Watertown, WI: Committee recommends moving forward with pit bull ordinance

At their meeting on Wednesday, August 14, the Watertown Public Safety and Welfare Committee recommended moving forward with an ordinance that would place vigorous restrictions on pit bulls and “other vicious dogs.”  The change would make it illegal for residents 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, with the exception of duplexes and privately owned condos.

We were first alerted to Watertown’s intention to pursue a breed specific measures earlier this year, and the restrictions are 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, and he acknowledges that the feedback received thus far from the public has been urging the city to enact a breed-neutral ordinance because the city’s problems stem from irresponsible ownership.

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 law.  The ordinance does not contain a grandfather clause for these residents, but on Wednesday, the committee discussed a clause that could be added that would allow residents who had legally registered their dogs with the city by May 13, 2013.  The city attorney advised, however, that the grandfather clause would only go into effect for a limited amount of time to allow individuals to come into conformity with the law and to give time to those individuals who have leases to move out of a multifamily buildings or to find homes for dogs if they own more than two.

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.  In addition, no person in the city may own a prohibited dangerous dog.

Owners of pit bull breeds and “other 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.

In addition to the restrictions on “pit bulls and other high risk dogs,” the ordinance raises fines for dog owners who do not register their pets, let them run at large, and violate other city laws.

The ordinance will be introduced to the full city council on Tuesday, August 20, 2013.  The ordinance changes will have to be approved at two separate common council meetings. Smith said the public is invited to attend those meetings and there are two opportunities for public comment at each meeting.

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 John David

Darnell Hendricks, 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)
bob@ttlws.com, wccpastor@charter.net, kbergo1@jhrellc.com,
zgonc@charter.net, johnjcoughlin10@yahoo.com, raugie@att.net,
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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