Miami-Dade's pit bull ban might finally be killed for good

When the Miami Marlins splashed $58 million last month to land ace Mark Buehrle, diehard Fish fans weren't the only ones celebrating. Pit bull advocates in the Florida's only county that bans the breed also did cartwheels, because Buehrle — who owns a pit bull named Slater and lamented publicly that he has to live in Broward to keep him — immediately became the 305's best-known pit bull backer.

Now, with bills in both the Florida House and Senate for the first time taking aim at Dade's 20-year-old prohibition, activists say Magic City pit bull owners might finally be able to come out of the shadows.

"It's going to happen," says Dahlia Canes, director of the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation. "We've never been this close before."

Miami's 1989 law against pit bulls is a case study in reactionary legislation gone wrong. Passed months after an 8-year-old girl was brutally mauled by a pit bull, the law was perhaps the first in the nation to outlaw a specific breed of dog.

The problem is that the law is almost impossible to enforce. There's no real way to test what is or isn't a pit bull, so Miami-Dade Animal Services ends up injecting barbiturates into the hearts of hundreds of dogs every year merely on the suspicion they're pit bulls. In the past year, 371 pit bulls have been taken in by Animal Services and 216 have been euthanized.

It's such an arbitrary rule that everyone from the Humane Society to the American Veterinary Medical Association have come out against it.

Two bills in Tallahassee — proposed by freshman Miami-area Rep. Carlos Trujillo and Tampa-area Sen. Jim Norman — would end the ban for good. The year after Miami passed its law, the state passed a rule prohibiting breed-specific bans but grandfathering in Miami's law. The bills would void the grandfather clause.

Still, support remains for the ban, including from Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier Soto, who helped pass the ban in '89 and who Canes says is lobbying for it to remain. Canes will be camped out in Tallahassee until the bills get traction.

"You're going to see a flood of residents moving back to Miami once we overturn this ban," she says. "Mark Buehrle isn't the only one staying away to protect his pit bulls."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink