New law offers relief to some dog owners

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You may think pit bulls and other breeds are dangerous, but Florida lawmakers don’t agree.

Earlier this year both chambers of the  Legislature approved House Bill 941, which says that local governments and public housing units cannot ban certain dogs that some may regard as dangerous because of their breed, weight or size.

This law — which went into effect Oct. 1 — has helped many dog owners feel protected when looking for housing because of the discrimination they have faced in the past due to their dog’s breed.

Pit bulls, Rottweilers and chow owners have run into situations where they had to find new apartments in a short period of time.

Jasmine Dwyer, a transfer student at Florida A&M University, was one of these residents. Dwyer owns a 3-year-old pit bull named Sandy. She wanted to bring her dog with her when she moved to Tallahassee and Dwyer made sure the apartment she chose to live in was OK with pets.

The only thing Dwyer’s lease required with pets is that the animal does not cause any harm to other tenants. This wasn’t a problem for Dwyer because she described Sandy as a furry toddler who loves cuddles and is scared of the dark.

But one day Dwyer got a call from her apartment manager letting her know she needs to remove Sandy or find a new place to live because of Sandy; when Dwyer asked why, the apartment manager said residents feel unsafe knowing their neighbor owns a pit bull.

“The whole situation broke my heart because I know my dog would never hurt anybody,” Dwyer said. My neighbors would’ve known that if they didn’t judge Sandy.”

Dwyer had to move out of her apartment in less than 48 hours because she didn’t have anywhere else to put Sandy.

Though this law does not allow dog bans for breed and size, apartment complexes can still enforce restrictions on dogs based on their behavior.

Local dog trainer Alex Cooper believes allowing apartments to have some control on the behavior of dogs in the neighborhood is important.

“This sets boundaries for dog owners so they know how critical it is to train their dogs,” Cooper said.

Most dog owners feel less weight on their shoulders when it comes to their dogs being in public areas, but non dog owners don’t feel comfortable with the law being flexible with breeds that have a reputation for being violent, including pit bulls. The American Kennel Club advises residents to not be afraid.

According to a 2016 University of Florida study, the dog breed with the most dog attacks have genetic links to pit bulls but should not have been labeled as a pit bull due to vague description.

Many dog owners have different opinions on the new law but all can agree that boundaries are important when it comes to rules on pets in public areas.