can be victims of abuse like any breed. But these laws are affecting people in an emotional way. It's devastating having a family member taken away, and people think of their dogs as family members. You have no power over it.
Why did you choose Miami for your premiere? And what do you hope the film accomplishes here?
I chose Miami because it has the longest standing pitbull ban in the country. And I want people to know that you have rights under the Constitution. I hope with the film, residents will understand more about why these laws violate those rights, and why they have the right to try to change it.