Dangerous Dog Bill Passes Committee

Tallahassee, FL – A bill allowing local governments to implement stricter regulations on dog owners cleared a Senate committee Thursday. James Call reports opponents fear it will lead to a ban on specific breeds like pit bulls.

Jacksonville Senator Tony Hill and Fort Lauderdale Representative Perry Thurston say they are responding to constituents' complaints about menacing dogs. Thurston urged the committee to give local governments an additional tool to deal with a public safety problem in neighborhoods.

Sixteen people testified about the measure. Thurston was the only one who spoke in favor. Dog owners, trainers, their vets and dog catchers all spoke against. Jennifer Hobgood represents the Humane Society of the United States.

"A dog's tendency to bite depends on many factors, and that includes heredity, early experience, socialization and training."

Opponents focused on a breed-specific legislation. The bill had been amended to prevent that, but it still appears that passage could lead to a ban of a specific kind of dog. Senator Andy Gardner voted against the proposal.

"Government regulates to the point that it no longer will make that activity worthwhile."

Gardner participated in a debate that briefly became about what is a conservative answer to the problem. Supporters maintain that all the bill does is give local governments more ability to control a community perceived problem. Senator Ronda Storms owns two large dogs that she rescued them from a pound, and she voted in favor.

"I am a conservative Republican I'm for local government control."

Opponent after opponent walked to the podium, fifteen in all, saying the bill is misguided. They say it is the dog owner who makes a bad dog, and they wanted attention focus on the owner not the animal. Plus they say the state's dangerous dog law is sufficient. Senator John Thrasher said he has received more phone calls about this issue than any other. But he has not heard from any local government official wanting another tool to deal with dogs.

Despite the opposition from veterinarians, animal control officers, and dog owners like former FSU football star Ernie Sims, Senator Tony Hill didn't back down.

"We have raised a concern that has moved across the breadth and length of this state. Kids are being killed. People are being killed. People are being attacked and don't even know where the dogs are coming from."

The vote was in favor. Outside the committee room, Sims and other opponents laid plans for the bill's next committee stop which should come sometime next week.