Watertown officials are considering a change to the city’s laws that would deem all pit bulls vicious and place new restrictions on the dogs and their owners.

The Watertown Public Safety Committee is the middle of crafting changes to the city’s vicious dog ordinance following complaints from citizens about a relatively high number of vicious dog activities in the city, committee chairman Mark Kuehl said.

Kuehl said the committee asked the Watertown Police Department to create a report investigating dog attacks on citizens and domestic animals in recent years to help guide the committee members as they addressed the issue.

“We are trying to be considerate of all sides on this, but there is a sizable history of pit bull attacks and other dog attacks on humans and other animals in the city of Watertown,” Kuehl said. “Pit bulls, because of the history in Watertown and nationwide, were deemed to be vicious by nature, and will fall under the requirements if the ordinance is passed by the council,” Kuehl said.

According to the ordinance, a pit bull is defined as a any dog that is an American pit bull terrier, American staffordshire terrier, staffordshire bull terrier or any dog displaying a majority of one or more of the other three breeds.

He added other dogs may be deemed vicious based if they bite humans or other animals and would then be subject to the restrictions in the new ordinance. Those restrictions include posting of signs on a dog owner’s property, making sure outdoor pen areas are secured and muzzling dogs at all times when they are off the owner’s property. Kuehl added the committee is also considering requiring pit bull and vicious dog owners to maintain a minimum amount of $500 of liability insurance.

Kuehl said dog breeds that are not pit bulls that are involved in an incident where they bite a human or another animal would not automatically be deemed vicious because certain exemptions are built into the ordinance. He said for example if a person is trespassing on another’s property or the dog is taunted or provoked before a bite occurs.

University of Wisconsin-Madison adjunct professor and certified applied animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell said she and other animal behaviorists do not believe placing restrictions or bans on certain breeds of dogs are effective.

“Certainly the data doesn’t support it at all. There was a recent study done in Europe that looked at thousands and thousands of dogs ... and bully breeds were by no means more statistically likely to be aggressive,” McConnell said.

McConnell, who has written 13 books on animal behavior, said whether or not a dog is a danger to humans is a function of how they are raised and trained. She added, regrettable there are lot of pit bulls who are raised without being socialized or trained, and that can result in dogs being aggressive.

Watertown Police Chief Tim Roets said animal complaints consume a significant amount of the department’s time.  In 2012 the department responded to over 700 animal calls, with the majority involving dogs, according to Roets.

“What is of greater concern than the mere number of calls is the increase in vicious dog incidents in the city in which citizens and their pets have been attacked by aggressive dogs,” Roets said. “As recently as last Sunday we responded to a vicious dog that ran out of its yard and attacked another dog being walked by its owner on the other side of the street. Dealing with aggressive dogs is dangerous and poses a significant risk to anyone in contact with them including our police officers.”

There were 1,831 dogs registered with the city in 2012, according to the dog report completed by the police. The most popular dog in the city was the labrador retriever with 315 reported, followed by the shih tzu with 118 and the golden retriever with 113. There were 44 pit bulls registered with the city in 2012.

According to the report, 78 dog bites to humans were reported between Jan. 1, 2010, and Aug. of 2012. Pit bulls were involved in 19 percent of the bites, mix breeds or other were also involved in 18 percent, unknown breeds in 17 percent, labrador retrievers 8 percent and cocker spaniels in 8 percent of the bites.

During that same time period, the police department handed out eight vicious dog citations and issued 10 warnings.

The report also documented four incidents where police officers used forced against dogs in the city including:

— A police officer shot a dog in October of 2007 while responding to a dog at large complaint.

— A police officer used a Tazer against a dog in February of 2009 while responding to an at large complaint for a vicious dog.

— A police officer shot a dog in May of 2009 that was actively attacking another dog.

— Chief Roets shot a dog on July 31, 2012, while responding to a report of a dog at large that was attacking another dog.

Kuehl said after receiving the dog report the committee weighed two different options for dealing with pit bulls: banning them outright or placing restrictions on the breed. The committee choose the second option.

Roets said the big difference is when a pit bull, or similar breed, is in attack mode it is much more dangerous than other smaller less aggressive dogs.

“Our most recent incidents in the news involved pit bulls and last Sunday’s incident also involved a pit bull,” Roets said.

McConnell said there is a bias people have when it comes to pit bulls. She said stories about pit bull attacks often get more news coverage than other types of breeds and often times dogs are mistakenly identified as pit bulls. She added bans on the breed are ineffective and have the potential to cause a lot of pain and suffering.

The committee will review the ordinance Wednesday night and if approved it will be forwarded to the city council. The council will have to approve the ordinance change in two consecutive meetings before the changes would go into effect.

Roets urged citizens to attend the meetings and to contact their alderperson’s to have their opinions heard on the ordinance changes. The meeting will be Wednesday at 5 p.m. in room 2044 in the Municipal Building, 106 Jones St.

“I encourage citizens with opinions regarding this issue to get involved in the discussion by contacting their city council representative or attending our public safety meeting,” Roets said.

(16) comments

The Watertown Public Safety Committee Chairman and the Chief or Police have made a reasoned decision based on events in their community. This decision is rightly decided in the community without interference from non-local special interests. Patricia McConnell is well connected to breed specific advocacy and uses their time tested but illogical talking points.
Many communities have some form of BSL and are very well pleased with the results. It is simply not true to say that BSL does not work. National dog lobby special interest groups opposed the Miami-Dade pit bull ban for many years and put VERY strong pressure on the Florida State Legislature to nullify this law and in doing so violate home rule rights. These national special interest PACs spent a great deal of time and money trying to convince Miami-Dade voters that they would be better off without the breed ban despite frequent serious and even fatal pit bull maulings in Florida cities where pit bulls are unregulated . In the privacy of the voting booth, without bullying from breed specific advocates, Miami-Dade voters overwhelmingly supported their breed ban. The national breed specific advocacy PACs will do the same high pressure lobbying in Watertown. Your local lawmakers will receive letters and e-mails from pit bull advocates all over the United States and likely from foreign countries as well. No other breed requires this level of advocacy. The decision on this proposed law should be made locally, not by out of state special interests.

I tried reposting from my fb page, but here goes...
BSL is BS...Dog problems come from bad owners. Owner responsibility or lack of is not limited to any breed of dog. When breeds are singled out however, then the responsibility turns into everyones', not just the ignorant/bad owner. The responsibility should rest solely on the owner. Irresponsible people are less likely to follow the law-so as a result, we all have to suffer? I'm thinking not...By limiting the ability of citizens to only own certain breeds, you scare law abiding citizens from owning them! They shy away from the "bully" breeds. We need these responsible owners to take care of these dogs! We've been through paranoia with dobies, rotts, now "pit bulls". What kind of dogs help the police? I'm placing money that it is not a poodle! (Which I do have a scar from). Or a chihuahua (which scarred my nose)! [smile] The owners have a responsibility to their animals. If they fall short-THEY should have to follow stricter rules, in severe incidents, get their animals taken away and not returned. Michael Vick's dogs were all rehomed and retrained. It's the owner, not the dog.

People have a right to own dogs, your letting fear cloud judgment. Laws like these drive black markets and increase crime. Roets even mentions "similar breeds" leaving the door wide open for my dogs ( a German Shepherd Dog and a Bulldog mix) to join his list.

April made her argument that a professor and animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell is not local despite working at UWM. Yet the majority of April29's post refers to Florida is evidence of a reason for beginning a dog ban.

Blaze, my point was that McConnell is a pit bull apologist, not that she is not local. Watertown will hear from Best Friends Animal Society (Utah), HSUS (a national animal rights PAC), ASPCA (another national PAC, Animal Farm Foundation (New York based breed specific advocacy organization), the NCRC (a national LCC subsidiary of Animal Farm Foundation). All of these organizations, and others, have websites and all of these websites have "BSL Alert" listings with sample letters and contact information for every elected official in any community considering regulation of pit bulls. The reason for regulating pit bulls is the number of attacks in this community plus the record of pit bull maulings and deaths throughout the United States. It is not yet Valentines Day and there are three recorded pit bull mauling deaths in 2013 in the United States. Total for all other breeds combined? Zero. It is not "fear clouding judgement" it is real world experience .

These laws have been proven to be ineffective and just hurt the good dog owners. They also give a false sense of security. Let's not discriminate because of a few bad owners. Deal with the individual, not the breed.

Is a tall,strong guy more likely to hurt someone if he gets into a fight than a small skinny guy? Yes. Should we ban tall, strong people from town, just in case? You never know, one of them could be really bad and do something awful.

Then perhaps we should start looking at race? Start banning people based on that.

Dogs are individuals, just as people are individuals. Don't base your opinions of everyone based on a few. There are far more good bully dogs, and bully owners, than bad ones.

The data displayed in the article leaves out the # of unregistered dog, which is the majority of dogs in any municipality. Also missing is whether the biting dogs were registered, but most importantly is the context of the numbers. 19% of bites in this case is roughly 15 bites in a 17 month period, spanned over whatever various mixes of dogs were considered to be pit bulls. While any dog bite is unacceptable from a community safety standard, addressing a minority of bites with an ordinance will not reduce the real factors involved in dog bites. So if ONE type of dog were to be singled out, the remaining 81% of bites would have nothing done about them. I hope the city leaders are logical enough to realize this.

People are so uneducated about the bully breed. There are far less attacks by bullies than any other breed. Please check the statistics. Bullies are wonderful family dogs, that just want to love and be loved. If you have a bad bully, blame the owners, they're the ones at fault. Judge the dogs by who they are, not their breed. Very, very sad day if this passes.

Many disabled people use bully breeds as Service Dogs. Under Federal Law and State Law, these dogs can not be banned.


The ADA Law protects the right of the disabled to use a Service Dog, even if a municipality has a BSL...... according to the 2010 guidance issued by the Department of Justice.

I posted a comment, but it seems to have disappeared.

Disabled people who use bully breeds as Service Dogs, are protected under the ADA laws. The bulletin by the Dept Of Justice from 2010, specifically addressed the issue of BSL and Service Dogs.

If you you have not been an innocent victim of a Pit Bull attack your view should not count. Watch my response to Voice of the People in the next week.

Sorry ks, that is simple ignorance. We all have a right to our opinion, as you do yours. However; by making a blanket statement such as yours, you refuse to open your mind to any other ideas but your own. That is fine, but just a tad selfish. I have been an "innocent" victim of a poodle and a chihuahua. Does that mean if you owned one that you loved that you should not have an opinion that defends your choice of breed? I really don't think so. If you are a responsible pet owner, you end up with good canine citizens. If you are irresponsible, you end up with bad canine citizens. Simply put-you cannot blame the "dog", all are born puppies with a clean slate. Very much like babies. If you raise your babies to be bad, they become bad. They become nuisances, the same as puppies. My view does count, thank you very much!

ks...WRONG. This is America. Everyone's vote counts here.

Let's not discriminate based on a few unfortunate instances.

The breed is not the problem as any dog can be taught to harm another. The issue is with the owner and weak animal cruelty laws. When animal cruelty laws and animal licensing regulations are not enforced, we have no way of stopping the problem at the source. We are all responsible for this problem when we overlook cruelty and other socio-economic issues that encourage the development of aggressive animals (fighting, drugs, etc.).

Don't let fear and ignorance drive this law. BSL is like putting a band aid on a brain tumor. Let's deal with the real issues and serve our communities in meaningful ways.

Before people decide to judge this breed, please look at this website. www.atts.org.
Pit Bulls consistently test higher (better results) than labs and other household breeds.

Apr29, your numbers are off and you still have not cited a source. ___Additionally, you stated that Patricia McConnell is a "Pitbull Apoligist" in order to discredit her. Patricia McConnell is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. She is also a professor at UW-Madison where she teaches the "Biology and Philosophy of Human/Animal Relationshiops. She has also seen clients for serious behavioral problems since 1988. For fourteen years she has dispensed advice about behavior problems and information about animal behavior research on Wisconsin Public Radio's Calling All Pets, which was heard in 90 cities around the country. ___What are your qualifications, Apr29?

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