MIAMI – Margaret Pace Park has a strict leash-only policy, but many dog-owners disregard it. Now, the Miami Police Department has no choice but to give out citations after the sudden attack of a toddler.
Residents of the Edgewater neighborhood have been complaining about dogs being let to roam the park off-leash, warning that something bad was bound to happen.
Now, it turns out they were right.
On Monday, a 2-year-old and his father were attacked by an unleashed dog at Margaret Pace Park in broad daylight. While they did not sustain life-threatening injures, it could have been worse.
According to Edward Arzayus, his son, Santino, had just finished soccer practice at Margaret Pace Park at around 5 p.m. and was playing with his friends, when suddenly, the toddler was knocked to the ground by a Belgian Malinois that had a leash on — but wasn’t being held by its owner. “Monday started as a regular day for us,” says Arzayus. “We brought our son for his soccer practice right over here, with his friends, around five.”
Then, what would be any parent’s worse nightmare happened right before his eyes.
“I come back from a run luckily just in time to witness, or to live, this tragedy,” says the father, shaken up from the incident. “He [Santino] turns around to wait for his friends, and about three feet behind him is this Belgian Malinois, a dog breed, that just launches like a missile toward him.”
The dog lunged at the toddler, and its teeth gashed the boy’s face. Then, the dog lunged at the boy again. However, this time, Arzayus quickly stuck his hand in the way to protect his son and took the brunt of the bite. “The dog pushes him, so he misses, and my son falls to the ground, which gives me enough time as the dog is preparing for the second attack to just come and protect him — and it’s when I end up getting the worse of the bite of the dog in my hand right here.”
“His father intervened as any parent would and received quite a gash on one of his hands, and to me, that’s very disturbing to all of the neighbors in this area,” says Commander Freddie Cruz of City of Miami Police.
According to Arzayus, the substantial wound could’ve been dangerous, let alone life-threatening. “It was a basically one-inch deep wound barely missing the tendon in charge of mobility of the middle finger by less than a millimeter,” says the father. “When we got picked up by the rescue initially, he said, ‘Hey, your wound saved your kid’s life,’” says Arzayus. “Just imagine a one-inch deep wound that happened on my middle finger, right here on your neck — you’re going to bleed out. Or, on a kid, a kid’s face. How is that going to scar?”
Unfortunately, the attack is not the first at Margaret Pace Park. According to Biscayne Neighborhood Association President Andres Althabe, people rarely follow the leash law at the park, and they had been warning authorities that something like this might happen.
“We have seen enough confrontations between dogs,” says Althabe. “We have seen dogs killed, confrontations between owners. We saw this coming. We told them.”
Hopefully, Monday’s attack will be the last one at the popular Miami park. On Wednesday, Miami-Dade Animal Services and City of Miami Police officers were out wandering the park. “In some cases, it’s turned fatal,” says City of Miami Police Commander Cruz. “We don’t want to see any tragedies, so we partnered up with our friends at Miami-Dade Animal Services where they’re out here enforcing. We’re out here to partner up with them — they’re helping us out.”
According to officials, they had been giving out warnings to dog-owners disobeying the law, but now, they’re giving citations right away. Officials had also put numerous educational components in place. However, the warnings eventually have turned into enforcement.
“We don’t want to be the bad guys,” says Commander Cruz. “There’s lots of people that say, ‘Hey, my dog is just running around, he’s not doing anything,’ but I think at the end of the day, a tragedy can simply happen, even if it’s a small dog. It’s the rules, it’s the law, they’re put in place for a reason and we’re asking people to please cooperate.”
“The time for warnings has stopped here at the park,” says Leonal Romero of Miami-Dade Animal Services. “We gave out warnings last month, the police department has also been proactive in warning people, passing out flyers and giving warnings and educating people. Anyone who is seen with a dog off-leash will be cited here at the park.”
For owners looking to bring their dogs to Margaret Pace Park safely, there is a designated dog park area where the dogs can be off leash. However any time they are in the main part of the park, they are required to be on a leash, and under control — meaning someone is actively holding that leash. “We’ll be patrolling the park more often now, enforcing the rule a little more often,” says Romero.
“All dogs out in a common area, in a park, anywhere outside of your property, they need to be on a leash,” adds Romero. “They need to be under physical control of the owner.”
Fortunately, Arzayus and his son only required stitches and are expected to recover. However, it could’ve been a devastating incident. “This could have been a lot worse if I wouldn’t have been there, but definitely for somebody, a grandmother, a mom, a nanny, for anybody that doesn’t have the agility or the reflex to react, this would have been lethal.”
“They brought him [the dog] here, to a public park, where kids run freely, where you see grandmothers that help parents working watch their kids ‚where you see a mom with two kids, maybe a newborn in the stroller. Maybe next time they don’t have the ability to react as fast,” says Arzayus.
An investigation is now underway into the Belgian Malinois to determine whether the canine needs to be labeled as an aggressive dog, and whether the dog is at fault for the incident. If so, the dog can be declared dangerous, or aggressive, which restricts what the dog is allowed to do in the county.