Dog ordinance changes draw crowd

 The Watertown Public Safety Committee attracted a crowd of more than 100 people at its Wednesday night meeting. The committee was discussing proposed changes to the vicious dog ordinance in the city.

More than 100 people crammed into a basement room and flowed out into the hallway of the municipal building Wednesday night to voice their opinions about proposed changes to the city’s vicious dog ordinance which would include labeling all pit bull breeds and pit bull mixes as vicious dogs.

The ordinance change is being crafted by the Watertown Public Safety Committee to deal with what officials call a vicious dog problem in the city. The committee asked the Watertown Police Department to put together a report on dog bites, citations and use of force against dogs by officers in the past few years.

Committee Chairman Mark Kuehl previously told the Daily Times after reviewing the report the committee deemed pit bulls vicious by nature and the dogs would be subject to the restrictions placed on vicious dogs in the ordinance if it is passed by the city council. Those restrictions include dogs being muzzled at all times when off owner’s properties, outdoor pens and dog areas being secured, signs posted on owner’s properties and a possible minimum insurance policy limit on dog owner’s homeowners issuance.

The ordinance is still at the committee level and any provisions can be changed. The ordinance changes will also have to be approved twice by the common council before they would go into effect.

The public was invited to speak to the committee during the meeting and 49 people choose to speak. The overwhelming majority of those that spoke were against the automatic restrictions against pit bulls.

Watertown resident Roger Schroeder said he has been a dog groomer for eight years and has lots of other experience with dogs prior to that. He said singling out pit bulls deprives owners of their due process under law and the committee is mistaken about the nature of the dogs.

“Pit bulls are generally very intelligent, kind dogs. At one point they were known as the nanny breeds because people used them to watch their children. Pit bulls unfortunately do have a fierce demeanor. They look fierce, so people use them as guard dogs and people do poorly train them and misuse them,” Schroeder said. “The issue is the individuals with the dangerous dogs who should be punished, not every pit bull owner.”

A common theme from most of those who spoke at the meeting was responsibility for vicious dogs lies with the owners, who should face restrictions and fines. But blanket restrictions on all pit bulls would be unfair and not solve the city’s problems.

Watertown Humane Society Shelter Manager Jody Reamer said the shelter gets in over 100 dogs a year, many of which are pit bulls or pit bull mixes. She said she has been bit by two dogs in her time with the humane society, both of which were Chihuahuas. She said the shelter temperament tests every dog that comes through the shelter and she has passed many pit bulls to be with children.

“I feel that deeming a breed vicious because of their breed is so very unfair. It is like children, do we blame a child for how they are? Or do we blame the parents for how they are? Dogs are a product of their environment,” Reamer said.

Sarah Sindermann, of Watertown, presented the committee with a petition she said had signatures from 100 Watertown residents who were against deeming pit bulls vicious. She added the petition was only up online for the past 24 hours.

 Watertown resident Jeanne Zuleger spoke at the meeting and said her dog was attacked twice by a neighbor’s pit bull and is now scared to go outside.

“I understand you all love your dogs and I love my dog too ... and now she won’t go outside. She will be going to live with my in-laws,” Zuleger said. “After the second attack the dog was taken away and they now have two more pit bulls. What do I do? I would rather send her to someone else’s house so she is not scared to go out for her walks. My first thought was please do something.”

Greg Hoffmann said Zuleger’s case highlights the real issue with vicious dogs.

“You get rid of one dog and they bring in two more, but the pattern continues. It’s not the breed. If they would have had a rottweiler the same thing would have happened,” Hoffmann said. “Chief Roets you don’t direct your men to pull over people driving red cars, you pull people over because of their actions. Breed specific legislation is just like that. Please don’t do this. I’ve been around for a while, I’m an older guy and I remember when it was the Dobermans back in the ‘70s. Later on it was the rottweiler, then the German shepherds and today it’s pit bulls. What’s it going to be next week? Rather than address the bad dog of the day, address the ownership issue.”

Alderman and committee member Fred Smith said the committee took up the vicious dog issues because there is a serious problem in the community. He added they did not start off looking at pit bulls, but the numbers from the police department’s report showed a high percentage of the bites in the city were done by pit bulls. He added it is the committees job to protect public safety in the city.

“By the grace of God we haven’t had a death, but if we don't do something it is going to be a tragedy,” Smith said.

Smith suggested the committee look into increasing the fines dog owner’s face for not registering their dogs and for letting them run at large in the city.

“The committee has to seek to provide greater punishments and greater accountability. There has to be cooperation across the board. We see what can happen when dogs are out running in large numbers,” Smith said.

The committee agreed to continue to research the insurance requirements and if higher fines could be implemented on negligent owners. The committee will meet again once more research has been gathered in the coming months to continue to work on the legislation, Kuehl said.

(12) comments

Sounds like the committee heard all the predictable breed specific excuses.

Dogs are a product of both their environment and their genetics. A pat on the head and a milk bone does not change DNA. Committee member Fred Smith has noted that by the grace of God there has not been a death in Watertown. Other communities have not been so lucky. Since January 1, 2013 three Americans have been killed by pit bulls. Total dog mauling deaths in the United States for the same time period from all other breed combined? Zero.

The reality is that 4% of the dogs carry out 75% of all the really serious mauling's and vicious attacks, if it requires over a week of hospital stay then it is always by and only be a pit bull.

There is no excuse to wait until a child has been horribly mauled, or an adult killed, the city council needs to proactively pre-emptively remove the cause of these tragic mauling's, the pit bull rather then wait for the inevitable to happen and then deal with the mutant after the fact, why wait, act now instead and stop it before it happens.

All you have to do is ban these mutants and then the danger and the terrible attacks will disappear, what is so hard about that to understand, peoples rights trump dog rights and we have the right to live in safe and secure world, pit bulls are a contradiction of this reality that we have a right too and want to create, they need to go and they need to go now.

I am disappointed to see that there are so many narrow close-minded people in the community of Watertown, Wi. Its no longer the German Bred city you all grew to love. Hispanic nationality is greater than the white population in the city now. Its time to open your minds and realize that IT IS THE OWNERS FAULT FOR WHAT HAPPENS TO HIS OR HER PROPERTY, A DOG IS CONSIDERED PROPERTY RIGHT. Well then lets see here, if i tether and leash my Pitbull at all times when outside, how do you figure he is going to attack anyone or any animal. Every case of a pitbull attack in watertown is due to an "at large" complaint. Now for those who don't have a clue what at large means, it means off the property, not leashed, tethered, or secured dog. Now to me, that is the owners fault. Also what was not shown in this story is that three people that stood up and talked about their animal being attacked by these animals, 2 of them were from the same house hold twice, that there is 4 attacks by 2 pitbull owners, hmm now do the math, the next was one viciously mauled lost an ear, and severley scarred across the face, but they didn't mention, but she did, that her dog was a pitbull too. It was attacked in Jefferson Co. dog park, by a golden retriever, which is second highest attack dog in the united states. The golden walked away with owner, not a speck of blood from the goldens body, gets away scotch free, now if you called the cops on that one, who do you think the cop is going to believe. Not the shaddowed pitbull breed but the family friendly golden retriever. Open your mind for once in your perfect life and realize that the breed didn't attack these animals and people, that dog did the deed not the whole breed. I am tired of people blanketing the whole breed for one or two bad eggs. So if your family member does something bad i am going to deem your whole family as a terrible product of society and a problem to the safety of the community. In return i want your whole family handcuffed and shackled at all times while off the premises of the home in which they live and also say that this clause goes for the next generation, your children, your children's children and so on. Please realize how irrational you sound and open your mind to a reality that is happening. Narrow minded never win.

april29, where did you obtain your statistic from?

what is profanity? Every comment I've written was not accepted due to profanity but there was none in any of them. Not even a hint of profanity

Apr 29 and Thomas, you need to take a closer look at your statistics. There are some numbers there that don't add up. You should confirm the validity of your statistics before drawing conclusions. Statements like "ban these mutants" is right out of the Eugenics movement. People and dogs are not evil or dangerous because they come from a particular race or breed. The Eugenics movement was popular in the U.S. before WWII and American eugenicists complained that the Nazis were beating them at their own game. Thank God the majority of the country is more educated now and sees Eugenics for the foolishness that it is.

April29 and Thomas, wow, I thought only dogs foamed at the mouth!

Here is a topic for the city's legal team. what will you do when you are sued and forced to prove that a dog is what you call a "pit bull"? Since the term "pit bull" is a generic term for many breeds of dogs..are you prepared to back up your law with the ability to determine the breed by DNA? That is what has happened in other cities that have ventured into this ignorant attempt to ban dogs. For you see, so many dogs may have the "look" of a "pit bull", but are not that at all. the dog called a "pit bull" is not a breed recognized by the AKC. So how will you handle this then? Are you going to tell someone their dog looks like a "pit bull", therefore you can't have the dog or you have to do whatever your law says? Wow, talk about discrimination.
And to this Thomas person...what experience do you have with these "pit bulls"? For if you were ever blessed with sharing your life with one of these dogs, you would not be spewing your ignorant words. Your type always jump into these conversations, giving opinions they are in no way qualified to give. But of course it is easy to do on the Internet, isn't it Thomas?

"The CDC strongly recommends AGAINST breed-specific laws in it;s oft-cited study of fatal dog attacks, noting that data collection related to bites by breed is fraught with potential sources of error (Sacks et al., 2000). Specifically, the authors of this and other studies cite the inherent difficulties in breed identification (especially among mix-breed dogs) and in calculating a breed's bite rate given the lack of consistent data on breed population and actual number of bites occurring in a community, especially when the injury is not deemed serious enough to require treatment in an emergency room (Sacks et al., 2000; AVMA, 2001; Collier, 2006). Supporting the concern regarding identification, a recent study noted a significant discrepancy between VISUAL DETERMINATION of breed (Voith et al., 2009)."

Still not sure about how difficult it is to ID a breed? Take a look at this public service announcement poster:

I see that the Public Service information poster about breed identification link did not post correctly so here's a shortened url:

There are some good experts on this topic and research on this topic out there. None of which on our this comment board. I would hope the council will reach out to some of the experts for guidance on this topic, both bread, training and ownership responsibility. This is a serious issue that needs careful planning, discussion and action.

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