Pit bulls: Man's best friend or a threat to safety? - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Pit bulls: Man's best friend or a threat to safety?

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UPDATE (WKOW) -- We would like to clarify some information about the records requested from Public Health Madison & Dane County.

The statistics about bites, dog fights and dogs at large refer to dogs classified as "pit bulls" by animal control officers.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- You could say pit bulls have a split image, some see them as pets, others as beasts. It's why there's a nationwide debate about how to handle the dogs.

The issue stood front and center in Waunakee over the past two months. Resident Kelly Lappen contacted officials after being told her pit bull-mix clay, had to go. Lappen says Clay barked at a neighbor and had no history of violence.

"I can't wrap my mind around judging a dog by its breed," Lappen says about the pit bull ban that had been on the books for years in the village. But on November 4th, board members voted to make a change, removing the language singling out the breed.

"You see more ordinances going to non-breed specific, addressing all animals, addressing past action, addressing ownership management," Village Administrator Todd Schmidt tells 27 News.

Those in favor of keeping breed bans in place cite safety. Jeff Borchardt's son Dax was mauled to death by two pit bulls in Walworth County earlier this year. He spoke when a ban was considered in Watertown.

"His skull was crushed. This was not just a dog bite. If only these people had seen for two seconds what I have to think about everyday," Borchardt told 27 News in September.

About two dozen Wisconsin communities maintain restrictions targeting the breed.

UW-Madison veterinarian Sandra Sawchuk brought a pit bull named Peaches to our interview. She's one of the school's teaching dogs and Sawchuk says an example of what a pit bull raised correctly can be like.

"Dogs need to be socialized, they need mental stimulation, and physical stimulation and pit bulls, that's what they need to be able to be a normal dog," she says.

The dogs were bred for bull baiting and fighting. They have bigger muscles, more powerful jaws, and are quicker to jump into a fight," Sawchuk says. "They still have that innate behavior of not doing all the posturing, just getting right to it, and not having inhibited bites."

Pit bull popularity in the U.S. is growing. Sawchuk says they've gone from 1 percent of the dog population to about 6 percent. That's something Madison and Dane county Animal Control Officer Patrick Comfert says he's seen first hand. "They're a very large part of our job," Comfert explains.

Records from Public Health Madison & Dane County show the past five years, bully breeds were responsible for almost 11 percent of bites, 26 percent of dog fights, and almost 19 percent of dogs at large calls. Those are high numbers for just one breed out of more than a hundred others.

"What I see happening wrong is people falling under the mantra of, 'it's not the dog it's the person, ya know. Only bad people make bad dogs.' We don't find that to be true," Comfert says.

Madison and Dane County has a dangerous dogs ordinance. It gives officers the ability to declare dogs dangerous to restrict them, remove them or euthanize. Last year, five out of six dogs deemed dangerous were pit bulls. So far this year, it's five out of seven, according to Public Health officials. 

Pit bulls are also the highest percentage of abused or neglected dogs. Dane County Humane Society Spokeswoman Gayle Viney says they often see pit bulls coming from the same areas of town. "We're actually trying to go out into those neighborhoods and help provide information and also offer reduced spay neuter costs for their dogs to try and reduce the number of 'pittys' who are being born and maybe not socialized well," Viney says.

They also offer classes for the breed, which they say has gotten a bad rap, and is very adoptable. "There's a negative side of it that we're trying to help combat and show all the positive sides and also help people become open minded, learn about the breed," she says.

Dogs like Peaches and Clay, mixed with others that attack animals and humans at random make is difficult for municipalities to find a compromise.

Kelly Lappen is happy with the vicious dogs ordinance like the one adopted in Waunakee, not based on breed, but a history of behavior.

Comfert says the dangerous dogs regulations he follows work. But there's one problem, it won't stop an attack from happening, just remedy the situation once it's over.

"If everyone who chose to own a pit bull, or a bully breed, were to research the breed and this would go for any breed of dog, to know what you're getting to know what you're having, that would go a long way towards helping solve some of these issues," he says.

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