Madison, WI: Ordinance targeting “pit bulls” tabled…for now

On March 18, 2014, the Madison, Wisconsin city council tabled an ordinance that would have required “pit bulls” to be spayed or neutered.  The proposal imposed fines ranging from $500 to $1,500 on owners of pit bull-type dogs who failed to comply with the law.

Several area animal shelters, including the Dane County Humane Society, as well as animal welfare advocates opposed the proposal. While there was near unanimous agreement that spaying and neutering is one of the best ways to control pet populations, opponents argued that targeting pit bull-type dogs would create new problems for both the city and shelters. In support of their argument, opponents cited statistics from cities that have passed similar mandatory spay/neuter ordinances targeting “pit bulls” and the substantial increase in pit bull intakes in those cities.

The sponsors of the proposal, however, argued that the city’s animal control officers received “a lot of data” from animal control agencies in other cities, and they were of the opinion that mandatory spay/neuter ordinances were “highly effective.” It should be noted that in conducting their research, city officials included information from cities such as Los Angeles, that mandate ALL dogs over the age of 4 months be altered, as opposed to the breed specific mandate being considered by Madison.

As a side note, one of the most comprehensive sources for accurate data on mandatory spay/neuter laws can be found at KC Dog Blog.  Brent has done extensive research on this issue, corrects the misconceptions about the effectiveness of these laws, and he’s has weighed in on the proposed ordinance in Madison.

The city council meeting on March 18 took place before a packed house, and the majority of those who addressed the council opposed the breed specific proposal.

Due to wavering support among of the council, the ordinance was ultimately tabled at the meeting by its sponsor, Alderman John Strasser.  However, Mr. Strasser told the packed chamber “an even better ordinance” will likely be introduced in May.

Strasser advised that he and co-sponsors, Anita Weier and Matthew Phair, want to develop a comprehensive plan that looks at all the solutions brought to the table. While Strasser couldn’t expand on what a more comprehensive ordinance might entail, he is adamant that a mandatory spay/neuter program for pit bulls is integral to any “solution” the council will discuss.

Despite this, Strasser acknowledged his proposal had flaws, particularly with respect to identifying pit bulls. He argued, though, that owners often self-identify their dogs as pit bulls, and in cases where a dog owner “may lie” about a dog’s breed “to avoid a citation,” Madison’s animal control officers would make the final determination as to a dog’s breed.

Strasser also admitted the language regarding breed identification is subjective, but that “the ordinance didn’t say we had to agree with what the owners say.”

No, Mr. Strasser, you don’t have to agree with the owners when they dispute their dog being identified as a “pit bull,” but unfortunately, if your discriminatory law passes as written, dog owners do have to comply with an ordinance and face substantial monetary fines based upon the subjective judgment (i.e, the opinion) of an animal control officer with no expertise or background in breed identification.

Finally, Strasser advised the existing work group will once again take up the issue, but unlike the previous work sessions, this time they will accept feedback from the public.  No doubt based on the turnout at the last two city council meetings, residents of Madison will have plenty of input for the work group’s consideration.

The bottom line is that mandatory spay/neuter laws fail to decrease pet populations, and statistics show these laws actually result in an increase in intake at animal shelters — the exact opposite result of the ordinance as promised by those bringing these laws to the table.

In addition, the primary reason people do not spay or neuter their pets is because they can’t afford to and/or they don’t have access to affordable spay/neuter services.  Because of this, when mandatory sterilization ordinances are passed, they disproportionately target people in lower income brackets.  A more reasonable, fair and effective solution is to offer free or low-cost spay/neuter services along with educational programs which will promote reasonable ownership and create more responsible dog owners in Madison.

Madison residents, you’ll want to keep an eye out for upcoming work sessions. According to the city of Madison website, the only comprehensive posting of meetings is that which is provided on the City Clerk’s Bulletin Board, located outside of Room 103 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. You can also call or e-mail the clerk’s office to ask if a work session on this matter has been scheduled. (608) 266-4601 or clerk@cityofmadison.com

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