Owners of pit bull-type dogs say people misunderstand the animals and wrongfully stigmatize their owners.
They’re speaking out after recent news accounts of a pit bull attack in Wausau that left another dog dead and its owner injured.
Brittany Dahlke and Laura Butzlaff, who both have Wausau connections, are among owners who say they are judged based on the type of dog they have.
Dahlke, who has lived in Milwaukee the past year, said when she walks with her 6-year-old pit bull mix or recently adopted pit bull-mix puppy, people tend to avoid her.
“Some people are afraid to come by me, but my dogs are very non-aggressive,” Dahlke said. “For the most part I ignore it. I let my dogs show them that they’re harmless.”
Brittany Dahlke said when she walks her pit bull-mixes around Milwaukee, some people are afraid of getting too close.
Butzlaff has had a similar problem walking her 4-year-old pit bull mix around Wausau, she said, and every day she feels she and her dog are criticized.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” Butzlaff said.
Since late June when Cindy Ryder was attacked by a pit bull that killed her Chihuahua, Ryder and others have suggested implementation of a breed-specific ban in Wausau.
Talk of a ban especially raised the hackles of pit bull supporters.
Butzlaff said owners should do more to prevent their dogs from attacking people and their pets.
Getting rid of one breed isn’t going to get rid of human negligence.
Laura Butzlaff, Wausau pit bull owner
“I feel like it’s human neglect, and getting rid of one breed isn’t going to get rid of human negligence,” Butzlaff said. “My dog would never do that.”
Many pit bull owners and advocates, like Dahlke and Butzlaff, believe better enforcement of breed-neutral laws is the solution. The American Kennel Club issued a report in 2013 that called for alternatives to breed-specific bans. Solutions included stricter animal control enforcement and leash laws, and the adoption of guidelines that define dangerous behavior.
“It really just falls on the owner,” Dahlke said. “If someone is going to own a dog and doesn’t provide training, they are taking serious risks with the animal’s behavior. It really falls on the owner, and you need to be willing to understand what it entails to own the dog.”
Green Bay Police Department Humane Officer Sharon Hensen has dealt with dangerous animals in a city that has never had a pit bull ban. She doesn’t think breed-specific legislation is the answer.
“(This kind of legislation) hinders more than it helps,” Hensen said. “There’s not enough manpower to enforce it. Where do you start, and where do you stop?”
Hensen said for the past seven years, Green Bay has enforced a “dangerous dog” ban, similar to the ban already in place in Wausau. Hensen said the dogs do not necessarily have to attack to be considered dangerous but can simply exhibit a propensity to commit an unprovoked attack.
According to the Green Bay ordinance, a dog can be deemed dangerous if while unprovoked, and “while not under the control of its owner, chases, confronts, or approaches a person in a menacing fashion and it is clear that the dog is not merely being protective in a particular set of circumstances.” A dog also can be deemed dangerous if it approaches a domestic animal or causes a non-severe, non-bite injury under the same circumstances.
Last November, the village of Waunakee lifted a 30-year breed-specific ban on pit bulls in favor of a breed-neutral ban like those in Green Bay and Wausau.
Waunakee Village Clerk Julie Helt said the pit bull ban was too broad.
“The code we had wasn’t enforceable, and this made it more specific,” Helt said.
Wausau resident Becky McElhaney, who opposes a pit-bull ban, said irresponsible pet ownership is a problem that plagues Wausau and surrounding communities.
“What you are seeing with these recent incidents are owners that do not even have the dogs licensed or vaccinated,” McElhaney said. “They already have shown they are not responsible pet owners and community members with this action.”
Dahlke thinks future legislation should be breed-neutral and focus on pet owners.
“Dogs have no control over their environment; however, owners do,” Dahlke said. “Laws must focus on action and inaction of dog owners.”