The village of Waunakee will now allow pit bulls, after an ordinance from the 1980s banned the breed for years.
Village trustees voted unanimously to take out any breed-specific language in the rules Monday night.
Kelly Lappen is more than pleased with the decision, after prompting the dog debate.
“I've never been able to understand how you judge a dog by its breed,” Lappen said. “Doesn't make sense to me.”
Lappen has had her pit bull, Clay Matthews, for about nine months. She was shocked to hear about the village ban when police showed up at her door, telling her someone had reported the dog and she had 20 days to find him a new home.
“It was breaking my heart because Clay is not just my pet. He's my family member,” Lappen said.
Lappen went to village leaders, asking them to consider a change in the ordinance’s language so that pit bulls weren’t singled out as the only potentially-dangerous breed.
“It shouldn't be breed specific,” Lappen said. “The owners really should be the ones held responsible for their dogs.”
Among the revisions, Waunakee Village Administrator Todd Schmidt said the new ordinance gives police more discretion in dealing with vicious animals overall.
For instance, Schmidt said the old code limited police to only look at the past year of a pet’s bad behavior when considering a punishment for the owner. The new ordinance allows them to consider the animal’s entire history of “vicious” acts.
Additionally, Schmidt said officers can now respond to a dangerous pet anywhere, while the owner’s property was not included in the old rules.
“It widens the spectrum to approach all different breeds of dogs in what they consider, and removes some other limitations that otherwise hindered our ability to enforce in the past,” Schmidt said.
Board president John Laubmeier called pit bulls “evil” during Monday’s meeting, but cited his reasons for supporting the new ordinance. He said he could not find research that a pit bull ban has reduced the number of people hurt or killed in any jurisdiction.
Laubmeier added that professional veterinarians and law organizations advise against breed-specific language in an ordinance. He noted there is more than one dangerous type of dog, and he felt the need lies in addressing behavior instead of breed.
Finally, Laubmeier and others expressed concern with enforcing the ban on pit bulls, especially with proving what dog is what breed.
Schmidt shared those concerns.
“It looks like a pit bull. Is it a pit bull? And then you start talking about DNA testing, and to what extent of a breed existing within that DNA qualifies it as a pit bull? Is it a majority of the breed? Is it a 50 percent or more?” Schmidt said. “It gets tricky to pull off that enforcement.”
Laubmeier and other trustees said they plan to talk to the police chief about first-offense fines for the new ordinance, encouraging him to enforce more than the minimum of $50.
Lappen is just happy that with the help of legal counsel, people listened.
“I really want to let the village board know how appreciative I am that they're open to discuss this and to, you know, make things in Waunakee a better place for everybody,” Lappen said.
The new animal ordinance will go into effect next week.