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Brooksville 'Plant Lady' calls for pit bull ban

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:34 PM

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Marie O'Neill, known as the helpful "Plant Lady," said her cat, Ruff, had already survived an attempted mauling by a neighbor's pit bull that broke into her fenced-in yard in April.

Her other cat at that time wasn't so lucky and was found dead.

But on Saturday, Ruff wasn't so lucky. O'Neill came home to find him lying on her car port with various puncture wounds in a condition that left it obvious to a responding deputy that the cat had been mauled.

Inside O'Neill's shed, where a mother cat and its five kittens were being housed, the dog had also forced its way inside where all six animals met a similar fate.

This time, however, it was easier to prove the pit bull was the culprit. The animal was able to force its way into the shed, but not out, and was trapped inside when deputies arrived.

"I came home to a slaughter," O'Neill said. "During the first incident, the dog ran at me from inside my own yard. The second time, he brought a 'friend' (a bull mastiff that ran off when she arrived).

"I want justice. I don't want these cats to have died just so I can't have any more animals outside from now on. This is ridiculous."

The pit bull was taken into custody by animal services, and O'Neill is now not only advocating for the dog to be put down, but for county commissioners to enact a ban on the breed.

A ban of that sort could be wishful thinking. Florida prohibits breed-specific laws except for Miami-Dade, which has a ban that was grandfathered in stemming from 23 years ago.

Even if the law wasn't in place, County Commissioner Jim Adkins said such a ban would be almost impossible to enforce and unfair to responsible pit bull owners.

"(O'Neill) has genuine concerns about the situation where she lives and the animals being killed," Adkins said. "I understand where she's coming from, but to go up and tell somebody they can't own a certain breed or we'll give them a citation — it goes too far."

As of press deadline, Hernando County Fire Rescue Chief Mike Nickerson, who oversees Hernando County Animal Services, was not available to answer questions regarding O'Neill's case.

However, Adkins said he's spoken to O'Neill and added that county staffers are handling it.

"She has a problem that needs to be addressed, and we are — maybe not to her satisfaction, but we're doing it," Adkins said. "But we have rules and regulations we have to follow when handling these types of cases and we're doing all we can."

Meanwhile, O'Neill said she would continue fighting to see that the dog is euthanized and that something is done so that she and others throughout the county don't go through a similar scenario again — whether with the same pit bull or other dogs.

"I do everything I'm supposed to as a citizen and I darn well expect the county to make sure everyone else does it too," O'Neill said. "What do I have to do to get some justice?"

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