Months after stinging public rebuke and the condemnation of hundreds of dog owners, Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief has canceled requests for a pit bull ban and instead called for a "culture" that makes it mandatory to neuter and spay canines and more regulation on "backyard" dog breeding.
Following two separate community meetings with dog specialists and bite victims, Sharief and company also want more money in 2014 for additional animal control specialists and to train local cops on animal control.
All of the agenda items will go before the County Commission in May.
Tepid though these proposals may be, they represent the bruising Sharief sustained after she requested permission last February to ask the state to allow Broward to ban pit bulls -- a move that raised eyebrows because (a) the state likely wouldn't grant it, and (b) the ban was wildly unpopular.
At least judging from the backlash Sharief took. Hundreds of emails deluged the Broward County Commissioner's office in the days after the news broke, causing her to backpedal and soften the wording of the proposal. She told New Times she'd mistakenly lifted the exact phrasing from codes regulating Miami, which banned pit bulls decades ago, and plopped it into her own proposal.
Even with that amendment, dozens of protesters inundated the county meeting, hoisting signs defending their right to own pit bulls, and one local official described the drama as "mass hysteria."
When confronted with scientific research that found pit bulls on average less aggressive than other breeds of dogs -- Sharief was steadfast.
"I disagree with that science," she told New Times in February. "We've done considerable research on this, and we've found [pit bulls] have a more aggressive nature. It's due to the fact that they have a tendency to kill small things. Pit bulls don't just go after something to harm it; they go after it to kill it." Indeed, in October 2011, two children were attacked by pit bulls in Deerfield Beach. Then in May of last year, a pit bull mauled a 77-year-old man in Miramar.
Sharief said she's seen too many victims of pit bull attacks to not act. In 2012, the Sun Sentinel reports, more than 300 dog attacks occurred in Broward County, and pit bulls accounted for half of those episodes.
But this time, she's couched her proposals in more conciliatory language. Gone are the words "pit bull." She now says she's after "aggressive dogs."
That, of course, sinks her further into a quagmire sure to anger some canine owners. How does one quantify "aggression"? To one onlooker, a dog may appear bellicose -- but to another, that same animal won't.
But for the most part, Sharief defenders say, she isn't seeking bold new measures but to enforce regulations already in law.
The Broward County Animal Care and Adoption center picked up nearly 5,000 stray dogs in 2012. Most of those animals were discovered in southern Broward County, near the Miami-Dade border -- where Sharief says most dog attacks happen.
In June, the commission will discuss additional fines against negligent dog owners, who abet aggression in their animals.
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