(WSVN) - Miami-Dade Animal Services declared a dog dangerous. The crime: He barked at a boy. Is that legal? Wait until you hear what Howard has to say in this Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

When we walked into the condo, Higgins barked at us.

Cheryl Gudowitz: “Yes, he’s a barker. He barks if somebody walks by our door, noises outside the door, he just barks.”

As we petted him, he sniffed us, took a toy, wagged his tail and barked.

When he goes to the beach, he barks at the water.

Cheryl Gudowitz: “He’s friendly, he’s sweet, he’s loving. He’s just a barker.”

For eight years, it was never a problem. Then one day, as Cheryl put the leash on Higgins and opened the door, a boy walked by her condo.

Cheryl Gudowitz: “And the son walked past fast and we were walking out at the same time, and the dog barked at the child.

The boys father, Willy Aragon, was 30 feet ahead.

He called police, claiming Higgins jumped on his 8-year-old son, scratching his leg. The Sunny Isles Police officer checked the boy’s leg and wrote there appeared to be no scratch marks.

Cheryl Gudowitz: “There was no scratch. There was certainly no bite and there was certainly no attack.”

The boys father then called animal services.

When they showed up six days later, he now had pictures that he said showed the scratch and bruises on his son’s leg that the officer said weren’t there six days earlier, and the father also claimed the dog had attacked another child.

Martin Gudowitz: “I thought I was being pranked. To be perfectly honest, I thought it was a joke because there was nothing that happened. Nothing.”

Animal services said there was no evidence of Higgins attacking another person but the animal services investigator still took the word of the boy’s father that Higgins approached his son aggressively, jumped on him and scratched him, even though Cheryl said that was not true and the police officer said there was no scratch.

Higgins was then declared a dangerous dog.

Cheryl Gudowitz: “He didn’t attack. It wasn’t menacing. He barked.”

Martin Gudowitz: “This is crazy.”

After animal services slapped Higgins with the dangerous dog label, and fined Cheryl $515, she appealed before a county hearing officer where they finally heard from the boy’s father.

Willy Aragon: “And the dog attacked him and jumped on my son and my son got scared and started crying.”

The hearing officer then asked Aragon for the name of the other person he claimed Higgins had attacked.

Willy Aragon: “I don’t know her name. I don’t know.”

By now, Martin heard enough about Higgins being dangerous.”

Martin Gudowitz: “I want to know if you take into consideration the credibility of the witness who, a blatant lie, stated.”

Charles Everett, Miami-Dade hearing officer: “Stop, stop,stop, stop there.”

The hearing officer sided with the father and animal services investigator, agreeing that the beagle pug mix is a dangerous dog because he allegedly approached the boy aggressively.

Charles Everett, Miami-Dade hearing officer: “It is not required that he, the dog, actually bite or cause injury under that code. Simply, approaching, unprovoked, in a menacing manner and I do find that, that occurred in this case.”

Cheryl and Martin are fuming that Miami-Dade County considers a dog, who allegedly barks aggressively, is dangerous.

Martin Gudowitz: “What are you doing with the dog? Shooting it because he barks at a kid?”

Howard, right or wrong decision?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “Legally, there are major problems here. First of all, the law is unconstitutional because it’s vague and doesn’t define what menacing means. Secondly, in this case, the hearing officer is paid by the county to rule on a county case, an obvious case conflict and third, the law says if a witness is not telling the truth in one matter, like saying there was a prior attack, you can, and this case, should disregard the rest their testimony. That didn’t happen here.”

Higgins is now confined to the apartment. If he goes outside, he has to wear a muzzle. He can no longer play in the dog park.

Cheryl Gudowitz: “Well, this is just shocking and disturbing in so many ways. Because he barks? Shame on Miami-Dade County Animal Services. I’m just speechless. This is just unbelievable.”

Cheryl would love to appeal but that requires a lawyer. Maybe someone will offer to help.

Be careful. If you have a dog on a leash and they are barking at someone, Miami-Dade County can declare them dangerous.

With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
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