I have blogged about dangerous dog breed banning before, having made the case that it is unfair and misguided. I have not really changed my mind on that point, but a very recent experience has led to me being more sympathetic to those that beat the dangerous dog breed ban drum. While I am more sympathetic, it does not mean that I agree with them, but due to my personal experience, I find it important to we all be sympathetic to their stance, so that we can all work toward realistic solutions to mitigate the real problem of dogs that pose danger communities.
I live in a lovely community on the Florida Space Coast that is superbly maintained, with manicured lawns, white vinyl fences, friendly people, and children playing everywhere. My wife and I chose to buy a home in this community as a young married couple, knowing that we would eventually want start a family, and this seemed the perfect place to raise children.
Our first and then second child were born, and all was well. Pushing them around the neighborhood in strollers, progressed to biking around the neighborhood as they have grown, to now playing basketball in the driveway with my son who is the older of the, about to turn 6 next month. All was well, until the lady next door moved south, and rather than sell her home, decided to keep it as a rental property.
Renters come and go and can be hit or miss. About 6 weeks ago, new renters moved in, and something seemed amiss from the outset. There always seemed to be steady traffic of shady looking men in expensive cars, reclusive and unengaging with the neighbors. We never seemed to see the same man twice, and to add to our discomfort, the neighbors and I learned from the rental agency that the house was actually rented by a woman.
To make matters worse, about 2 weeks ago, two pit bulls moved in, who immediately began to aggressively snarl and bark, while repeatedly throwing themselves against the 6 foot vinyl privacy fence that separates our yards every time we were back there. This alone was both a nuisance and frightening especially to my children, but the situation became really dangerous this past weekend, when my wife and kids decided to spend the weekend on the beach, and my 67 year mother pet sat our docile family yellow Labrador Retriever, Bernie.
She came over to let him out, and true to form the pit bulls were out, and this time, within 10 seconds, managed to rip through the thick PVC material of the fence, and charge into my yard. One dog had jumped on the back of the other, creating a brief jam up in the hole, which bought my mother just enough time to get her and Bernie back in the house and just barely avoid getting mauled by these aggressive dogs. She decided to leave and walk Bernie to her house to spend the night.
After she contact us, my wife and I called the local police, who informed us that this was an Animal Enforcement matter and out of their jurisdiction. When we called Animal Enforcement, it was Saturday night and past their regular business hours, with the voice mail prompting us to call us during regular business hours. Thus, we spent the night away from home, knowing that 2 aggressive pit bulls were loose in our yard. When we arrived Sunday, the neighbor had put the fence slat back in place and had made a half-baked (almost laughable) attempt at fixing it. Never once did the neighbor come over to talk to us, apologize, or even acknowledge what had happened.
With the police not willing or unable to do anything, we spent Sunday on egg shells. While we were home, we did not let the children outside in the front or back yards, knowing how easily these dogs could tear through the fence and potentially inflict serious harm to them. Bernie remained at my mother’s house. Monday came, and it took until 5 PM for Animal Enforcement to come out, although I had called them the moment they opened at 8:30 AM; even though they knew that my family was not safe to walk on our own property.
But the officer arriving did not alleviate our worries one but, but in fact compounded them. He stated that he was powerless to have the dogs removed from the property, because no one was actually hurt. The only weapon in his arsenal was to issue a $100 citation for each dog for property damage, which we would then have to take to civil court to sue for a proper repair of our fence. The way the Florida statutes work, unless a dog actually hurts another person or pet, it cannot be labelled a dangerous dog and forcibly removed. In other words, a potential tragedy must occur for the law to have any ability help us. To make matters even worse, no one as home to even receive the summons, and as renters, the officer did not have an actual person to give the summons to.
The officer told us that he finds the best pressure we may be able to apply, would be to take the matter up with our homeowner’s association, as many HOAs have dangerous dog breed restrictions in their bylaws. Feeling increasingly angry, frustrated, and powerless, I could not believe that I found myself actually wishing that our HOA had such bylaws. It was then that I began to realize that there-in lies the problem.
Long story short, I have begun to seemingly begin the process of my neighbor problem. Knowing a lot of other families in my community personally, I mobilized the community to begin a mass e-mail campaign demanding that the property management company in charge of renting and maintaining this property take action or face a class action suit from the entire community. The president of the company intervened shortly thereafter, and assured me that the renters were in violation of the lease, as it is a no pet lease, so they would be forced to remove the dogs immediately or face eviction. Within one day, not only were the dogs gone, but a U-Haul truck and convoy of SUVS emptied the house and it has not been inhabited by anyone for 48 hours…very weird.
Aside from the other shady circumstances surrounding this home, regarding the dogs, I do not blame the dogs for what occurred. As frustrated and angry as I was and continue to be dismayed by what occurred, I still do not believe that breed banning is the answer to this problem. However, I now understand we people end up feeling that breed banning measures need to be taken.
The way the law is set up in the state of Florida – and I am sure that it is not very different in other areas of the country – dogs can harass, threaten, wreak havoc, invoke fear, and destroy with impunity. Until a beloved pet or person get injured, the law leaves us all powerless to force the despicable individuals that train the dogs to act in this manner and/or fail or refuse to contain them or keep them from being a public nuisance.
Case in point, to this day, since the actual owner of the house did not own these pit bulls, and the renter is not currently local and claiming that the pits were hers, no one has to this day been served with the aforementioned citations. What’s more, even if the citations were successfully served, unlike parking tickets, DMV violations, and other types of citations, the law cannot suspend drivers licenses, assess more fines, or threaten jail time, in the case of Animal Enforcement. All Animal Enforcement has the power to do is send the pet owners to collection and adversely affect their credit. Now call not prejudgemental, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the owners of these pit bulls do not have major concerns about their credit.
Having felt myself wishing our HOA had its own breed ban in its bylaws in the midst of this mess, I began to understand why concerned citizens would resort to pushing for bans. When people feel powerless and are force to live in fear, live in danger, and be continually harassed, they seek solutions, even if misguided or unfair to those who responsibly own pit bulls and other dog breeds deemed dangerous.
Thus, the solution to make communities safer from irresponsible owners of dogs that have been made dangerous, citizens need to be able to take legal action against these individuals once the troubling circumstances begin. Fines for loose dogs that have repeatedly created fear and danger need to be stiffer. Property damage created by unrestrained dogs must be a criminal matter, not a civil one. The bottom line is that law enforcement must be empowered to take action on our behalf before a human or furry family member gets seriously injured.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care