Miami-Dade County’s decades-long ban on pit bulls is set to end this fall under a new state law that lifts all local dog breed, size and weight restrictions.
“Many of these bully breeds that we see are well-behaved, house-trained animals — great representatives of dogs in general,” said Lisa Glunt, executive director of the Leon County Humane Society. “But so often they’re hit with a label that makes their living situation unlivable.”
“Bully breeds” refers to a variety of dogs, including Boxers, Bulldogs, Bullmastiffs along with terrier-type dogs, such as the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier. These dogs are often labeled “dangerous dogs” and targeted with breed restrictions, Glunt explained.
Miami-Dade County is the only local government in Florida that prohibits residents from owning pit bulls. That’s set to change on Oct. 1 under a new state law that prohibits all local government breed, weight and size restrictions, including those in effect at public housing authorities across the state.
Breed restrictions aren’t based on science, Glunt explains. A study published last year in the peer-reviewed journal Science shows that a dog’s breed is a poor predictor of how it will behave.
The most common reason that pet owners in Leon County give for surrendering their dogs is related to housing, Glunt said. “Breed restrictions on their homes, on their insurance or on their apartment complexes has kind of been a hindrance for some of the animals in our program.”
The new state law won’t apply to private landlords, homeowners’ associations, and insurance companies, but animal welfare advocates are hopeful that lifting restrictions in the public sector could influence private companies to change their pet policies.
“My hope would be that private landlords and insurance carriers might catch on and that it will open doors for more people to adopt and foster,” Glunt said.
More than 25,000 dogs were taken to shelters in Florida last year, according to data collected by Best Friends Animal Society, a nonprofit that works to reduce the number of cats and dogs killed in shelters. The nonprofit drafted the new law and pushed for it during this year’s legislative session, explains Kelsey Gilmore-Futeral, an attorney for the group.
“The number one reason that pets, specifically dogs, were being surrendered by their owners and sent to animal shelters were housing barriers,” Gilmore-Futeral said. “That led us to start thinking about how we can resolve some of those issues in Florida and help lead to more dogs being saved.”
Miami-Dade’s local ordinance allows the county to euthanize pit bulls based on their breed. Gilmore-Futeral says she hopes the legislation helps reduce breed restriction, ultimately saving more dogs.
Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance banning pit bulls in 1989. It allows the county to euthanize pit bulls based on their breed. Because Miami-Dade’s policy was already on the books, state lawmakers allowed it to stay in place in 1990 when they barred all other counties and cities from adopting similar ordinances.
The new statewide ban on breed restrictions will override Miami-Dade’s pit bull ordinance, and that could bring relief to shelters in neighboring Broward County, explained Emily Wood, the animal care director in Broward County.
“We might be getting animals surrendered to our shelters who people need to re-home, but are very afraid to take to a Miami-Dade County shelter because of the breed restrictions and the likelihood that they wouldn’t be able to re-home that animal within the county.”
Wood says Broward’s pet adoption program has exceeded its capacity of about 106 dogs with almost 150 dogs needing homes.
“The need is pretty high, and we’re very hopeful that limiting breed-specific regulations means that people can stay with their pets and fewer of them have to end up at the shelter.”
And while the law will make a big difference for shelters in South Florida, it might not provide as much relief elsewhere in the state.
Leon County Humane Society’s Executive Director Lisa Glunt says she doesn’t think lifting breed restrictions at public housing authorities will make a huge difference in the number of pets that need homes locally, but it will matter a lot to the owners who love them and get to keep their pets.
“When you look at individual cases and you really measure somebody’s quality of life and what that animal means to them, I think that’s where the impact is going to be felt very heavily.”
VALERIE CROWDER is a reporter with WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.