Watertown City Council approves 'vicious dog' ordinance - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Watertown City Council approves 'vicious dog' ordinance


WATERTOWN (WKOW) -- A proposed "vicious dog" ordinance in the city of Watertown has been amended and passed, no longer including restrictions on pit bull breeds.

Tuesday night, the Watertown City Council voted to approve an amendment to the ordinance that previously had passed. The original plan classified any dog resembling a pit bull as a "high risk dog". Owners would only be allowed to have one high risk dog and another dog. High risk dog owners would not be allowed to live in multi-family buildings with more than three units.

After hearing hours of public outcry at several meetings, Alder Robert Stocks proposed an amendment to the ordinance, removing the high risk, breed-specific policies. Alder Ken Berg, who owns a pit bull, was pleased that amendment passed Tuesday night.

"It's gonna actually provide a better chance for this ordinance to actually deal with the dog issue in a way that otherwise I think was going to be more complicated more bureaucratic," says Berg.

The original ordinance was put forward by Alder Fred Smith who worked with the Watertown Police Department on the process. Smith says the city has had too many vicious dog attacks and he's confident the pit bull breed is to blame.

"I believe that they are an inherently dangerous breed and I believe that that has been proven in one community after another, and so I thought that in furtherance of public safety it was important to keep it in," says Smith.

That's not how dozens of people felt at Tuesday's meeting. Of the more than 40 people who spoke about the ordinance, only two were in support. Some animal activists came from as far as Milwaukee and Illinois to discourage the use of breed-specific legislation. Many said it's the owner who trains the dog to be well-behaved or violent.

Sean Van Derel, who is on the Watertown Humane Society board, says his organization, and other shelters in the area just don't have the resources to care for extra pit bulls that would have had to be surrendered under the original ordinance.

"It will pretty much cripple our humane society because we do not have the space or capacity to hold the amount of animals that would have to be basically given up," says Van Derel.

After the decision, he spoke to the council thanking them for choosing to amend the ordinance.

Some pit bull owners from Watertown were also there to share their stories of the pets they say defy the stereotypes of a dangerous dog breed.

"[My dog is] very at ease, very easy going; my 2-year-old rides around on him like a horse, he's very social," says Allison Wellmann. "He's very well-tempered, easy going and laid back."

Others already began looking for a new home outside of Watertown, so they wouldn't have to give up their pets.

"We would have to move," says Rachelle Mayer, who has four pit bull rescues. "It's not an option for our family to re home two of our dogs."

Not all those who attended were opposed to the ordinance. Jeffery Borchardt came from East Troy to tell his story. Borchardt's 14-month-old son was killed by two pit bulls earlier this year.

Borchardt says the pit bulls that attacked his son were well-trained and normally behaved well but turned on their owner-- his son's babysitter.

"[My son's] skull was crushed, this was not just a dog bite," Borchardt tells 27 News. "If only these people had seen for two seconds what I have to think about every day."

Borchardt thought restricting pit bulls was a good first step.

In the end, the amendment will not specifically target a high risk breed. If police encounter an incident with a dog of any breed they deem vicious, the dog's owner will have to follow the ordinance regulations that would have applied to pit bulls under the original plan.

The amended ordinance should take effect within the next week.


WATERTOWN (WKOW) -- Watertown's City Council approved an ordinance that would restrict residents from owning certain pets.

The council approved the measure Tuesday night.

It includes an amendment that removes language that singles out pit bulls. The amendment takes out the definition of a "high-risk dog" as any variety of pit bull.

Members of the public were invited to speak at Tuesday night's meeting, and many of them spoke out against the ordinance. Animal activists came from Milwaukee and even Illinois to speak at the meeting, along with some dog owners from Watertown.

Many said the proposal to ban pit bull owners from having more than one other dog would put a strain on both the local humane societies, and the dog owners who would have to give up their beloved pets.

There were a few people who showed up in support of the plan. Jeffery Borchardt of East Troy told the story of his son's death, when two pit bulls attacked the 14-month-old boy and his babysitter, the owner of the dogs. Borchardt also read a list of the names of nearly 20 people he discovered were killed by dogs so far this year. He says nearly all were by pit bulls.
The ordinance also bans pit bull owners from living in multi-unit apartments with three or more units.

WATERTOWN (WKOW) -- A final vote is expected Tuesday night on a Watertown city ordinance that would restrict residents from owning certain pets.

Last month, the ordinance was passed 5-4 by the Watertown City Council. It bans high-risk or vicious dogs from apartment buildings. Under the law, people who own a high-risk dog would only be able to own one additional dog. 

The ordinance specifically defines a high-risk dog as any variety of pit bull. Some humane society officials are opposed to the ordinance, calling it breed-discriminatory. A Jefferson County Humane Society spokesperson says the ordinance could put a burden on its resources.

Tonight on 27 News at 10, Jennifer Kliese will report on the city council discussion and decision.

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