Watertown, WI: Public Safety Committee to discuss breed specific ordinance tonight (7/17/13)

The Watertown Public Safety and Welfare Committee will examine a proposed change to the city’s animal control ordinance tonight, Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 5:00 p.m.  The change  would make it illegal for citizens to “own more than two pit bulls or other dogs deemed vicious by the city.”  The proposal would also make it illegal to own said dogs in any multi-family buildings.

We were first alerted to Watertown’s intention to pursue a breed specific ordinance earlier this year.  The restrictions are a part of a larger ordinance change aimed at what city officials have called a serious vicious dog problem in the city.  A committee meeting in February meeting drew an overflow crowd of more than 100 people, with the majority asking the committee to punish dog owners, not specific breeds of dogs.  Safety Committee Chairman Fred Smith said the committee wants to promote safety and responsible dog ownership in the city.

According to the city attorney, if the draft ordinance is approved in its current form, any resident who has a “pit bull or other vicious dog” and lives in a multi-family building would be in violation of the city’s laws.  The ordinance in its current form does not contain a grandfather clause for these residents.

The meeting will start at 5:00 p.m. in room 8 in the municipal building, 106 Jones St.   The meeting is open to the public, but the committee will not be taking public comments, but city officials advise there will be opportunities in the future for the public to weigh in on the issue.

The original ordinance would have named all pit bull breed dogs and mixes as vicious by nature and subject to restrictions. The new ordinance creates four classes of dogs:

— At large: any dog off the premises of its owner not invited to another property or off leash.

— High risk dog: all pit bull breeds and mixes.

— Vicious dog: dogs that have been found to have a tendency to or have attacked, caused injury or attempted to attack a person or another domestic animal.

— Prohibited dangerous dog: any dog that has inflicted substantial bodily harm or caused the death of a person, is rabid, a wild animal hybrid or dog trained for dog fighting.

The ordinance defines “high risk dogs” as pit bull breeds including American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier or any dog displaying a majority of physical traits of one or more of those breeds.

According to the ordinance, no person in the city may own a prohibited dangerous dog. Owners of pit bull breeds and vicious dogs would be subject to a number of restrictions under the new ordinance including:

— Dogs must be on a leash of no longer than 4 feet in length when off of the owners property. Anyone walking one of the dogs must be 16 years of age or older, be competent to govern the dog’s behavior and capable of physically controlling and restraining the dog.

— Dogs must be either confined indoors or in a securely enclosed pen, kennel or other structure on the owner’s property. Dogs also cannot be confined on a porch or patio that would allow the dog to exist the house or building.

— Warning signs must be placed on the property of any residence that owns a high risk or vicious dog.

— All high risk dogs or vicious dogs must be spayed or neutered after they are 5 months or older.

— Owners must register high risk or vicious dogs on or before Sept. 1 of this year and every year after as a high risk or vicious dogs. Owners must also present a color picture of the dog, proof of spaying or neutering, pay a special registration fee of $25 and provide proof of liability insurance of at least $100,000.

— No high risk or vicious dogs may be owned or present in any multi-family building.

— No one may own more than two high risk or vicious dogs.

The ordinance is still several steps away from being made into law. The safety committee must first finish the draft and then will vote to make a negative or positive recommendation to the common council. The council would then have to pass the ordinance at two separate meetings before it would go into effect.

In addition to the restrictions on pit bulls and other high risk dogs, Smith said the ordinance raises fines for dog owners who do not register their pets, let them run at large, and violate other city laws.  He advises the ordinance change is an effort to deal with dogs at large by city law enforcement, as well as promote registration.  Smith acknowledges that the feedback received thus have has been to urge the city to enact a breed-neutral ordinance because the city’s problems stem from irresponsible ownership.  However, Smith says the proposed ordinance provides the tools to ensure the community is safe from dangerous dogs.

Please take this opportunity to reach out to the Watertown officials with your polite, respectful and informative opposition to breed specific legislation to the members of the Common Council below.  Let them know that community safety is extremely important to us all, and encourage them to move forward with a breed neutral ordinance that will truly work to keep the community safe rather than give residents a false sense of security.  Please also include viable suggestions and alternate breed-neutral ordinances for their consideration. We suggest using the NAIA’s Guide to Constructing Successful Pet Friendly Ordinances.  Encourage the Watertown officials to pass a law that focus on reckless and irresponsible dog owners which will result in a safer environment for the entire community – people and animals alike.

You can find talking points for your letters here.

Mayor Ron Krueger

Mike Hoppenrath, City Clerk
City Hall
106 Jones Street
P.O. Box 477
Watertown, WI. 53094
Phone 920-262-4000
Fax 920-262-4016

Watertown Common Council
(block copy & paste e-mails)
djohnson1078@hotmail.com, wccpastor@charter.net, jpd77@att.net, alderman5dist@hotmail.com,  johnjcoughlin10@yahoo.com, tony@tonyarnett.com, sarah.stocks@att.net, jwr@R545.us

**Please note that Mr. Kuehl, the council president, doesn’t make his e-mail address available. As such, please direct correspondence to him via the city clerk with a polite request to forward to him.




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