The Safety Committee has approved a proposal in Watertown WI that would target the owners of dogs deemed to be pit bulls.
The issue has been under discussion for some time and, in spite of opposition from residents and locals, officials are moving forward with the proposal. The proposal now moves to Common Council to be voted on. There are two votes, the first of which is on Tuesday.
The ordinance targets the “American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or any dog displaying a majority of physical traits of one or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the United Kennel Club (UKC) for any of the above breeds. The AKC and UKC standards for the above breeds shall be maintained on file by the Municipal Court Clerk and updated annually.” These dogs will carry a High Risk Dog designation under the proposed ordinance.
The fact that they are using the AKC and UKC standards means that, as usual, the dogs being targeted will be identified visually. It is important for us to note that every kennel club has openly stated that any use of their standards to implement or enforce a breed discriminatory law is a direct violation of their copyright and a misuse of the standards.
Visual identification is notoriously unreliable. Multiple studies have been done with people who work in animal fields and not only are visual results far from DNA results, professionals cannot even agree with each other as to what the primary breed of a dog may be.
There is no clarification in the ordinance as to what “substantially conforms” or “majority of physical traits” means in a practical sense. This unquantifiable language is not unusual and leaves the determination as to what is “pit bull enough” completely open to the discretion of the person making the assessment.
Though the ordinance goes into great length to describe the appeals process for people whose dogs are determined to be dangerous or vicious by behavior, there is no outlining appeal of a High Risk Dog designation. This lack of information could qualify as a due process violation.
Owners of a dog with a High Risk designation must follow a long list of requirements. Targeted dogs must be on a leash of 4 feet when not at home, no tethering unless a person 16 years or older is present, if the dog is not inside the home it must be confined to a kennel that has a secure top and bottom, or be buried to a depth of 2 feet, as well as complying with zoning regulations, in home restrictions, warning signs, spay/neuter, with no medical exemption, or exemption for registered show dogs, special registration and a $100,000 liability insurance policy and an owner of a high risk dog is not allowed to own any more than one other dog, or own a High Risk Dog in a unit that houses 3 or more families.
An interesting part of the ordinance is the confinement requirements for inside the home. The ordinance states that, “No “high risk dog” or “vicious dog” may be kept in a house, building or other structure when the windows are open or when screen windows or screen doors fail to prevent such dog from exiting the house, building or other structure.” The language of this portion suggests that it would be illegal for an owner of a “high risk dog” to open their windows on a nice day.
Another part that is troublesome is the multi-family dwelling portion. This prohibits a High Risk Dog from living in a place that is a “triplex or larger.” There is no grandfather clause that would allow people who have a high risk dog to keep their dogs if they live in a restricted property.
A grandfather clause is supposedly in the process of being drafted but, according to officials, it would be for a limited time period. This means that a person with a High Risk Dog that has more than one other dog must re-home the “extra dog” or a person in a multi-family dwelling must re-home their dog or move in a certain period of time. The hardship that this places on people is being met with a callousness that is a bit surprising.
Watertown’s full proposed ordinance can be viewed here.
The ordinance goes to the first Common Council vote on Tuesday, August 20th.
It is absolutely imperative that people show up to oppose this ordinance. There was some behind the scenes chatter that the breed based language would be stricken but that has not proven to be the case. A strong in person showing is needed to speak out against this.
Residents and locals: If at all possible, please attend the meeting. It begins at 7PM. Please try to be there early.
If you cannot attend the meeting, please take moment to reach out the Common Council and factually and respectfully ask them to oppose this breed discriminatory proposals.
E-mail addresses for the Aldermen are below, or you can find their phone numbers on the cities website:
Emily McFarland: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 920.988.5874 (this member is not on the website because she is a new member.)
Fred Smith: email@example.com
Ken Berg: firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Zgnoc: email@example.com
John Coughlin: firstname.lastname@example.org
Augie Tietz: email@example.com
Robert Stocks: firstname.lastname@example.org
James Romlein: jwr@R545.us