Dangerous dog legislation getting bipartisan support in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — A new bill in the Florida legislature that would standardize state law about dangerous dogs is getting bipartisan support.

HB 721 by Florida Rep. James Buchanan, R-Venice, allows public housing authorities to make rules about dangerous dogs, but only if they have a specific history of bites or attacks, effectively nullifying any existing rules that are specific to breed. The bill would also eliminate a grandfather clause that excluded any local ordinances in the state passed before Oct. 1, 1990.

That applies only to two locations in Florida, according to the bill analysis—Sunrise and Miami-Dade County. This bill would “effectively nullif[y] Miami-Dade County’s regulations and restrictions on owners of ‘pit bull dogs’.”

Animal welfare advocates say legislation based on breed is not effective.

“The breed itself can be more dangerous,” said Sherry Silk, CEO of Humane Society of Tampa Bay. “You have to know the breed, have it sterilized, and make sure it has the proper training. But to label all pit bulls as a problem I think is wrong, and animal welfare advocates across the country feel strongly about that.

Former President Barack Obama supported bans on breed-specific legislation, releasing a response to a petition in 2013 stating “research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources.”

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at twenty years of data about dog bites and human fatalities in the United States. They found that fatal attacks represent a very small proportion of dog bite injuries to people and that it’s virtually impossible to calculate bite rates for specific breeds.

Official White House response to a petition to “Ban and outlaw Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) in the United States of America on a Federal level!”

Data around dog bites by breed is difficult to ascertain. Some websites advocating breed-specific legislation alleviate that’s due to the backlash from supporters of historically aggressive dogs. Others say it’s because people often misidentify breeds.

“You may have a dog that looks really pitty, blockhead, that look with their eyes, but you do DNA test and they don’t any have pit bull in them, they may have something else,” said Silk.

In a position statement about pit bulls, the ASPCA said “while a dog’s genetics may predispose it to behave in certain ways…behavior develops through a complex interaction between environment and genetics.” The organization does not support breed-specific legislation.

Both the Florida House and Senate versions of the bill have passed unanimously through multiple committees.

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