Thousands of others simply flout the ban. Among them is a 25-year-old Mercedes-Benz employee in Kendall who asked for anonymity because he's already been cited for his pit bull. Since then, he's kept his dog in his dark bedroom every day while he works. "I have to hide him like he's an abomination," he says. "When I walk him, people put their cars in reverse and stare like I'm holding a fucking Bengal tiger or something."

Canes hopes to change that. She lives in an antiques-packed bungalow in Miami Lakes, drives a canary-yellow 1980 Fiat convertible, and devotes every hour outside work to fighting the law. In October, she founded a group called the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation. She's already recruited 80 members.

The new group notched an important win on March 18. Canes and her friends took on the case of Leo Mahecha, a 27-year-old Kendall mechanic whose dog, Apollo, was seized by Animal Control.

Dahlia Canes adopted Diva last week and will find her a home in Broward County.
Laura Massa
Dahlia Canes adopted Diva last week and will find her a home in Broward County.

In an administrative hearing at the South Dade Government Center, the group's lawyer, Rima Bardawil, argued that the county doesn't have an accurate test for deciding whether dogs are pit bulls. Inspectors rely on a 12-point checklist, with questions like, "Eyes: set far apart?"

The hearing official agreed. Apollo was freed.

"To my knowledge, it's the first time we've ever lost an appeal on a pit bull case like this," says Dr. Sara Pizano, chief of animal services.

Canes was emboldened by the ruling. Bardawil is now compiling a group of people who have lost pit bulls to the county's ban. They hope to sue the county this summer.

"We've gone the political route. We talked to every member on the commission, we went to hearings, and they all said it's political suicide to overturn the ban," Canes says. "So we're suing."

And they just might win. An Ohio appeals court struck down a Toledo law in 2007 — before the state's Supreme Court reversed the verdict.

"It's a smart approach," says Humane Society spokesman Goldfarb.

Pizano, who's charged with enforcing the ban, says it's up to politicians to decide whether the law makes sense. But she allows that "it's devastating for our staff to euthanize any animal." Since Pizano took over three years ago, her staff has had to kill more than 1,800 pit bulls.

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