In 1989, 7-year-old Melissa Moreira underwent facial reconstruction surgery after being severely attacked by a neighbor’s pit bull. Shortly after, Miami-Dade County banned all pit bulls.
At the time, pit bull advocacy organizations across the state mourned. Pit bull foster and adoption groups felt the breed was being unfairly targeted due to some bad apples, said Blanca Carbia, treasurer of Plenty of Pit Bulls in Gainesville.
Now, for the first time in 34 years, pit bulls are once again legal in all of Florida.
On Oct. 1, House Bill 941 went into effect in Florida, prohibiting governmental public housing authorities from banning dogs based on their breed, weight or size. The law also overturned remaining breed bans by local governments.
There are mixed feelings about this law, giving some hope while others call for strict breed bans. Pit bulls and pit bull mixes were responsible for the deaths of 37 Americans in 2021, which makes them the subject of great controversy.
One organization hoping to benefit from the new law is Plenty of Pit Bulls, a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization dedicated to the rescue, recovery and rehabilitation of the breed. Members rescue pit bulls from shelters and place them with fosters, with the end goal of getting them adopted.
Veema Jhagru, a member of Plenty of Pit Bulls, said she sees this law as a stepping stone for progress.
“Hopefully it leads to broader change because decreasing the stigma is necessary,” Jhagru said.
Jhagru, a fifth-year student at the University of Florida, has been involved with the organization for three years. She has been fostering Benji, a 10-year-old pit bull, for almost two years.
Jhagru found Benji in Orlando and said he wasn’t supposed to make it past Dec. 31, 2021. When she was given the report from the shelter, she found out Benji had been abused. She said someone saw him tied up in someone’s yard day after day.
“He had a big tumor on his neck,” Jhagru said. “That’s how tight the rope was around his neck.”
According to the World Animal Foundation, pit bulls are the most abused dogs in the world. The foundation also lists that approximately 6% of all dogs in shelters across the United States are pit bulls and that around one million pit bulls are euthanized each year.
In her three years as a foster, Jhagru said she and her family have experienced breed bias. Her parents, residents of Pompano Beach, adopted a dog through Plenty of Pit Bulls. Jhagru said that in certain neighborhoods, some people will cross the street to avoid their dog.
“They just have such a bad stigma,” Jhagru said.
She added that she hopes the new law will eliminate that stigma.
The treasurer of Plenty of Pit Bulls said she feels this law will also aid in their mission to find these dogs their “forever homes.”
Blanca Carbia has been involved with Plenty of Pit Bulls since its inception in 2013. In her 10 years with the organization, she has seen it grow. What once started as a $10,000 budget has now grown to a $40,000 budget for an organization that fosters around 75 dogs per year.
Carbia has fostered a few dogs here and there but never had one for an extended period. That is until Chopper came along.
She has been fostering Chopper, a pit bull, for almost one and a half years. Chopper came to the organization from a Jacksonville shelter. He had what is known as a Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA), which is a hole in the main artery of the heart, the aorta. Ever since it’s been fixed, Carbia said, he’s been a ball of energy.
In her experience fostering Chopper and other dogs, Carbia said she has encountered breed bias many times. She also mentioned that she thinks breed-based bans make no sense and that they rarely work.
“It has to do with temperament. It has to do with responsible ownership,” Carbia said. “It has to do with all that stuff that has nothing to do with the breed of the dog.”
But not everyone would agree with Carbia. Various organizations are discouraged by this decision and advocate for breed bans, including DogsBite.org.
According to its website, DogsBite.org is the primary organization dedicated to prioritizing the safety of humans over the safety of dogs. It aims to spread information about what they recognize as dangerous dog breeds, primarily pit bulls.
The organization says 433 people were killed by dogs between 2005 and 2017. Almost 66% were killed by pit bulls.
DogsBite.org did not respond to a request for a comment but writes on their website that they think a breed ban is the most proactive form of policy regarding pit bulls.
It cites that over 900 U.S. cities and many public housing authorities have breed-specific restrictions. Some of these restrictions include mandatory sterilization and strict containment rules.
Overall, this new law has only highlighted how divisive certain breeds are. While some wish breed-based bans were still legal, others hope the stigma toward pit bulls will decrease.
“He’s a sweetie,” Jhagru said. “He keeps me safe.”