Pit-bull bans controversial, but they work

The city of Antigo has been pit-bull-free for almost 20 years.

In 1995, the city hired an attorney who suggested that the city adopt an ordinance prohibiting the oft-maligned dogs from the city, said Kaye Matucheski, city clerk-treasurer for Antigo. The ordinance largely was a preventative measure; Antigo hadn’t had any vicious dog attacks, but pit bulls were being blamed for maulings all over the United States, so the city acted before an attack happened rather than waiting to react afterward.

The ordinance the city adopted prohibits pit bulls and mixes of the breed, as well as any other vicious or dangerous animals, from being in the city. In the almost 20 years since it was adopted, Antigo has had no attacks, no maulings, and no dogs killed by pit bulls or other dogs.

Contrast that with Wausau, where in June, a woman was attacked by a pit bull that charged from its home and killed the Chihuahua the woman was walking. That dog remains in quarantine at the Humane Society of Marathon County as a court case seeking to have it euthanized moves forward.

Meanwhile, the owner of the dog was cited June 19 for allowing a dog to run loose, keeping a vicious dog, failing to license the animal and failure to have it vaccinated for rabies, according to Wausau Police Lt. Mike Juedes. And the woman who was attacked, Cindy Ryder, has called on the city to ban pit bulls as Antigo and other cities have.

Editorial: Pit bull ban worth considering: Our View

Municipal leaders where such bans have been adopted say the rules are simple and they work. They ensure that pit bulls are kept under control to protect the safety of residents and other animals. Critics of the laws, though, say they punish good owners for the actions of bad owners.

The village of Stratford and the city of Greenwood both have similar bans on pit bulls and dangerous animals. Lonna Klinke, Greenwood’s clerk-treasurer, said her city’s experience is much like Antigo’s: no specific incidents inspired the ban, and since it was adopted, the city has had no attacks and issued no citations.

Greenwood, she said, has no pit bull problem.

How the bans work

The June attack in Wausau was the latest in a series of maulings that has seen 10 dogs declared vicious by the city over the last six months, and police are called almost every week to a report of a problem animal running loose or threatening people.

Marathon County spends about $68,000 a year sheltering stray, surrendered and impounded dogs, and last year, about half of the dogs in the Humane Society of Marathon County’s shelter were pit bulls awaiting adoption or euthanasia.

In contrast, Antigo is pit-bull free, and authorities spend almost no resources chasing the problem dogs, Matucheski, the clerk-treasurer, said.

“If there is an incident where we’re informed that a resident has a pit bull, they are visited by the police department and asked to remove the pit bull,” Matucheski said.

Pit bulls that are found in the city are impounded, Matucheski said, and are kept at the humane society, where they can be adopted by people who live outside city limits.

When Antigo adopted its ban, pit bulls already in the city were allowed to stay, but owners had to register them with the city and follow strict guidelines, including muzzling their animals and keeping them on short leashes when they are outdoors — a procedure similar to those in other municipalities that have adopted bans.

Bans have critics

Every time a city considers adopting a breed-specific ban that targets pit bulls and related breeds, owners rush to the defense of their dogs. The Wausau proposal is no different.

Melanie Clark of Mosinee adopted an American Staffordshire pit bull–Boston terrier mix from a rescue shelter and said bans unfairly label breeds as bad. Blame for attacks by pit bulls and other dogs should instead be placed on neglectful owners, she said.

“My pit bull is friendly and welcomes guests,” Clark said. “As I understand it, the dog (from the June incident) got loose, and in my view, the dog shouldn’t have been loose. He thought he was defending his territory, and it never should have happened.”

Clark, who volunteers at the Mosinee Veterinary Clinic, said she has seen many breeds lash out.

“There are bad German shepherds, bad Labrador retrievers, and the worst bite I ever saw at the clinic was by a mean miniature Doberman,” Clark said.

According to national dog attack statistics from http://www.dogsbite.org, pit bulls and pit bull mixes represent about 6 percent of all dogs in the United States but are responsible for the overwhelming majority of all maulings. Between 1982 and 2013, pit bulls were responsible for 275 deaths and 1,779 maimings, according to the organization, which tracks dog attacks. Over the same time period, Rottweilers caused 81 deaths and 294 maimings; German shepherds caused 15 deaths and 63 maimings; and Dobermans caused seven deaths and 10 maimings.

Still, when Daily Herald Media published the original story about the proposed ban, hundreds of comments from pit bull defenders overwhelmed the Daily Herald website, all echoing Clark’s contention that the breed is unfairly maligned and blamed for attacks that are sensationalized by the media.

Moving forward

Lisa Rasmussen, chairwoman for the Wausau Public Health and Safety Committee, said the city the city considered a breed-specific dog ban about eight years ago, when an attack resulted in police shooting a vicious dog, but she sides with Clark and other breed defenders. She said a ban would not solve the problem and has no intention of considering Ryder’s proposal.

Rasmussen said the city’s current ordinance, which bans all dogs deemed “vicious” from the city, has been working effectively. The ordinance defines vicious dogs to be those that have killed another dog or attacked a human, both without provocation. If authorities deem a pet vicious, the owner has the right to appeal the claim, Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen also said that pit bulls are not the only breed of dog the city has had problems with.

“We will not solve the problem of bad ownership or breeding by banning one type of dog,” Rasmussen said. “It would not solve any problems with other breeds, and it comes down to proper breeding, owner training and the environment the dog is raised in.”

Andy Davis can be reached at 715-845-0665.

About the bans

Many pit bull bans share stipulations:

 

  • Bans on dogs known as “pit bulldogs,” including the Staffordshire bull terrier, the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier breeds, and any dog that has the appearance or characteristics of any of these breeds
  • Pit bulls that were registered with the city before a ban was implemented are allowed to remain, provided the owner uses a muzzle on the pit bull and that it is kept on a leash no more than four feet long
  • Owners who have been allowed to keep their pit bulls must have a minimum of $50,000 in single-incident insurance
  • Owners must post Beware of Dog signs that can be easily seen by the public
  • Any puppies born to a registered pit bull must be removed from the city within six weeks of their birth
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