Pit Bulls in Miami-Dade Find a Loophole, But is it Fair?
In Miami-Dade County, where I live, pit bulls, their related breeds and their crosses are 100 percent off-limits. But that no longer applies to all pitties.
After Sunday's article in The Miami Herald, the word’s on the street: If you’ve got a pit bull-ish pooch, you can now thumb your nose at county law — that is, if he or she’s a service dog.
How? Reference the ADA (Americans with Diasabilities Act) brief on service dogs. Because federal law supersedes county law, it turns out that any dog being used as a therapy pet or service dog — proven certified or not, as the ADA goes — is exempt from our 20-plus year county-wide ban on pit bulls.
So, should an enforcement officer arrive at your home to evaluate your dog for her pittiness (enforcement is based almost exclusively on neighbor complaints), all you have to do is to call her a service dog and wave ta-ta. Forget all those fines, the appeal process, threats of euthanasia and whatnot. Why? Because according to the ADA, even asking for proof of service dog status is a violation of this Federal law's explicit provisions. And the Feds will always trump Miami-Dade County's pit bull czar.
Brilliant, no? Pit bulls can now flout the law by claiming therapeutic benefits. It’s enough to make any Miami-Dade pit bull owner want to buy a red doggie vest — one of those pewter "I’m a Therapy Dog" tags — and declare her a "service dog" or "therapy pet" on the spot.
Here’s where Pinky comes readily to mind. She’s my foster dog, and while she’s only 75 percent pit bull (that's my best guess — though one of those mixed breed DNA tests might prove me wrong in favor of a Viszla cross), she’s 100 percent wonderful and 100 percent free of any of those creepy traits that would poison anyone’s mind against her breed. (Sure, she's a huntress on the order of any terrier, but her typical prey looks more like a mosquito or a lizard than an eight-year-old child.)
Which is what gets me to thinking that I should get her certified as a therapy dog. Shouldn’t be too hard, I reason. Seeing as two of my (long-past) dogs were easily certified (and deservedly so), I reasonably reckon my Pinky will make the grade as long as she gets lots of work done. And I’m managing it, time-pressed though I may be. Already she sits on command, walks nicely on a leash and comes (mostly) when called — even out of doors when the lizards are taunting her. Give me two more months and I bet we’ll get her far better behaved … and legal.
The problem is, I gotta wonder: Is this fair? I mean, just a year ago I wrote a post on how plenty of well-meaning, dog-centric citizens are flouting the law — ever so gently — by conferring upon their dogs a not-necessarily-well-deserved service-dog status.
At that time I complained that the designation of "service dog" was being watered down to potentially disreputable limits by those who would prefer to walk their dogs into Whole Foods with the kind of impunity heretofore conferred only on those of the seeing-eye sect. In the end, here’s what I asked: Is it fair to self-designate your dog a service dog or therapy pet for the convenience and political satisfaction afforded by so doing?
"Not fair," is what I ultimately concluded. Those with legitimate disabilities deserve protections that those with political/convenience issues might weaken through their actions.
Hence the conflict: Should I seek therapy dog status for Miss Pinky as a way of protecting her legal-in-this-county status, or would doing so be in direct contravention to my opinions on "political convenience service dogs"?
Somehow, I'd like to think saving a life makes it different. But it's a convenience issue and a political statement, too. So conflicted, and yet so sure of what my next steps will be. Does that make me a hypocrite? Yeah, sure it does … but can you blame me?
Dr. Patty Khuly