Second child killed by an “American bulldog” in 18 months
MIAMI, Florida––Christmas baby Nyjah Espinosa, instead of celebrating her second birthday with ice cream, cake, candles, and Santa Claus, was on December 20, 2015 killed at her father’s Miami-Dade county home by his pit bull––a breed type banned in Miami-Dade county since 1989.
Posted the victim’s grandmother to Facebook, “On Sunday, December 20th, 2015, my granddaughter, Nyjah ‘Nyny’ Espinosa, just five days shy of her 2nd birthday, was attacked by a pit bull. Doctors at Miami Children’s Hospital tried to keep her with us, but were unable to do so. Our little girl was no longer with us.”
Animal Services disputes breed type
But Miami-Dade Animal Services, mandated to enforce the Miami-Dade pit bull ban, “described the dog as a male American bulldog mix who is five years old and weighs 95 pounds,” reported Willard Shepard of NBC-6.
“American bulldogs” have been exempted from enforcement of the Miami-Dade pit bull ban under Miami-Dade Animal Services chief of shelter operations and enforcement Kathleen Labrada, despite clear language in the ordinance stipulating that it applies to any dog of characteristics which “substantially conform” to several recognized definitions of “pit bull.”
Three dead in 18 months
Nyjah Espinosa became the third Miami-Dade resident in 18 months to be killed by a pit bull, and the second toddler to be killed by a pit bull called an “American bulldog.”
Espinosa’s death came just 88 days after Carmen Reigada, 91, was fatally mauled on September 22, 2015 by a household pack including a pit bull, a Rhodesian ridgeback, and a Labrador mix.
Father copped plea
Javon Dade Sr., 31, of Goulds, Florida, on March 2, 2015 pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter for the August 13, 2014 fatal pit bull mauling of his son Javon Dade Jr., age four. Javon Dade Sr. was sentenced to serve four years in prison, followed by six years on probation.
Javon Dade Sr. “must also testify against Alessandra Carrasco, his girlfriend, who was staying with him the morning the young boy was mauled to death. Carraso, 26, is also charged with manslaughter,” reported David Ovalle of the Miami Herald.
Had Javon Dade Sr. gone to trial and been convicted by jury, he faced a potential sentence of 13 to 30 years. His defense appeared to center on contending that the dog who killed his son was not actually a pit bull, a breed banned in Miami since 1989.
“In hearings leading up to the March trial date,” Ovalle recounted, “Dade’s defense sought to have the case dismissed because Animal Services destroyed the dog before a defense expert could examine the animal to gauge its aggressiveness and breed. But Circuit Judge Rodney Smith refused, noting that Dade had signed paperwork allowing them to euthanize the animal, though the defense insisted he had no idea what he had agreed to.”
No penalty for illegal possession of pit bull
After the fatal attack, Javon Dade paid a fine of $1,040 “for not properly licensing his dogs, and not having their rabies vaccines up-to-date,” Ovalle wrote, but Dade was not penalized for illegal possession of a pit bull despite the testimony of Miami-Dade Animal Services veterinarian Maria Serrano that his dog had been among the most aggressive pit bulls she had ever encountered.
Javon Dade Jr. would not have been fatally mauled if the Florida Department of Children & Families had known about the Miami-Dade County ban on pit bulls––and if Miami-Dade Animal Services had recognized before the fatal attack that Javon Dade’s dog was a pit bull, enforcing the 25-year-old ordinance against keeping pit bulls without allowing an exemption for so-called “American bulldogs.”
The Miami-Dade pit bull ban was affirmed by 63% of the county electorate on August 14, 2012, but Javon Dade Jr. was killed in his father’s yard in Goulds, a Miami suburb, because––as with the pit bull who killed Nyjah Espinosa––the pit bull who killed him had not been impounded.
Neither had Miami-Dade Animal Services impounded any of Javon Dade’s several other pit bulls.
“Because two of the dogs were too young—two and four months old, respectively—to have to be licensed or get their shots, Javon Dade was only cited for failure to vaccinate against rabies for three of the dogs, and for failure to license two of the dogs. There is no duty to license a pit bull since it is against the law to own one,” wrote Emma Court of the Miami Herald.
After the fatal attack, “Dade’s dogs––a pit bull, two pit bull mixes and three puppies––were seized by Miami-Dade Animal Services,” reported CBS Miami. “The gray and white pit bull [who actually killed Javon Dade Jr.] was euthanized because of his temperament,” but the other five dogs were called ‘American bulldog-Labrador retriever mixes’ and spared.
“According to Dade’s arrest report,” CBS Miami summarized, Dade “picked up the boy from his mother’s residence around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 12, and then went to his home. After Javon Jr. fell asleep, his father and Carrasco ‘began smoking several marijuana cigarettes laced with cocaine,’ according to the report. The following morning Dade and Carrasco woke up about 9 a.m. and Javon Jr. was nowhere to be found. Police received a missing person call more than an hour later, and quickly found the child dead in the tall grass of the rented home’s sprawling back yard. Police said while the front door to the home was locked, the rear sliding glass door was closed but unlocked.”
Javon Dade had reportedly been arrested at least 18 times, charged at least a dozen times, and convicted of various offenses at least seven times previously, mostly in connection with alleged possession and use of cocaine and marijuana. He had also been convicted of battery and resisting arrest.
DCF knew fighting dogs were in home
Revealed Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald, “Three years before Javon Dade Jr. was mauled to death by his father’s dogs, state child protection workers were warned about ‘the smell and danger’ of the six ‘untrained dogs’ living in an apartment with Javon’s family. Two of the dogs were pit bulls, which are banned in Miami-Dade County, a caller said.
“There is concern for the safe care of the children in the home,” the unidentified caller told the Department of Children & Families’ child abuse hotline.
Continued Miller, “A call to the hotline in 2011 included allegations that Javon Sr.’s dogs were fighting with each other, and that both he and his girlfriend had been bitten breaking up the fights. In all, six dogs lived in the home, the report said. The dogs reportedly relieved themselves on the floor where the couple’s children played.”
DCF failed to notify Animal Services
The DCF twice investigated, but failed to notify Miami-Dade Animal Services of the illegal presence of the pit bulls, consistent with a pattern that Marbin and Audra D.S. Burch documented in a March 2014 series entitled “Innocents Lost.” Since January 1, 2008, Marbin and Burch found, 477 children, most of them under five years old, have been killed or died from neglect after DCF left them in their homes under a budget-cutting policy guised as an emphasis on keeping families together.
“DCF’s last contact with Javon’s family occurred on the evening of June 19, 2011,” Miller wrote. “Investigators were closing the second of the two investigations. “With regard to the children, the caller or callers in the two cases claimed Javon and his siblings had bruises and cuts on their arms, were living in a home ‘filled with dog feces,’ and always looked dirty.
“DCF interim secretary Mike Carroll said investigators apparently did not know that pit bulls are banned in Miami-Dade––and were unaware of the county ordinance even now,” recounted Miller. “Animal control officers should have been alerted to the presence of the dogs three years ago, Carroll said.”
Acknowledged Carroll, “That call should have been made. When we were reviewing this case, we did not know that. If that’s a law, yes, absolutely we should have made a call.”
But even if the call had been made, “American bulldogs, which are sometimes confused with pit bulls, are allowed,” Miller summarized of statements by Miami-Dade Animal Services chief of shelter operations and enforcement Kathleen Labrada, under whom Miami-Dade Animal Services had investigated at least four previous disfiguring attacks by “American bulldogs” in 2014 alone.
Miami-Dade County Ordinance #89-22, § 3, 4-4-89,Section 5-17.1 stipulates that “The term ‘pit bull dog’ as used within this article shall refer to any dog which exhibits those distinguishing characteristics which: (1) Substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club for American Staffordshire Terriers or Staffordshire Bull Terriers; or (2) Substantially conform to the standards established by the United Kennel Club for American Pit Bull Terriers.”
The Miami-Dade County ordinance adds the qualifications that “Technical deficiencies in the dog’s conformance to the standards shall not be construed to indicate that the subject dog is not a ‘pit bull dog’ under this article.”
An affidavit dated October 17, 2005 from longtime “American bulldog” breeder John D. Johnson leaves no doubt that “American bulldogs” are pit bulls within the Miami-Dade definition.
Testified Johnson, “Originally, my dogs were registered with the National Kennel Club as ‘American [Pit] Bulldogs,’” but Johnson later split with the NKC and began registering his dogs with the Animal Research Foundation, formed in 1947 by Tom D. Stodghill (1903-1989), of Quinlan, Texas. Stodghill created many registries for animals not recognized by older breed fancies, including fighting dogs and gamecocks. He also published Stodghill’s Animal Research Magazine.
Wrote Johnson to Stodghill’s Animal Research Magazine in 1980, “The American Bulldog is the same dog that was developed in England in the 12th century by the meat packers, to catch large bulls to kill for meat… Then they started bull baiting with them, and they then were called ‘Bull Baiting Dogs.’ Later, they were registered as ‘English Bulldogs.’ They also were ‘pit’ fought over there [ England ], against each other, badgers, lions, and anything that would fight. They were brought over here [ America ] in the 17th century…In the 18th century, England outlawed all types of fighting, and they were no longer needed in their present form, so they bred them down in size…We kept our bulldogs in the [original] large state, and I have developed them even larger
Claimed Johnson, “The ‘Bull Terrier’ is a cross between the ‘English Terrier’ and ‘English Bulldog’ (60% ‘Terrier’ and 40 percent ‘Bulldog’). The [‘American] Staffordshire Terrier’ is 50% ‘English Bulldog’ and 50% ‘English Terrier’; the ‘American [Pit] Bull Terrier’ is a cross between the two types.”
Labrada of Miami-Dade Animal Services and the Miami Herald in 2012 lent support to the effort of Dahlia Canes, director of the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation, to repeal the 1989 Miami-Dade County pit bull ban.
Then-Miami Marlins star and Best Friends Animal Society celebrity spokesperson Mark Buerhle joined the howl against the Miami-Dade pit bull ban in December 2011, soon after accepting a four-year, $58 million contract to pitch for Miami.
Opting to live in Broward County, with one of the highest median household incomes in the U.S., instead of Miami-Dade County, whose median household income is about 10% below the Florida norm, Buerhle complained that his choice of an upscale neighborhood was dictated by possession of a pitbull. His complaints were amplified by electronic media more than 1,200 times during the nine months preceding the Miami-Dade voting.
Best Friends, HSUS, American Bar Association
Best Friends began airing radio ads in opposition to the Miami-Dade pit bull ban in March 2012. Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle and Mike Markarian, president of the HSUS subsidiary Humane Society Legislative Fund, both blogged in favor of repealing the Miami pit bull ban.
A week ahead of the Miami-Dade voting, the American Bar Association passed a resolution “Urging Adoption of Breed-Neutral Dog Laws and the Repeal of Breed Discriminatory (Pit Bull) Ordinances.” The resolution was avidly publicized by pit bull enthusiasts.
There was little organized opposition to the proposed Miami-Dade pit bull ban repeal. No celebrities spoke in favor of keeping the ban––only a few local pit bull victims, including Melissa Moreira, 31, who at age 8 was facially scarred for life in an unprovoked pit bull attack in the driveway of her family’s home.
The Miami pit bull ban was adopted soon after the Moreira attack, just ahead of the 1990 passage of a Florida state law prohibiting new breed-specific legislation, which exempted Miami-Dade.
The voters spoke: 63-37 for ban
Pit bull advocates were poised at the “scratch line” on August 15, 2012 to celebrate ripping the Miami-Dade ordinance to shreds. Only 20% of the eligible electorate turned out to vote, but this should have favored the pit bull ban repeal effort, since the people most motivated to vote should have been those who want to keep pit bulls. The only “get-out-the-vote” effort made in connection with the repeal measure was made on behalf of it.
But the repeal attempt attracted just 37% of the vote, the most crushing defeat of a ballot measure endorsed by major national humane societies in more than 70 years.
Buerhle was subsequently traded to Toronto, the biggest city in the province of Ontario, Canada, which has banned pit bulls since 2006.
The Miami voting outcome should have been no surprise. At least 10 newspaper public opinion surveys conducted in the U.S. between 2005 and mid-2012 found respondents favoring restrictions on possession of pit bulls. The majorities have ranged from 50% to 69%, with the average at 59% and the median at 63%. The Miami-Dade outcome landed right on the median.
Pit bull ban passed after 54 years of effort
Contrary to the claims of the repeal advocates, the Miami-Dade ordinance was no hastily passed panic response, and voters seemed to know it.
Attempts to ban pit bulls from Miami-Dade began in 1945, after Doretta Zinke, 39, was killed during an evening walk by nine pit bull terriers kept by Joe Munn, 43, of Hialeah. Twenty-six pit bulls, some implicated in previous attacks on humans, were impounded from Munn and killed.
The Humane Society of Greater Miami, which then held the Miami-Dade animal control contract, claimed to have received hundreds of calls of protest from pit bull advocates throughout the U.S.–an almost unheard of response in an era when long-distance calls were expensive and had to be manually connected by an operator.
Munn served one year of a five-year prison sentence for manslaughter. Paroled, Munn acquired more pit bulls. Two of them in 1955 mauled Harry Smalley, 73, after attacking Smalley’s dog. But another 35 years of deliberation elapsed, while many other pit bulls killed and injured animals and humans, before the Moreira attack finally tipped the Miami-Dade political balance against pit bull defenders, who ranged from the Humane Society of Greater Miami to advocates of legalizing dogfights and segregationist splinter groups associated with the Ku Klux Klan.
The Miami-Dade ordinance exemplifies the simplest and oldest of three different approaches to breed-specific legislation meant to curb pit bull proliferation and the problems associated with pit bulls, including attacks on humans and other animals; dogfighting; the frequent use of pit bulls as accessories to other crimes including selling drugs, extortion, domestic violence, and pimping; and the strain on animal shelters of having to often house dangerous dogs who cannot be safely kept with other dogs and will usually be killed, after a holding period of several days, due to lack of safe adoption prospects.
Like the highly successful Denver ordinance, which is nonetheless equally unpopular with many animal advocates, the Miami-Dade ordinance was passed in 1989, and outright prohibits possession of pit bulls.
Despite the frequent howling of pit bull advocates that breed-specific legislation “doesn’t work,” and despite a tendency among both Denver and Miami-Dade animal control officials to interpret the definition of “pit bull” in a manner that allows possession of many pit bull variants, Denver and Miami-Dade before Javon Dade Jr.’s death were among the most populated U.S. jurisdictions that had no pit bull fatalities since their ordinances took effect.
The remainder of Colorado has had at least one pit bull fatality since 1989 and many close calls; 19 people have been killed by pit bulls elsewhere in Florida.
Pit bull advocates often allege that outright prohibitions, like those in effect in Denver and Miami-Dade, condemn pit bulls to death just for existing. In truth, all U.S. and Canadian pit bull bans to date, including those in Denver and Miami-Dade, have either allowed reasonable time for people found in possession of pit bulls to relocate them, or have contained “grandfather clauses” allowing pit bulls already within the jurisdiction when the ban was passed to remain, providing that they are sterilized, vaccinated, insured against liability, licensed, and safely confined.
Far from resulting in pit bulls being killed, the Miami-Dade and Denver ordinances have resulted in Miami-Dade ranking second only to Denver among major U.S. cities in fewest pit bulls impounded and killed per 1,000 human residents.
New York City and San Francisco rank third and fourth. New York City excludes pit bulls from public housing; San Francisco requires that pit bulls be sterilized.