I was going to write about the 25th anniversary of the event that took place Thursday in 1990, as I wrote last week.
(I wrote a bit about that in this space last week and previously, which you can read at www.swnews4u.com/archives/15844/ and www.swnews4u.com/archives/21654/.)
My commentary plans were waylaid by the blizzard of response to last week’s short story about the proposed pit bull ban in Platteville, expanded upon on page 1 of your favorite weekly newspaper. In addition to the letter this week, Facebook comments among the more than 17,000 views were uniformly negative, including these printable comments (some were not printable):
• “Dogs are great. People are the issue. I’ve also seen instances where a dog was excited, but it was mistaken for, ‘Oh my gosh, that dog is going to get me!’ Some people are too sensitive for their own good (and other people’s good). Others are just crappy pet owners.”
• “That’s like banning a Ford Focus because a drunk driver of a Focus killed someone.”
• “Communities are already repealing or altering bully bans because they realize it is the individual dog/owner, not breed. It would make sense to focus on dangerous dogs with bad owners.” (Most recently, Juneau, east of Madison, and Grandview, Mo., whose ban was enacted in 2005. Darlington repealed its ban in 2013, as did Waterloo, also east of Madison.)
• “Remember good citizens that the more we allow a governing body to make decisions such as this the less freedom the tax paying people have. Fire that Alderman for attempting to work outside his scope of practice or job description. The city council should have much bigger and better things to worry about and spend your money on. Same goes for law enforcement. Give those young recruits the freedom to shoot a pet first and ask questions later? Really? Isn’t that already a given in their job description if an animal is out of control and harming others? What a waste of time, money, and ultimately your freedom.”
Even worse: A person looking to buy a house in Platteville decided against buying a house in the city because of the proposed pit bull ban. Notice where new houses are being built in the Platteville area? (Hint: Not in the city.)
As of Monday night, a petition drive against the proposed ban was three-fourths of the way to the goal of 1,000 signatures. The website StopBSL.org, which opposes breed-specific legislation, picked apart the proposal, including the part about allowing police to kill dogs with “vicious character,” noting that “there is no information about due process or how this ‘vicious character’ is going to be determined.”
Ald. Mike Denn said this was prompted by an attack on a woman’s dog by two pit bulls. But how does Denn, or anyone else, know what a “pit bull” (which is not even a breed) is without DNA testing? Does the city propose to force people with dogs that (they think) look like pit bulls pay for DNA testing?
It’s not as if Platteville is a dog-friendly city as it is. Owners of dogs pay property taxes just like dog non-owners do. But do dog owners get to take their dogs into city parks? Not without risking a citation. And for what reason? There are dog owners downtown for whom not cleaning up their dogs is illegal, and yet notice what sometimes shows up on city sidewalks that doesn’t belong there.
Denn claims the city wouldn’t “go around looking for pit bulls.” That is a statement he is not qualified to make, for this reason: Platteville will have a different city manager sometime this year, and someday will have a different police chief who may have some unexplainable zeal about ridding the city of the supposed menace of pit bulls.
What got less attention was the part added to the end of the ordinance, which I think is also a problem. No one wants to see people “cruelly treat any animal in the City in any way,” but who decides what activity fits the criteria prohibited in the ordinance (particularly the last part about “daily contact to provide care and companionship as needed”)?
There is a phrase in law school that good cases make bad law. The corollary is that creating new laws based on isolated (at best) incidents makes bad law too. Look through page 8B of each week’s Journal, and see how many citations for dogs running loose (for all of Grant County, by the way) you find. Answer: Not many.
If the problem is bad owners, then increase the penalties in the existing ordinance. I see no evidence that Platteville has a problem with pit bulls. I do see numerous problems with Denn’s proposal.
Another deadline: Our last issue with letters about the April 7 will be the March 25 edition, next week. The Journal must receive those letters no later than Friday at 5 p.m. (Given the huge number of letters for this election, not all letters may be printed.)