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pit bull

A proposed ordinance aims to address the overpopulation of pit bulls in Madison. More than half of the dogs euthanized at the Dane County Humane Society each year are pit bulls.

State Journal archives

Ald. John Strasser insists he has nothing personal against pit bulls. He just wants to do something about the overpopulation of the breed in Madison.

Strasser, 14th District, is the lead sponsor of an ordinance that would require all pit bulls over the age of five months to be spayed or neutered.

Strasser said the overpopulation of pit bulls is putting stress on the Dane County Humane Society and the city’s animal services officers.

“We’re not going after the pit bulls and making ownership of a pit bull prohibitive,” said Strasser. “What we’re trying to do is cut down on the population so that we can devote more shelter and rescue efforts to other animals, and not just to the overly bred pit bulls.”

Strasser points to a number of statistics to support that stance.

More than half of the dogs euthanized at the humane society during 2010-12 were pit bulls. And more than half of the pit bulls that go to the shelter end up being euthanized.

Pit bulls accounted for 12 percent of incidents involving dogs biting humans and 38 percent of the dog-on-dog attacks in the city in 2013.

They also made up 21 percent of the cases of dogs running at large and 48 percent of abandoned dogs.

Of the 15 dogs that were declared dangerous during 2011-13, 14 were pit bulls.

“We never considered a ban,” said Patrick Comfert, animal services lead worker for Public Health Madison and Dane County, who compiled statistics and advised in the drafting of the ordinance. “People have wonderful pit bulls. A ban is discriminatory. What this is saying is that we recognize that this particular dog is a problem, and the numbers back that up.”

Strasser’s proposal, co-sponsored by Alds. Anita Weier, 18th District, and Matt Phair, 20th District, is scheduled to go before the City Council on Tuesday. It will be studied by a couple of committees and could be in effect by March.

Strasser and Comfert anticipate that the ordinance will stir the emotions of pit bull advocates.

“I’m sure there will be some who are worried that any sort of legislation mentioning ‘pit bull’ will affect its reputation,” Comfert said. “I hope those people will see the good in this. If they love the breed, I’m hoping they love the breed enough to admit that it comes with some problems.”

And Comfert gets a close-up look at many of those problems on a distressingly regular basis.

“We find pit bulls locked in garages, kept in crates, making puppies,” he said. “That’s not an uncommon call in the summer. It’s specific to pit bulls.

“I’m not going to a garage and finding two or three collies being bred to death in a hot garage with no water. I’m finding pit bulls in that situation. So from a humane standpoint, it’s about them.”

Comfert said most such operations don’t worry about genetics of the puppies that are produced. And if they do, sometimes it’s in an attempt to combine the most aggressive traits, which then show up after the puppy has been bought by an unsuspecting owner.

The ordinance does allow for specific exceptions for pit bulls that are documented show dogs or service dogs.

Enforcement would be on a complaint basis and there would be programs to assist owners who can’t afford to pay to have the dog altered.

Violations would lead to fines of $500 for a first offense up to $1,500 for third and subsequent offenses.

“We’re trying to make it as reasonable as possible and as narrowly tailored as possible to address the two issues we have – the over-breeding of pit bulls and the unlicensed breeding out of homes,” Strasser said.


Dennis Punzel covers Wisconsin Badgers volleyball, women's basketball for the Wisconsin State Journal.