Editor's Note: Laura Moss is a writer for Mother Nature Network.
Miami-Dade County voters will decide on August 14 whether to repeal a ban on pit bulls that was passed in 1989 after the mauling of a 7-year-old girl.
Animal advocates say the ban was passed out of fear and emotion after Melissa Moreira was attacked. However, Moreira, now 31, wants the ordinance to remain on the books. Moreira's face still bears scars from the attack.
Under the current law, owners of American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and bull terriers face a $500 fine and court action to force the removal of the dog from the county.
Pit bulls are supposed to be identified based on physical descriptions from the American Kennel Club, including traits like short coats, broad chests and tails that taper to a point — details that Kathy Labrada, enforcement manager for Miami-Dade Animal Services, says are “subjective.” In fact, a court ruled in 2009 that the county’s law was vague and unenforceable.
If the ban is repealed, the county will join the rest of Florida, which prohibits breed-specific laws. Miami-Dade’s pit bull ban was grandfathered in.
The county commission put the measure on the ballot after state lawmakers rejected a bill that would have outlawed breed-specific legislation in Florida. Now, pit bull advocates like Miami Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle are hoping to overturn the ban.
Buehrle made headlines in December when he was acquired by the Miami Marlins and his family had to buy a home in neighboring Broward County so they could keep their pit bull, Slater. Since then, Buehrle and his wife, Jamie — who says the law is “discrimination” — have been working to educate people about pit bulls and the upcoming vote.
About 3,000 dog bites are reported to Miami-Dade Animal Services annually, but the agency doesn’t break the data down by breed and there’s no national agency that collects dog bite information.
Although there are several websites dedicated to breed-specific legislation and the dangers of pit bulls, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals all oppose such laws.
A recent AVMA report says that although pit bulls’ size and strength make their attacks more dangerous, this also applies to other large dogs. The organization goes on to say that pit bulls are no more prone to biting than other breeds, including German shepherds, Rottweilers, St. Bernards, Jack Russell terriers and collies.
"Restrictions placed on a specific breed fail to address the larger problems of abuse, aggression training and irresponsible dog ownership,” according to a statement from the Humane Society. "Breed alone is not an adequate indicator of a dog's propensity to bite."
The Humane Society argues for responsible dog-keeping laws in place of breed-specific legislation.