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State proposal to allow dangerous-dog ban stirs debate

A BILL TO BAN DANGEROUS BREEDS IS GOING THROUGH THE LEGISLATURE, BUT EXPERTS DISAGREE ON ITS NECESSITY

Posted on Sat, Mar. 08, 2008

By ROBERTO SANTIAGO
[email protected]

A new bill making its way through the Legislature that would allow
cities to ban any breed of dog they deem dangerous to their
communities has two of the nation's largest animal rights groups
taking opposite sides.

The bill, sponsored by Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, would give cities
the right to ban breeds responsible for a large number of attacks,
just as pit bulls have been banned in Miami-Dade for the past 20 years.

HB 101 would amend the state's existing ''Damage by Dogs'' statute,
which limits municipalities from banning specific breeds, but holds
owners liable for injuries and damage caused by their dogs.

''My primary concern is for the safety of other people and their pets,
who have to deal with dangerous dogs on the streets, in dog parks, and
even outside of their own homes,'' Thurston said.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals supports the bill, which
if approved by the Legislature, could go into effect July 1.

Stephanie Bell, senior cruelty caseworker for PETA, said the bill
would help keep breeds of dogs out of the hands of dog owners who
deliberately raise their dog to be vicious for home defense or blood
sports.

But The Humane Society of the United States, the Florida Animal
Control Association and the American Veterinary Association say that
an individual dog's behavior -- not the breed -- is the real issue to
tackle.

''You know what the problem is? We have effective dangerous dog laws
on the books that are not being enforced -- that is the real
problem,'' said Jennifer Hobgood, Florida state director for The
Humane Society of the United States.

Hobgood said banning breeds does not work and she points to Miami-Dade
County as an example.

''All banning does is create a great deal of suffering among
responsible dog owners who have to give up their well-behaved pets,''
Hobgood said.

Adam Goldfarb, issue specialist for The Humane Society of the United
States, said that although Miami-Dade has a ban, the county cannot
provide statistical evidence that there are fewer pit bull bites as a
result.

Counties in South Florida have only recently started to keep track of
dog attacks. Dr. Sara Pizano, director of Miami-Dade Animal Services,
said it's not known whether the county's 20-year pit bull ban has been
successful because the department has been compiling bite statistics
only since 2005.

In Broward, 616 dog bites were reported to county animal control in
2007. In Miami-Dade, that number was 992. Terrier mixes are the No. 1
dangerous dog, and pit bulls (which include the American pit bull
terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, and the Staffordshire
terrier) were the top dangerous dog in Broward.

Thurston believes the bill has a good chance of passing. And even if
it is defeated, he believes the dialogue generated will result in a
some middle-ground solution.

''In situations where targeting the individual owner is not enough to
ensure public safety, individual cities should have the right to
target certain problem breeds,'' said Thurston, who says a ban should
be a last resort after leash and muzzling laws, fines, and even
arrests, have proved futile.

Adam Goldberg, who was attacked and bitten by a Labrador retriever
last September, said more needs to be done to enforce laws against
dangerous dogs and the owners who can't control them.

The Labrador attacked Goldberg's leg, turning it into a bloody mess
that became infected.

It took Goldberg seven weeks to walk without feeling any pain.

What's worse, weeks later, one of his girlfriend's two bichons
required 10 stitches after it was mauled by a bull terrier.

''There are some breeds of dogs that are inherently dangerous -- bred
for hunting, security, and illegal fighting -- that are owned by
people who cannot control and socialize them,'' said Goldberg, of
Hollywood.

Goldberg contacted police and animal services after the dog attacks,
and said both agencies did nothing beyond issuing verbal warnings to
the owners.

''If there are no serious penalties -- heavy fines, jail time, there
won't be any change,'' said Robin Frydman, Goldberg's girlfriend.

But a number of animal rights organizations, which oppose the bill,
say the bill skirts the real issue: making irresponsible dog owners
accountable for their actions.

''Banning a breed does nothing to solve dangerous-dog problems. All it
does is target well-behaved dogs owned by good dog owners -- who lose
their pets due to this kind of legislation, '' said Dr. Welch Agnew,
president of the Florida Animal Control Association, the statewide
organization that deals with dangerous dogs.

He added that enforcing such a ban would be ineffective and would take
away from more important resources, such as neutering and medical care
for animals.

It would also require the county to add another expense: DNA testing
to prove that a targeted dog is indeed that banned breed. Agnew, a
veterinarian, said breed cannot be determined by appearance alone.

Pizano said that if Thurston's bill passed, conceiveably terriers,
Labradors, or shepherd mixes could be banned if Miami-Dade County
approved such a measure.

Capt. Dave Walesky, field operations manager, Palm Beach County Animal
Care and Control, said shepherd mix, Lab mix, and chow mix breeds are
the No. 1 dangerous dogs in Palm Beach.

His department is compiling 2007 statistics.

''Pit bulls are not a problem here, and most of their attacks are
against another dog. They only bite humans who are trying to defend
their dog,'' said Walesky, who opposes the bill.

Weston resident Linda Blair knows firsthand about such dangers.

Last December, Beauty, her beloved greyhound, was attacked and nearly
killed by a pit bull when she took Beauty to Barkham at Markham dog
park in Sunrise.

As a dog owner, Blair is undecided when it comes to supporting
Thurston's bill, but agrees something has to be done to protect the
public and other pets from dangerous dogs.

''I am not a big believer in banning, but in this case, I don't
know,'' Blair said.

Edna Elijah, president of the Lauderdale Manors Homeowners
Association, who has worked with Thurston in promoting the bill, said
there would not be a dangerous dog problem if people were simply
responsible.

''Things are getting worse. Something has to be done -- and now. What
are we going to do? Wait till a child is killed by a dog? Is that what
it is going to take?'' she said.
Miami Herald staff writer Laura Figueroa, in Tallahassee, contributed
to this report.

http://www.miamiherald.com/458/story/448720.html

crossposted from bsl workshop
 

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Judy what do i do? I know write, but to exactly who?!
 

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