MIAMI, July 12 (UPI) -- Some residents are legally keeping pit bulls as service dogs in Miami-Dade County, Fla., even though the animals are are banned in the county, authorities said.
The ban was instituted in 1989 after an 8-year-old girl was mauled by a neighbor's pit bull, but Animal Services officials say they've registered several of the dogs as service animals for people with disabilities, The Miami Herald reported Monday.
Brian Guadano says he rarely leaves home without Doc, a 5-year-old 35-pound Staffordshire bull terrier, a breed banned in Miami-Dade along with similar pit bulls, the newspaper said.
He says Doc helps him cope with a lifelong learning disability that makes it hard for him to focus.
"We've never spent time apart,'' said Guadano, who said he no longer needs medication for the condition.
Under federal rules, any guide or signal dog that is individually trained to assist someone with a physical or mental disability qualifies as a service animal.
"We're seeing a trend in an increase of citizens that claim to have a disability and their pit bull is their service animal. That is a loophole that people have found,'' Animal Services investigator supervisor Kathy Labrada said.
Verifying a dog is a service animal is a challenge, Labrada said, because federal rules do not require any special certification for the animal, and Miami-Dade may not legally ask about medical conditions.
"There are certainly concerns that some individuals may claim an animal as a service animal when, in fact, it isn't,'' Labrada said.