When Florida’s legislative session got underway in January 2012, the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation (MCABSL) was prepared: It was going to make a push to get two bills, Senate Bill 1322 and House Bill 997, passed that would overturn a ban on pit bulls that has been in place in Miami-Dade County since 1989. Pit bulls aren’t just restricted in the county, they are banned and anyone found to own a dog thought to be a pit bull faces a $500 fine and must remove the dog from the county. Breed-specific legislation is banned under Florida state law, but Miami-Dade’s ban was in place before the state prohibited it, so it’s the only county in Florida that has a pit bull ban in place.
Early in Florida’s legislative session, it looked like the two bills to overturn the county’s BSL stood a chance of passage. But just as the session was drawing to a close, county commissioners struck a deal with state legislators: If the county would put its breed-specific laws on the ballot for a vote in August, the legislature would pull its bills. And it did. This means that the fight to overturn BSL is not over in Miami-Dade, it’s now up to county voters to overturn the laws themselves.
We talked to Dahlia Canes, founder and director of MCABSL, about the battle to end BSL in Miami-Dade County and the organization’s plan moving forward. You can read more about the organization at its website, www.mcabsl.wildapricot.org.
PBRC: What's the story behind the formation of MCABSL?
Dahlia Canes: MCABSL is a non-profit organization in the state of Florida. We are not a 501(c)3, as we are politically involved, but we do take contributions. It all started back in 2007, when I became involved with pit rescues. Shortly afterwards, folks started joining in, and MCABSL was born. There were so many people affected by this and nowhere to turn. MCABSL was and is their hope and dream to end BSL in Miami-Dade County. The response was overwhelming and still is.
PBRC: Before MCABSL, was there any concerted effort to try to repeal Miami's long-standing ban on pit bulls in the county?
DC: No one had ever attempted the lifting of the ban 'til we came along. We were the first to challenge a pit bull confiscation case in Dade and win!
PBRC: How big is MCABSL as an organization?
DC: We have all sorts of folks from all walks of life in our organization, all over the world. We even have a regional director in Kenya, Africa. The members are in the high thousands.
PBRC: Tell us a bit about your early legislative efforts – how did you go about getting your voice heard in the state capitol in Tallahassee? And what kind of response did you get?
DC: The first time we dealt with Tally was back in 2009, when they wanted to amend the Florida state statue prohibiting BSL in Florida. They wanted for every city/county to do whatever they wanted or saw fit. I was sent up there and stayed for a few days. By the time I left, their bill was dead. If this would have passed, there would've have been a slaughtering of bullies throughout Florida. It would've cost the taxpayers a pretty penny and an exodus of folks fleeing the state to save their dogs.
PBRC: What happened during this year’s session? It seemed like things were looking up, but then suddenly the bills to overturn Miami-Dade’s pit bull ban, SB 1322 and HB 997, died?
DC: The bills were steamrolling through the legislature until the Miami-Dade commissioners went to Tally and made an agreement with the sponsor for HB997, Rep. Carlos Trujillo. It went all the way to the end and then it died. The deal [the commission made] puts the question of the removal of the ban in ballot form for the upcoming elections this August. So we now have the tremendous job of educating the residents of this county before then. Is it possible? Of course! Can we do it? Only with everyone’s help and support.
PBRC: Any words of wisdom or advice for others trying to repeal BSL in their cities or states?
DC: For those fighting BSL: Don't let it pass, stop it dead in its tracks! It's harder to repeal than to prevent it from being enacted as law. Stick with education and awareness, get the facts out. Remember, the best ambassadors for this [effort] are the dogs themselves.