Ivan Gomez spent years in the U.S. Army, including a tour overseas during the Yugoslavia conflict in the early ’90s. Today he suffers from type 2 diabetes and other physical and mental ailments. To help him cope, he says, he keeps service animals. “My dogs are everything to me,” he says.
But last Thursday one of his dogs was suddenly taken away. Gomez was dropping off his 20-month-old daughter at daycare when he got a call from a neighbor alerting him that something was going on at his home. “[Animal Services],” he says, “went into my backyard, and they confiscated my dog.”
The reason: The confiscated dog, Zeus, is a pit bull. The breed is illegal in Miami-Dade County — the only county in the nation with such a ban — and any pit bulls found are subject to confiscation by animal control with a court order. But Gomez and local animal advocate Dahlia Canes protest that Zeus is also a certified service animal. Taking him away, they argue, is not only cruel but also likely in violation of another law: the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
“These morons,” Canes says. “I guess the ADA — they don’t think it applies to the Banana Republic.”
Miami-Dade County tells another story. Lilian Bohorquez, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Animal Control Services, says they confiscated Zeus only after a pattern of complaints was noted against the owner and his dogs. In June 2013, she says, the office received a call about pit bulls on Gomez’s property; when a control officer approached the home, Gomez refused to open the door. Then, in September of last year, Bohorquez says, there was another complaint, and Gomez again wouldn’t cooperate. In January, she says, the county received a report that one of the dogs had bitten someone; Gomez refused to cooperate yet again.
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“Based on the previous complaints and this complaint,” Bohorquez says, “we petitioned the court to remove the dogs.” The county was granted an order to confiscate two pit bulls, but when control services showed up, she says, “one of the dogs did not conform to pit bull characteristics,” so only Zeus was taken.
Gomez adamantly refutes the county’s version. He said it was absolutely untrue that he hadn't cooperated, and the “bite,” he says, was actually a minor scratch that resulted when his dogs got into a squabble with a neighbor’s pets. “My dogs have never bitten anybody.”
Bohorquez admits she wasn’t aware that Zeus was a certified service dog. Last Friday, after Zeus was confiscated, she said the county would conduct an investigation before deciding what to do with the canine. Gomez said he was preparing legal action and lobbying politicians, including Congressman Carlos Curbelo, to reform the county law. “They need to start respecting ADA laws," he said. "They’re not.”
The next day, Zeus was delivered home. Gomez was thrilled. He said he was grateful for the efforts of several people at animal control, although he was still considering legal action. “I just don’t want this to happen again,” he said.