Not your ordinary Pittie Party

Pit bulls: Bad dogs? Or bad owners?

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In the 23 years that have passed, since Miami-Dade County banned residents from owning pit bulls, the county has seized and euthanized thousands of pit bull type dogs.

In February of 1989, a pit bull attacked a 7-year-old girl, leaving her in critical condition. It was that attack that prompted Miami-Dade County to ban pit bulls, a name that refers to three breeds of dog -- the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, and the Staffordshire bull terrier.

Pit bull owners in Miami-Dade County have either had to move out of the county or surrendered their pets. Some have kept their dogs in hiding, risking fines and legal action.

Thousands of pit bull owners who love their dogs and see a side of them that others don't are fighting to repeal the breed specific legislation that some say unfairly singles out pit bulls. Fueling the debate is the emotionally-charged argument that it's not the breed but the owner who is to blame for the attacks.

The debate prompted legislators to take a closer look at the law.

Although those who are against the ban requested that the Miami-Dade commission strike down the current breed specific ban ordinance, commissioners opted to put it on the ballot and let voters decide whether to keep it or repeal it.

On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners will address placing the question on the ballot and allow voters to decide the fate of the current breed specific ban. 

Among those expected to speak is Jaime Buehrle, the wife of Miami Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle. The Buehrles, who own an American Staffordshire terrier named Slater, live in Broward County because they are not allowed to keep their dog in Miami-Dade.

As a member of the media, I know too well of cases where pit bulls have attacked. We're also quick to label dogs pit bulls when in fact, they weren't.

Even in cases where the dogs were clearly not pit bulls, news stories often describe the animals as "pit bull-type" dogs.

So why are people so anti-pit bull?  What is it about the breed that sparks such fear and negative reactions?

"Myths and hyped up pit bull attacks by the media is number one in the book," says Dahlia Canes, Founder of the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation (MCABSL). Her group has led the charge to repeal the law that bans pit bulls from Miami-Dade County.

The mission of MCABSL is to put an end to breed specific legislation through education and awareness, to get the message out there effectively and in a positive light. MCABSL advocates for legislation to repeal laws that they say unfairly single out certain breeds, specifically pit bulls.

What prompted Canes to start the group?

"The massive killing of innocent dogs with our tax dollars. Ignorant folks in high positions dictating absolute lies that impact responsible owners and their families, including children," she says. "Ignorance and fear play greatly in this ongoing drama. Then, of course, throw in the dog fighters like Michael Vick and you have yourself a mayor soap opera. Folks have got to be educated on the real issues. In fact, many attacks attributed to pit bulls were caused by other breeds."

I did some research to back up her claims and found some interesting facts about pit bulls, and some famous pit bulls and their owners.

First of all, there's an argument that pit bulls have "locking jaws," and once one grabs you, it won't let go.

But according to Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist at the University of Georgia and an expert in training, handling, behavior and the anatomy of bulldog breeds, "The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of [American Pit Bull Terriers] show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than that of any [other] breed of dog. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of 'locking mechanism' unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier."

Helen Keller, Thomas Edison and Pres. Theodore Roosevelt are among the historical figures who have owned pit bulls. There are also dozens of famous pit bulls throughout history, including rescue and military dogs.

But even if there are facts to dispel the myths, I was also curious as to why, with all the breeds of dogs from which to choose, Canes is so passionate about pit bulls.

"I've always been a sucker for the underdog, she says. "The pit bull is the most abused and misunderstood breed of all time. My first pit, Chocolate, was confiscated from me by MDAS (Miami-Dade Animal Services) back in approximately 1999. After I managed to get her out, she spent her entire life in hiding at friends homes and staying with me for short periods of time. Finally, in October 2011, she was re-evaluated by MDAS and she no longer conformed to their checklist physical standards. Since she's older now, 13 1/2, her physical appearance is not the same as when she was younger. So, her whole life was sacrificed as a direct result of this ordinance."

In other words, once the dog no longer looked like a pit bull, the law no longer applied to her. She was released and allowed to continue living.

But some stories have much different outcomes. Canes remembers one particular pit bull who she found at MDAS after it had come in as a stray.

"She caught my attention and I promised her that day that I would be back the next day for her and she would be alright," Canes said. "The next day when I returned there was a mistake with the kennel cards and the rescue hold placed on her. She had just been killed. I felt my heart sink and forever her eyes reflecting hope will stay with me."

Then there was Katana.

"She was a pregnant pittie I rescued and fostered in my Miami-Dade County residence until she gave birth. The puppies grew up there and there was even a baptism party. I still keep in touch with the puppies owners and Katana, who was adopted by one of our members in Lauderdale," Canes said.

These are just two of the cases that contribute to her relentless spirit and fight to end breed specific legislation.

"Breed specific legislation is canine discrimination and the sole reason why thousands and thousands of sentient beings, known as man's best friend, are slaughtered," Canes said.

"Yes, I will continue fighting."

Do pit bulls attack? Yes, they do. But so German shepherds, huskies, labrador retrievers, poodles, dachshunds, chihuahuas, and given the right set of circumstances, any dog will attack. So, why do pit bulls get singled out?

It seems to me that myths and fear are behind the anti-pit bull argument.

That's my take on it. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

For more information about pit bulls and breed specific legislation, visit the following websites:

Pit Bull Facts


How to be a responsible pit bull owner

Famous pit bull owners

Famous pit bulls

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