02/15/2012 09:33 am ET Updated Apr 16, 2012

Miami-Dade Pit Bull Ban: Commission Attempts To Thwart State Bill With County-Wide Vote

Elected supporters of Miami-Dade's long-time ban on pit bulls appear to have found a way to stop a state bill that would end the county's breed-specific legislation -- by claiming it would undermine the county's rights to rule on local matters.

The Miami Herald reports that during a Tuesday county commission meeting, ban supporters Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz and Commissioner Esteban Bovo sent text messages to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, who indicated from Tallahasse that he would pull the legislation if the ban went to a county-wide vote.

Commissioners then agreed to begin the process to add the ban to the August election ballot, heralding it as a victory for Miami-Dade's home-rule powers: "We cannot allow the armor to take kinks in it," Diaz said, according to the Herald. "We should be dealing with this internally."

But the move incensed pit bull advocates, who say it's not about the county's independence at all, but ensuring the ban -- the only such county-wide law in the state of Florida -- remains in place.

"For 23 years, the government and the media in Miami have taught people to hate and fear anything involving a pit bull," activist Dahlia Canes told Miami New Times. "How do you suppose they'll vote?...He knows the kind of money we'd have to spend on public education before a ballot down here. We'd get slaughtered."

The reactionary law was passed in 1989 after a young girl was mauled by a pit bull, but has proved nearly impossible to enforce, drawing criticism from the Humane Society, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and other animal experts -- not to mention forcing Miami-Dade county pit bull owners to go underground with secret park play dates and a Marlins pitcher to move to Broward County.

"Restrictions placed on a specific breed fail to address the larger problems of abuse, aggression training, and irresponsible dog ownership," reads a statement from the Human Society arguing for "thoughtful" legislation that instead addresses responsible dog-keeping. "Breed alone is not an adequate indicator of a dog's propensity to bite."

Even the federal Centers For Disease Control is against a general reactionary ban on any specific breed.

"A dog of any breed can become dangerous when bred or trained to be aggressive," said Dr. Jeffrey Sacks, epidemiologist for the CDC, told the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association after conducting a study on dog attacks. "Fatal attacks represent only a very small proportion of dog bite injuries and shouldn't be the primary factor driving public policy regarding dangerous dogs."