Change to Florida's 'Dangerous Dogs' law prohibits local bans on pit bulls as of Oct. 1

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As of Sunday, Oct. 1, an update to Florida's "Dangerous Dogs" law effectively prohibits local governments or public housing authorities from banning pit bulls.

It also prohibits any local ordinances or policies that declare a dog dangerous based on its breed, size or weight.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 942: Authorization of Restrictions Concerning Dogs, in June and it makes some changes to Florida's "Dangerous Dogs" law. It's one of 33 new laws that went into effect Sunday, including others allowing the death penalty for child rapists, adding restrictions to golf carts, increasing penalties for dealing fentanyl, requiring it easier for businesses to challenge local government ordinances, making interfering with a sports event a first-degree misdemeanor, and more. You can see the full list here.

Here's what you need to know about dogs.

What changed in Florida's 'Dangerous Dogs' law?

Florida Statute 767 details what can be considered a dangerous dog, what regulations and ordinances can be implemented, and the penalties for violations. A previous change had permitted local bans on dogs if they were above a certain weight or size, as long as the ban didn't prohibit specific breeds, but it allowed breed-specific ordinances adopted before Oct. 1, 1990, to stay in place.

SB 942 was a simple bill that added public housing policies to the existing law, permitting them to make restrictions or requirements on owners of dogs that have bitten or attacked people. However, the bill prohibits any local ordinances or policies that declare a dog dangerous based on size or weight, restricting any such policies to individual dog behavior.

The bill also removes the grandfather clause for ordinances created before 1990, rendering them null and void as of Sunday.

Can private landlords in Florida still ban pit bulls and German shepherds?

The statute applies to local governments and public housing, but it does not apply to private landlords, homeowners' associations, or insurance companies.

Which Florida counties ban pit bulls?

Miami-Dade County was the only county in Florida that made it illegal to own any dog that substantially conformed to a pit bull breed after 1990. It also allowed the county to euthanize pit bulls based on breed, rather than behavior,

The city of Sunrise requires that pit bulls specifically "must at all times be securely confined indoors or confined in a securely and totally enclosed and locked pen, with either a top or with sides six (6) feet high." These restrictions are now null and void.

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Why shouldn't governments and public housing authorities be allowed to ban specific breeds such as pit bulls and German shepherds?

According to the animal shelter nonprofit organization Best Friends, a 2018-2020 study showed that "housing barriers were the number one reason for surrender to shelters." Pet-friendly housing was often prohibitively expensive, causing pet owners to face "an impossible choice between giving up a beloved family member or moving someplace without such restrictions."

"Most public housing authorities and two grandfathered local governments (Sunrise and Miami) impose arbitrary breed, weight and/or size restrictions that undermine families’ housing security and send their dogs to taxpayer-funded shelters," Best Friends said in a release thanking DeSantis after he signed the bill. "Out of 49 public housing authority policies reviewed, 46 have weight restrictions — some as little as 10 pounds — and 29 have breed restrictions. "

And studies, such as a recent one published in Science Magazine, have shown that traits traditionally ascribed to dog breeds — such as hostility and violence — are found in all breeds to varying degrees.

"Behavioral factors show high variability within breeds, suggesting that although breed may affect the likelihood of a particular behavior to occur, breed alone is not," the study said, "contrary to popular belief, informative enough to predict an individual’s disposition."

A 2009 study published by the Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances found that owner behavior and training had more of an impact on dog aggression than breed.

What are pit bulls?

One problem with banning pit bulls is figuring out what that means. The term "pit bull" is a broad description of several dog breeds with almond-shaped eyes, muscular necks, smooth, short coats and broad chests, such as American Staffordshire Terriers, American Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and even the American Bulldog.

Most pit-bull-type dogs descend from a dog-fighting breed from a cross between the Old English bulldog and the Old English terrier and was often trained for use in dog-fighting and bear-baiting. They developed a reputation for dangerous and deadly behavior due to their habit of latching on while biting and their incredible strength. According to a study looking at the total attacks by dogs kept as pets between 1982 to 2009, pit bulls made up only 6% of the dog population but were responsible for 68% of dog attacks and 52% of dog-related deaths. However, those numbers may include dogs that should not be considered "pit bulls" due to vague definitions.

A 2016 University of Florida study found that even DNA analysis often couldn't find genetic links to pit bull classifications, leading to shelter workers mislabeling dogs as pit bulls.

The American Kennel Club doesn't recognize "pit bull" as a specific breed and has publicly spoken out against breed-specific legislation.

"Many experts have also observed that public perceptions of which breeds are most dangerous have changed throughout the decades. In the 1970s, Doberman Pinschers were singled out. In the 80s, German shepherds (were) targeted. In the 90s it shifted to Rottweilers, and today it’s pit bulls," an AKC release stated "This begs the question, will your breed be next? Or can we finally put the responsibility for dangerous dogs where it really belongs — on irresponsible owners regardless of breed."

And the timing is good. October is "National Pit Bull Awareness Month."

What is National Pit Bull Awareness Month?

Tennessee pit bull rescue and education group Bless the Bullys started National Pit Bull Awareness Month in 2007 to raise awareness and appreciation of "bully breed" dogs, to help restore their image as fiercely loyal, friendly, goofy, "nanny dogs," and to help spotlight the breed to help shelters, breed clubs, and rescue organizations find home for them.

Oct. 28, 2023, is National Pit Bull Awareness & Appreciation Day.

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Pit bulls in Florida: New change to law blocks bans on bully breeds