Melissa Moreira's opposition to bill to repeal Miami-Dade County's pit bull ban

In an attempt to slow the progress of Florida House Bill 997, which would repeal Miami-Dade County’s pit bull ban, one opponent’s voice has particular poignancy. She is Melissa Moreira.

In 1989, Melissa, who was a child at the time, was attacked by a neighbor’s pit bull and seriously injured. Melissa’s was the signature case that led to the panic policy decision to ban pit bulls in Miami-Dade that has resulted in the automatic killing of tens of thousands of pit bulls over the years — dogs who did nothing wrong other than have an appearance generally similar to the dangerous dog that attacked Melissa.

That attack was without a doubt a tragedy. The trauma and pain experienced by Melissa and her mother, Pilar, are not, and should not be, in any way dismissed or discounted by those of us who want to see an end to the ban. But the simple fact is the Miami-Dade County Commission passed the wrong law.

The logic behind the knee-jerk reaction to what befell Melissa doesn’t bear examination, stand up to science, or fare well when compared with neighboring Broward County, where pit bulls are welcome.

Anyone suggesting that Miami-Dade County ban everyone of the same ethnicity or general appearance as the county’s most dangerous criminal would be laughed out of court, but for some reason that type of logic prevails when it comes to dogs in Miami-Dade.

And, while I understand Melissa’s and her mother’s attachment to the ban, based on their frightening experience with a dangerous individual dog, the ban really amounts to hiding under the bedspread in terms of actual effectiveness.

With its pit bull ban in place, Miami-Dade County reported more dog bites per capita than neighboring Broward County in 2008, according to a survey published in the Miami Herald, so what real security was gained by killing all those family pets who look like pit bulls? Apparently none, which simply compounds the tragedy of Melissa’s suffering.

The same holds true in other communities that have banned pit bulls or other breeds in an attempt to improve public safety. Denver, for example, which has had a pit bull ban in place for years, has a higher per capita dog bite hospitalization rate than nearby Boulder, which allows pit bulls. The reason is as obvious as a breed ban is pointless — a dog’s appearance, or a person’s for that matter, is no predictor of behavior. If you want to protect the public from dangerous dogs, laws need to focus on predictive behavior in dogs and target irresponsible owners and dogs that display threatening behavior, regardless of breed, before they actually hurt someone.

Ohio recently repealed the only statewide ban of pit bulls in the country and replaced it with a progressive, tiered dangerous dog law that identifies three categories of dog behavior that will draw fines and punishment for dog and owner — threatening, dangerous and vicious. Such laws are meaningful and effective and give animal control officers the ability to address predictive behavior in dogs of whatever breed before the kind of tragedy takes place that forever scarred Melissa Moreira both physically and emotionally. It is the kind of law that Miami-Dade County can pass to replace the pointless ban on pit bulls that has taken the lives of thousands of family pets over the years.

Killing dogs based on appearance hurts many and helps none. If you live in Miami-Dade, please contact your county commissioners and ask them to either repeal the ban that they imposed or not block HB 997 at the state level.

Francis Battista