A 56-year-old Wausau woman who was mauled last month while trying to save her dog from a pit bull that attacked it now is pushing the city to ban all pit bulls from Wausau.
Cindy Ryder was attacked June 19 by a neighbor’s pit bull after it charged from its home on the 900 block of Washington Street, just feet from her home. Ryder bent to protect her Chihuahua, Bartok, as the pit bull came at her and was bitten in the arm, wrist and back of the head. The pit bull eventually was brought under control by the father of the dog’s owner, but it was too late for Bartok. Ryder was taken by ambulance to the hospital as Bartok took his last breaths in the arms of a neighbor.
Still suffering from her injuries, Ryder now is starting an effort to petition the city to ban all pit bulls.
“I feel if I don’t do something about this, it will never get accomplished,” Ryder said.
Wausau police already have declared the pit bull that attacked as “prohibited dangerous” and it remains quarantined at the Humane Society of Marathon County. According to city ordinance, the owner of the dog, Amanda Williams, had five days to remove the pit bull from the city or to appeal the declaration that the dog is dangerous to the city’s Public Health and Safety Committee.
A woman who answered the door at Williams’ home Thursday declined to discuss the matter, but the city is moving forward with action against Williams. On July 3, Wausau Assistant City Attorney Tara Alfonso filed a petition in Marathon County circuit court seeking an order that the dog be euthanized. As of Thursday, no hearing was scheduled for that petition.
For Ryder, the wait already is too long.
“They still haven’t put that dog down, and I don’t understand,” Ryder said. “It’s like we don’t have any rights, but pit bull owners do. At this point I don’t see what my rights are. All I heard is what she has a right to.”
The attack has renewed debate about the pit bull breed, which is demonized by some people but defended by many owners who say owners, not dogs, are responsible for attacks.
Though pit bull breeds have a reputation as vicious and dangerous breeds, Mary Kirlin, executive director at the Humane Society, said a dog’s behavior is influenced by both its bloodline and its training. In her experience, all breeds have the capacity to attack.
“I have seen it from awesome dogs, I have seen it from poodles, from shepherds, from pit bulls,” Kirlin said. “I have seen it from just about every breed that is out there.”
To prevent attacks, training and socialization is key, said Kirlin. She said anyone who owns a dog should be prepared to raise it just as they would raise a child — with love, attention and discipline.
“You get what you put in,” Kirlin said. “We are supposed to be the smarter species.”
Owners of pit bull breeds also have been stigmatized. Laurie Hoffmann, founder of Watertown for Responsible Dog Ownership, said that popular myth — “a punk and a pit” — is being dispelled. Programs such as the Majority Project are trying to demonstrate that pit bull breeds are owned by “people from all walks of life,” said Hoffmann. The project, initiated by the Animal Farm Foundation, asked pit bull owners around the country to submit photos of themselves and their dogs to their website and discovered a diverse ownership.
“Because of this and other facts we know about dog behavior and breeds,” Hoffmann said, “cities are overwhelmingly rejecting and repealing breed-discriminatory ordinances.”
The ordinance change Ryder is pursuing would not be a first for the state. Some areas have either banned the breed or have specific requirements in their care. Others have permitted pit bulls but declared the breed as a whole as “dangerous” or “vicious” without prior examination of each individual dog.