Pit Bull Owner Fights Miami City Hall
MIAMI (CN) - A disabled man sued Miami-Dade County for the right to keep his service dog, Lucky, a pit bull - a breed that the city and county have seen fit to ban under threat of death.
Miami-Dade County has fined Felix Conde $10,715 for keeping his service dog, and threatened kill Lucky and to put a lien on Conde's property if he doesn't pay, Conde says in his federal lawsuit.
He had to exile Lucky from the county, as its law allows Miami-Dade County to kill the dog if it stays there.
Conde claims he is a disabled person under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His doctor prescribed him Lucky, who can tell when Conde is about suffer a spasm from obstructive airway disease. Lucky then runs and fetches an inhaler for him.
Pit bulls, like many dog breeds, inspire fanatical devotion in some owners, who claim, with evidence, that the dogs are gentle and friendly. It's bad owners that make bad dogs, they say.
Be that as it may, in 1989 Miami-Dade County enacted an ordinance giving pit bull owners 90 days to register their dogs. After those 90 days, "No pit bull dogs may be sold, purchased, obtained, brought into Miami-Dade County, or otherwise acquired by residents of Miami-Dade County," according to the ordinance, which Conde cites in his lawsuit.
Lucky has no history of aggression, Conde says. Nonetheless, "Miami-Dade County issued a citation and order against Mr. Conde, demanding that Lucky be removed from the jurisdiction, and imposing a fine upon Mr. Conde. Pending this action, Mr. Conde has removed Lucky from Miami-Dade County."
Miami's law authorizes a new fine for each day a pit bull is present in the county, and "humane destruction of the pit bull dog."
Miami-Dade fined Conde $715 in February. In May, it gave him 10 days to send Lucky into exile under threat of death, and in July it fined him another $10,000, and threatened to put a lien on his property if he didn't pay within 30 days.
Conde was represented by counsel at all three hearings.
After the third hearing, seven police officers, in three cars, "forcibly entered" Conde's home at 6 a.m., while his children were sleeping, to search for Lucky. Conde claims the abusive search made one of his kids cry, and accomplished nothing but "instilling great fear" in the children, his live-in companion, and Conde himself.
"Mr. Conde's fear was exacerbated by the absence of Lucky at his side," Conde says in the complaint.
Finally, in June, on returning from another county where he had gone to visit Lucky, Conde was in "a catastrophic motor vehicle accident," in which he broke both arms or wrists, both his lungs collapsed, he suffered facial fractures, head injuries and swelling of the brain, tore knee ligaments, and had to be place in a medically induced coma "for several months."
Conde is still hospitalized. "But for the defendant's conduct, Mr. Conde would never have been required to travel out of Miami-Dade County to be with his service animal," Conde says in the lawsuit. "Even in the hospital, Mr. Conde suffers from the absence of Lucky."
He claims Miami-Dade County's law violates the American with Disabilities Act, and the Constitution.
He seeks declaratory judgment and an injunction stating that "the ordinance is pre-empted by the ADA and must be declared as a matter of law to be unenforceable due to its inconsistency with the ADA."
He wants the threat of his citation and fine enjoined, attorney's fees, and Miami-Dade County required "to permit Lucky's return."
He is represented by Andy Dogali, of Tampa.