MILTON — On the first day of October, Santa Rosa County will end its ban on specific dog breeds, opening up its adoption process to all types of canines.
Previously, the Santa Rosa County Animal Services shelter in Milton would not put certain breeds — including pit bulls, rottweilers, chow chows and wolf-breed mixes — up for adoption, citing a liability if the dogs ended up hurting someone.
Instead, the dogs would be euthanized if they weren’t saved by an animal rescue group.
The shelter's staff will now assess dogs based on temperament rather than breed, according to Brad Baker, the county's director of emergency management. Santa Rosa County Emergency Management recently took over animal services.
“I had a meeting with different animal advocacy groups, and that was one of their big concerns,” Baker said. “I went back and met with the county administrator and we decided that we would amend that policy.
“We’re still not going to adopt any dog that has a history of biting, has aggressive tendencies or dangerous tendencies that they show in the setting there. That part won’t change; it doesn’t matter what breed they are.”
The new policy now matches that of the animal shelters in Escambia, Okaloosa and Walton counties, which don't have a breed ban in place.
This policy change comes as a relief for many local rescue groups, including the Milton-based Mylo Foundation, which specializes in dogs who are older, sick, have behavioral issues or are a certain breed that is more difficult to find a home for.
“I think it's wonderful. It's been a long time coming,” said Patricia Kruger, director of the Mylo Foundation. “So many amazing dogs through the years were destroyed just because of their breed. But this is only the beginning.
“Although the breed ban is lifted, many of these dogs will still die because of lack of adopters. The community needs to get involved.”
Approximately 4.7 million dog bites occur each year, according to a study by the Center for Disease Control. The study shows that Chihuahuas are the most likely to bite a human, with bulldogs, pit bulls and German shepherds following behind.
One of the more recent dog-bite cases was that of 5-year-old Zoey Green who was mauled by a pit bull in 2017. The dog viciously grabbed her by the face and pulled her out of a home in Crestview.
The dog tore off her eyelid, broke her jaw and left her with several of stitches and staples after a lengthy hospital stay and multiple surgeries. The dog was surrendered to the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society and eventually euthanized.
However, many people still feel the dog is not to blame and that the owners should take responsibility for the animal’s behavior.
“I believe certain breeds of OWNERS should be banned,” Tom Hedrick said on Facebook. “Never the dogs fault! Penalties for irresponsible dog ownership will never be adequate.”
Meagan Ja'Nay Cauley agrees, saying she worked for a shelter through college and the dogs she was most afraid of were the smaller breeds.
“They were always quicker to snap and bite than the bullies,” Cauley said. “I saw bully breeds from all stages come in. Puppies, healthy owner surrender, neglected, abused, bait dogs, near death. Still some of the absolute sweetest dogs I have dealt with.”
PAWS, which has served Okaloosa County for nearly half a century, does not currently have a ban on any dog breeds, but it did in the past.
“Many, many years ago there was an issue with the Humane Society of the United States recommending that the other humane societies not adopt out pit bulls or bullies," said Dee Thompson, director of PAWS. “But once the Humane Society lifted their (ban), everybody went more toward temperament testing and not so much breed-specific laws.
“A lot of times we want to say that those particular dogs are dangerous, but we get bite cases from every kind of dog,” Thompson added. “We’re happy that (Santa Rosa County) is going to have the opportunity to at least filter out some of the good ones, the ones that could be adopted, when before they didn’t have a chance.”