Waukesha City Alderwoman, Kathleen Cummings, is working with the city attorney and police to draft an ordinance that would restrict “pit bulls and other dangerous breeds.” Please send your POLITE, RESPECTFUL and INFORMATIVE letters in opposition to breed specific legislation to the city officials listed below. Please also include suggestions and viable alternatives for the city’s consideration.
City of Waukesha
201 Delafield Street
Waukesha, WI 53188
Mayor Jeff Scrima
Kathleen M. Cummings
John W. Kalblinger
The city council next meets on Tuesday, July 19, 2011, at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. According to the city website, public comment is limited to city residents only.
Biting Animals Ordinance Would Be Positive Outcome of Sad Situation
The scene of last month’s dog attack is peaceful. A child’s toy bat and ball lay in the yard and a wading pool is in the fenced-in back yard in the 2100 block of Springbrook North on Waukesha’s east side.
But two weeks ago, the area was anything but peaceful as police and medical personnel responded to an emergency call about a pit bull attacking a 52-year-old family member and a neighbor who tried to help her.
One dog, 2-year-old Prince, believed to be the main aggressor, was shot dead by police at the scene. The other dog, Sugar, was tranquilized at the scene and taken to HAWS for quarantine.
What prompted the attack isn’t clear but, according to various media and other reports, the mother-in-law of the dogs’ owner was attempted to put one of the dogs in a crate when she was attacked by the other. Hearing her cries for help, her neighbor responded and was bitten in the process.
The remaining dog awaits its fate at the Humane Animal Welfare Society (HAWS). At issue for some is whether the 7-year-old dog returns to its owners, while city officials, prompted by neighbors’ concerns, attempt to keep the dog from returning without some safety measures such as a muzzle or leashing while outside.
“This wasn’t a bite situation. This wasn’t an accident. This was an attack. People were injured. A woman was mauled,” Alderman Kathleen Cummings said. She received a letter from the owner asking her to “help save her dog” but also said she’s been contacted by neighbors concerned about the safety of the dog returning.
In looking into the laws that the city has about dogs, Cummings said that there is “a gap” in the city’s municipal code regarding situations like this.
She will be working with the city attorney and police to craft a city ordinance which may include restricting pit bulls or other breeds that are considered dangerous. In talking to people about the situation, even other dog owners are concerned about the reputation of pit bulls, she said.
“It’s obvious we need stronger legislation when it comes to certain breeds,” she said.
She said that they would also be considering how other communities address this issue and proceeding with caution. However, changing ordinances or enacting legislation will not impact Sugar’s situation.
According to Waukesha Police Lt. Ron Oremus, this attack was atypical for the City of Waukesha, with calls to Waukesha police about dogs usually of the nuisance variety – a dog running loose or off leash or barking in a backyard. Occasionally, they get a dog bite complaint.
“Never in 16 years of law enforcement have I seen an attack like this,” he said.
According to police, the case will be referred to the Waukesha County district attorney’s office for review of potential charges regarding owner’s liability for damages caused by Prince, possibly resulting in a penalty for the owner.
Also, police have asked that the dog Sugar be held by HAWS until the owners can show proof that they will comply with a Waukesha County ordinance regarding vicious animals, article XII, section 14-454.
According to the ordinance, no vicious animal shall be allowed off the premises of the owner or keeper unless such animal remains inside a secure animal carrier, under the physical control of such owner or keeper, and securely muzzled and restrained.
Also according to another county ordinance, article XII, section 14-452, a vicious animal “means any animal that bites, scratches or attacks in a menacing fashion, or otherwise injures humans, domesticated or other animals without provocation, or which because of temperament, conditioning or training has a history of attacking, biting or injuring humans or any domesticated or other animals.”
According to Mark Hess, HAWS field services and facilities manager, while in quarantine, Sugar has been examined by HAWS and Waukesha County Health and Human Services staff and determined not to have rabies.
Because the dog was just overdue for its rabies vaccination, Hess said, the owners were not given the option of home quarantine, as would be the case with other dogs that have bitten. When returned, the owner will be required to take the dog to the vet for vaccination, Hess said.
There are state laws regarding animals that have bitten and procedures to follow, including quarantining the animal, according to Hess.
“It’s a matter of public health. We’re diligent in following the law,” he said.
In some cases, people don’t want to pick-up their dog after the quarantine period and the dog is euthanized. A stray in Sugar’s situation would have been euthanized because it would not be considered an adoptable animal, according to Hess. However, the owners want their dog back.
“In spite of it all, they love their dog,” he said.
Even after the dog is returned, the family likely hasn’t heard the end of this issue.
If Sugar bites again, her owners may be liable to pay double damages of the bite, according to Wisconsin state law. Also, there are potential insurance ramifications of last month’s incident, with some insurance companies disallowing insurance coverage because of a dog’s breed. A phone number for the dogs’ owners is not listed and the owners have not responded to a Facebook message left by Patch.
Hess understands the neighbors’ concerns about the dog returning home but currently, there is no law preventing it from returning.
“There is no current state, county or local law that would prevent the owner from getting their dog back,” Hess said. “Some cases, like this, we have no control over. We work with police department, with citizens, but we have to abide by the law.”
It may not offer much consolation to neighbors but after observing the dog over the past two weeks, Hess does not expect there to be another incident. According to Hess, the owners felt the male was the aggressor in the situation, with Sugar, the younger dog’s dame, coming to the younger dog’s aid.
And based on his observations of the dog during its quarantine, “There’s a good chance of it being a good family pet for a number of years,” he said.
However, he also said that that animals, like people, are not always predictable.
“We have to remember that even though they sleep in bed with us and lick our faces, they are not always predictable,” he said.
While Hess supports and looks forward to better city laws about animals that bite, he cautioned against breed-specific legislation because determining the breed of mixes can be difficult, potentially leading to weak enforcement, but also such legislation would narrow the scope too greatly since any animal can bite.
He suggests that the potential city ordinance should take into consideration any animal that bites and that demonstrating this behavior determines whether it’s a vicious animal.
“If something positive comes out of this, it’s a local ordinance pertaining to animals that bite,” Hess said.
Another Waukesha County community has already rewritten its ordinances as a result of a dog, not a pit bull, which was running loose and biting people, according to Hess. Because of those ordinances, that dog was not allowed to stay with its owner and was re-homed by the owner in another part of the state.
According to Town of Mukwonago ordinances, no person shall own, harbor or keep any dog which chases cars, assaults or attacks anyone, is vicious, frequently barks or howls to the annoyance of two or more people or is not licensed. Evidence that a dog has bitten, attacked or injured someone is considered proof that a dog is vicious, according to the town’s statutes.