Are dangerous dogs like sex offenders?

Worried your new neighbor’s dog looks aggressive? In one US municipality, you’ll soon be able to go online and check whether this "scary" dog’s mug shot matches any one of a number of pics posted to its "dangerous dog" wall of shame.

Commissioners in Miami-Dade County, where I live, voted almost unanimously this week to create an online dangerous dog registry to keep County residents abreast of who’s who among local biters.

In essence, it’ll work just like the now-common online sex offender lists: Dogs who “attack without provocation” and are subsequently remanded to Miami-Dade Animal Services’ roster of “dangerous dogs” will have their names and pictures listed alongside their owners’ addresses. The County already keeps tabs on these dogs (now numbered only at about a hundred), but the information is currently available only via public records request.

At the same meeting, commissioners also voted to add more teeth to some of the existing “dangerous dog” and animal cruelty laws, upping fines for dog attacks and inflicting cruel acts on dogs to $1,000 for each violation. Training a dog to fight will also now earn you a $1,000 fine.

Which would be great. If these laws were actually enforced and fines increasingly levied.

Unfortunately, the County’s six Animal Services investigators have been unable to keep up with a backlog of calls. A $10 million budget for the most populous county in the state of Florida is not surprisingly proving woefully inadequate to meet the needs of a community that believes its dangerous dogs need to be reigned in. 

So why all the local commotion on the subject of dangerous dogs?

In addition to Miami-Dade citizens’ overwhelming vote to uphold the County-wide ban on pit bulls a couple of months ago, the public outcry over a Labor Day incident on Lincoln Road, in which a server’s face was seriously bitten, has shown that the County’s citizenry is sick and tired of its out of control dogs.

Though I’m staunchly opposed to breed-specific legislation (BSL) and question the utility of increased fines when there aren’t enough Animal Services officers to enforce the existing laws, I can nonetheless understand my community’s fatigue on the subject.

After all, I feel it too. I detest living in what I consider to be an animal-unenlightened backwater where owners bring bitches in heat to the dog park and where it’s common for “pets” to be trained for bite work. It’s also a place where people think little of walking their hair-trigger dogs out on Flexi-leads and deem any “mean-looking” dog “a pit.”

Yes, I’m exhausted, too. More so than most, perhaps, seeing as I have a front row seat to the action. But the sad truth is that no online sex offender-like registry is going to keep anyone here any safer as long as the community’s culture remains the same. And as far as I’m concerned, the Miami-Dade Commission’s answer to canine violence reflects more of the same clueless thinking on the subject.

Sure, it’s nice to add teeth to existing laws with fines and registries. But unless communities like mine put their money where their mouth is when it comes to enforcing them, they shouldn’t be shocked when, just as has happened with the pit bull ban, studies eventually show the public is no safer for its government’s efforts.

What do you think? Would you be in favor of an online dangerous dog registry in your community?


Pic: "Teeth"