Broward county commissioners preliminarily approved on Tuesday tougher consequences for irresponsible dog owners, but did not vote on a proposal that would keep some breeds out of the county.
Pit bull owners gathered at the Broward Governmental Center Tuesday morning to hold a rally against the proposal from Vice Mayor Barbara Sharief.
"It scares the death out of me, my dogs have done nothing wrong," said protester Whitney Buckwald, who owns two pit bulls. "To blame a few bad apples for what is the majority is insane, it's just not right."
The proposal, if ultimately approved by the Legislature, would have made it illegal to own and keep American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers or any other dog that substantially conforms to any of these “pit bull” breed characteristics. Under the legislation, current owners could keep their pit bulls, but would face fines for housing extra ones.
The commission's chamber was filled with people who were mostly against the move, and hours of comments were given against the ban.
“What I would love to see is some education, or the funding for the education, because really I’m not against holding people accountable, but you’re holding the wrong people accountable. We are responsible dog owners," said Marni Bellavia of the Humane Society of Broward County.
But many of the people who spoke against the ban agreed with the part of the proposal that the commission passed. They include $500 fines for teaching a dog to fight, and $300 fines for non-vaccinated dogs and unlicensed dogs. With its yes vote, the commission directed the county attorney to draft an ordinance amendment that includes the changes. It will be brought back to the commission for further discussion and final approval, Broward County spokeswoman Kimberly Maroe said.
State law doesn't allow counties to enact breed-specific legislation but Miami-Dade has a pit bull prohibition from 1989 that predates that law.
Sharief clarified her Broward legislation in an interview with NBC 6 South Florida Monday.
"I've heard people say, 'oh, Commissioner Sharief wants us to ban all pit bulls, and get rid of our pit bulls.' No, that's simply not the case," she said.
But Tuesday's protesters weren't convinced. Carrying signs reading "Pits aren't the problem, people are" and "Equality for all breeds," the demonstrators railed against the proposed legislation.
"It's ridiculous and I don't want my dogs taken away from me, I don't want anybody's dogs taken away," said Buckwald, who added that if the legislation passes, she'd move to Palm Beach County. "It's not fair."
Not everyone agreed with the demonstrators.
"I go to the dog park with my dog and everything and when I see a pit bull, I'm scared, I want to leave the park," Dania Beach resident Rachel Sagala said. "They're dangerous dogs, and if people don't train them well, they can be really dangerous for everyone."
Sharief will now bring together Broward residents, animal experts and others to talk about and find solutions to pit bull attacks that have taken place in the county, Maroe said.