TALLAHASSEE -- A Florida Senate bill determining the fate of dogs who cause severe harm to people passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 334 sponsored by state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, specifies circumstances under which a dog that has caused severe injury to a human may be returned to its owner rather than destroyed.
"This bill would allow an appeals process for the dog in all cases involving severe injury to a human to be resolved pursuant to the dangerous dog classification proceedings," Montford said before the Judiciary Committee. "It would allow a hearing officer to take into account the facts surrounding the case and it would also prevent a dog from being destroyed while an appeal is pending."
The bill now moves to the Florida House Judiciary Committee, according to Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore.
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Whitmore expressed happiness over the bill's passage.
"This will make it clear -- that all the counties can interpret it the same, that they can look at each situation individually," she said, adding a dog can still be put down if it kills someone.
She brought up the case of Padi, a Manatee County 4-year-old male Labrador mix who bit off part of a child's ear in a highly controversial case, which spurred state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, to action several months ago in the Florida Legislature.
On Aug. 21, Steube filed similar legislation to allow exceptions to euthanasia if the person injured was unlawfully on the property or abusing the dog or its owner or the dog was defending a human. If those exceptions apply, a hearing officer could return the dog to its owner without restrictions, rather than having it euthanized. Those exceptions would not apply if a death occurred.
"Most counties interpret it like we did,and others didn't. This makes it more clear," Whitmore said. "And our state Rep. Steube agrees with us and that's why he's carrying this bill because he said it wasn't clear. ... I'm just so happy that it's moving through and I'm hoping that it gets passed and signed by the governor before the legislative session is done because I think there's an opportunity that that can happen, from what Steube said."
An email to Steube for comment on the passage was not immediately returned as of press time.
According to the new bill, if a dog that has not been declared dangerous, attacks and severely injures of kills any human, the dog shall be immediately confiscated by an animal control authority and placed in quarantine for the proper length of time or held for 10 business days after the owner is given written notification under Florida statute 767.12, which outlines steps to classify a dog as dangerous.
The dog owner can request a hearing during this 10-day period and is responsible paying all boarding costs and other fees required to safely keep the animal during any appeal.
Montford, who said SB 334 is the result of incidents around the state. He thanked the Senate Judiciary Committee for hearing the bill.
"It may appear not to be too important, but those of us who have pets and others around the state, I think, consider this an important issue so thank you again for hearing it," he said.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.