If the Platteville Common Council enacts a ban on pit bulls, it will do so without the approval of the city’s Freudenreich Animal Care Trust Fund committee and at least two council members.
The committee opened its meeting Monday afternoon by removing, on a unanimous vote without discussion, the proposed ban on pit bulls, as well as a provision allowing “any vicious dog or animal which is found off the premises of its owner” to be seized by police and “upon establishing the vicious character of such dog or animal” killed by police.
The proposed ban would amend city code Section 6.02, which makes it “unlawful to own, harbor or keep any animal” that is violent or bites to include a “pure bred commonly known as pit bull, pit dog, or pit bull terrier, and/or includes a mixed breed” of “the pit bull terrier breed of dog, the Staffordshire bull terrier breed of dog, the American pit bull terrier breed of dog,” or “the American Staffordshire terrier breed of dog.”
The proposed ban was sent to the committee by the Common Council after it was introduced March 10.
In a reversal from usual form, the discussion about the pit bull ban, authored by at-large Ald. Mike Denn, followed the committee vote. Denn’s presentation was interrupted several times by owners of pit bulls or other opponents of the ban who challenged Denn’s information and statistics. An online petition against the ban had more than 45,000 signatures as of Monday evening, with more than 400 signers from Platteville.
“We’re kind of upset, Jackie and I, that this was put in our laps,” said veterinarian Jeff Rolwes, one of two veterinarians on the committee, along with Dr. Jackie Kieler of Platteville Veterinary Clinic.
“We are not elected officials; we have no voting rights and the council can make the decision,” said Kieler.
When Denn was told the committee voted to remove the ban from the proposal, Denn replied, “That’s OK, we’ll take care of it when we get to the council.”
The apparent impetus behind the proposed ban goes back to the middle of 2014. On May 29, a Platteville woman reported to police that her dog was attacked by a dog owned by a neighbor and injured. A witness claimed he had to pull the pit bull off the dog that was bitten on its head.
The dog’s owner told police her dog lost an eye and needed more than $1,400 in veterinary care.
Damien W. Janisch, 24, Platteville, pleaded no contest June 30 to a citation for allowing a dog to injure a domestic animal and was fined $200.50.
Two months after the dog attack, on June 10, a witness of that attack saw a woman walking past the house and told police that “one of the neighbor’s pit bull dogs had frightened the lady with its aggressive barking and pulling on its tie out chain.” The witness’ roommate told police he had seen the pit bulls would bark at people walking by from a window and would be “very aggressive in the window, pushing or lunging like they were attempting to get out.”
The woman walking past the house told police that the dog’s owner grabbed it before an attack took place.
Later in June, police served Janisch and his wife, the dogs’ owners, with notices that police considered “keeping the dog that engaged in this bite incident as a daily violation” that police would begin enforcing. Police then were told that the dog in the bite incident had been given to “a friend of the owner in Richland Center.”
“Who identified the dogs as pit bulls?” asked committee member Marcia Cordts, coordinator of the Platteville Dog Park.
“We assumed they were pit bulls based on their appearance, not on anything scientific,” replied Police Chief Doug McKinley.
“So we don’t know they were pit bulls of any kind,” said Cordts.
According to Grant County court records, the owner of the injured dogs sued the Janisches and was awarded $1,609.90 in damages and court costs Aug. 25.
Denn’s argument was based in part on homeowner insurance companies that won’t cover households that include pit bulls. Denn said dog bites totaled more than one-third of homeowner insurance claims in 2013.
Denn claimed that of the 42 dog bite-related fatalities in the U.S. in 2014, “the pit bull contributes to 64 percent of the deaths” though pit bulls total 6 percent of U.S. dogs, he said. Denn claimed pit bulls and Rottweilers totaled 74 percent of U.S. dog-attack deaths in 2014, and 74 percent of fatal attacks between 2005 and 2014.
Denn said his statistics came from dogbite.com, which one meeting participant claimed has a “vendetta against anything that could be construed a ‘bully breed.’”
“There are differences in dog breed inheritance,” said Denn. “There is no other way around it at all. … They were bred to kill larger animals … everybody who wanted that bred for that trait. … You don’t know if that dog has that trait. That’s a risk you take as a dog owner.”
One meeting attendee, Gary Prohaska, said that what are known today as “pit bulls” were the country’s most popular pet 100 years ago. “Something happened since then, and what happened is the drug culture and dog fighting. They’re capable of fighting, but they’re capable of being wonderful pets.”
To a statement that veterinarians don’t support breed-specific bans, Denn said that veterinarians “are not going to go breed-specific on anything,” and that doing so would “cut their own throat.”
To that, Kieler replied, “I think nothing you’re saying has any basis at all. … You don’t know what I would say.”
The committee voted to ask the council to create an “animal regulations working group” to discuss the proposed ban.
Cordts has organized a meeting on the subject in the Municipal Building Tuesday at 6 p.m. For more information, call 732-7836.
Both District 1 Ald. Barb Stockhausen, the council liaison to the committee, and at-large Ald. Dick Bonin, who attended the meeting, said they were opposed to the pit bull ban.
“I was hoping it would die in your committee,” said Bonin.
“I don’t believe in it,” said Stockhausen, who said she was hospitalized two years ago after a bite by a German shepherd/husky mix. “It’s behavior; it’s not the breed.”