Town Commission hopes to determine a plan of prevention
By Chris Fish
MELBOURNE BEACH --One Melbourne Beach neighborhood is looking to town officials for help with what they say is a "frightening" situation.
Several residents from the Hibiscus Trail neighborhood have expressed concerns to the town commission about pit bulls within the area that they said are "terrorizing" residents and killing pets.
On Jan.1, Ray and Bobra Cobb of Melbourne Beach reported to Brevard County Animal Control that their pet cat had been attacked and killed on their property by a neighbor's pit bull.
"I was watching the kitty from my kitchen window, and I saw the dog, and I knew he was watching the cat," Mrs. Cobb said, prior to the Jan. 31 special town commission meeting. "I called Ray, and he went out there, and I followed. When the cat tried to get inside, the dog pounced on the cat. Ray grabbed the dog and tried to pry his jaw open."
Unable to stop the dog from attacking the cat, Mrs. Cobb said she found a piece of concrete nearby and began to hit the dog in an attempt to subdue it.
"I started to pound the dog on the head with the concrete, but that was just as useless as anything else," she said. "I pounded that dog with the concrete as hard as I could for 10 to 20 times, and it didn't affect him."
In addition to the death of the couple's cat, Mr. Cobb said he suffered a broken finger, as a result of the attack.
In the aftermath of the incident, the Cobbs and a group of their neighbors approached the Melbourne Beach Town Commission, requesting members to find ways to prevent incidents, such as this, from happening.
According to Ordinance No. 67.11 of Florida Law, a dog cannot be considered dangerous until it has at least attacked twice, explained Robert Brown, captain of enforcement for Brevard County Animal Control.
The residents of the neighborhood went before the Melbourne Beach Town Commission during a regular meeting on Jan. 24, as well as a special meeting on Jan. 31.
During the Jan. 31 meeting, residents said they wanted the commission to pass an ordinance, banning Melbourne Beach residents from owning pit bulls and take away the "free kill" rule an animal gets before it is considered dangerous.
"He gets one cat for free, but I don't want him to have that one free cat," Mr. Cobb said. "I want it to be zero, and the only way to do that is to ban pit bulls."
However, Florida law prohibits a ban on breed-specific dogs, something Melbourne Beach Commissioner Jay Gurecki said is for the best.
"If you put something breed-specific into effect, it's probably not a good idea," he said, during the Jan. 31 meeting. "There are plenty of breed dogs that have the same type of behavior."
Commissioner Gurecki added that he and the commission hope to create a plan that will find a way of resolving issues such as these, as a resident's dog is considered part of his or her "property."
Capt. Brown, who was present during the meeting, said that the only way to enforce dangerous dog restrictions is for residents to always report incidents when they happen.
"There has to be some sort of record of it," he said. "I have heard of several incidents from (residents of Hibiscus Trail) but have no records of it."
At the Jan. 24 meeting, Melbourne Beach resident Kimberly C. Varco read a statement, describing a "frightening" experience she said she had with pit bulls in the area, while walking in the Hibiscus Trail area with her husband and her 20-pound schnauzer.
"While two pit bulls are walked on a leash by their owner and his son, they become extremely vicious as we encounter each other on the street," she said in the statement. "The owners use all of their strength to hold these dogs at bay -- sometimes being pulled along by them. The pit bulls do not respond to their owners' voice commands and they do not appear to have total control over these animals. Clearly, one small mistake on their part could result in serious injury and/or death to my pet or me."
However, there is no written record of these other incidents happening, according to Brevard Animal Control.
Capt. Brown said in certain circumstances, neighbors will not always report incidents when they occur out of fear of altercations.
"What happens in situation such as these is everyone tries to be a good neighbor and puts up with their neighbors eccentricities until they have had enough," he said. "This problem takes a year or two to develop and it is expected to be solved over night."
During the meeting, Capt. Brown said the owner of the pit bull was not aware that his dog had been causing his neighbors harm. He said it is important for the owner to know that his pet is causing a disturbance in the community.
Following the incident on Jan. 1, Capt. Brown said dog owner and Melbourne Beach resident Richard Green was issued with a 1456 animal at large, which is a fine for the animal roaming off the owner's property, and a 1458 damage to property, which was issued for the death of the cat.
Also, because of the death of cat, Mr. Green was issued a dangerous dog warning letter.
Mr. Green said he feels remorse for the Cobbs and blames himself for the incident.
"I feel sorry for them," he said. "It was a human error, and it was a shame. It was just one of those unfortunate things. (The pit bull) is a loving dog and wound up getting out of the house accidentally."
Mr. Green said the dog ran out of his house when he arrived home. After the dog was out of the house, Mr. Green said he recovered the dog within minutes.
Mr. Green said he has multiple locks to keep his two dogs in the house, and this was the first time he had experienced an incident like this since owning them.
"She doesn't differentiate between a cat and a squirrel," he said. "She doesn't like vermin. It was a shame."
Mr. Green said he was not aware of any other incidents in the neighborhood or fears that residents said his dogs were causing.
Melbourne Beach resident John Hall said he hopes to see something on a state level done about the ordinance used for dangerous dogs.
"The thing I get upset about is, if I had walked over to (the Cobb's) yard with my pistol and shot the cat, I would have been locked up," he said. "If I destroy your property, there are a whole different set of rules for me than when property destroys property."