Watertown, Wisconsin’s “Pit Bull” Ban Proposal Passes First Reading

By a vote of 5-4 — with aldermen Fred Smith, Mark Kuehl, Steve Zgnoc, Augie Tietz and Robert Stocks voting for a “pit bull” ban, and aldermen Emily McFarland, Ken Berg, John Coughlin and Jim Romlein voting against it — Watertown’s proposed extremely restrictive “pit bull” ban has passed its first reading.  

According to the Watertown Daily Times,

The ordinance change would ban pit bulls and dogs deemed vicious from multifamily buildings in the city, with the exception of duplexes and privately owned condos. It also bans any individual or family that owns a pit bull or a dog deemed vicious from owning more than two dogs. Currently the city allows individuals to keep up to four dogs in the city, regardless of the breeds. So if passed, a family which owns a pit bull or dog deemed vicious and has two other dogs would be breaking the city’s laws and would be required to move or give up at least one of the animals.

Other provisions in the law state owners must keep dogs in kennels or fenced in when outdoors, warning signs must be placed on homes, dogs would have to be spayed or neutered after they are 5 months or older and owners would have to pay a special registration fee and provide proof of liability insurance of at least $100,000.

And if you think Watertown won’t enforce the two-dog rule for owners of so-called “pit bulls,” see my prior post about how the Watertown Common Council rebuffed resident Laurie Hoffmann when she all but begged them not to make her re-home one of the three of her beloved dogs, one of which is unfortunately a “pit bull” mix.   And, as I also said in my prior post, the fact that Ms. Hoffmann has been a law-abiding citizen and registered her dogs per the law, means the city will know right where to find her when they run around like the Gestapo endeavoring to enforce their ridiculously illegal and blatantly unconstitutional ordinance.  

Unfortunately, unconstitutional is only the half of it.   We have for months now maintained that the Watertown Common Council has been listening to some pretty ignorant, if not downright untruthful sources (which was confirmed when a member of Watertown’s Humane Society acknowledged the council’s source was a Facebook page!), so let’s look at just how ridiculous that source is:

[Alderman Fred] Smith** said the Watertown Safety and Welfare Committee has been working on drafting the ordinances changes for almost a year and they have heard over and over again it is not the breed. However, Smith said the process of breeding seeks to accentuate specific characteristics over time and he said pit bulls were bred for aggressiveness, tenacity, to fight and to kill.

“Those characteristics are in their DNA. They do not surface to the same extent with every dog, but you do not overcome decades of breeding with training. They are dangerous dogs . . . I would submit to you, based upon everything we know, and many of those who came forward about the traumatic experiences they have had,” Smith said. “Pit bulls bite. All breeds bite, the difference is when you are bitten by most breeds you treat the bite at home or go to the emergency rooms. When pit bulls attack you go to the trauma center if you are not dead on the scene . . .We have a problem that cries out for public safety to be addressed. This ordinance seeks to do it . . . and we would be extremely well advised to pass it.”

How long must we suffer hearing the same junk science, long-debunked urban mythology?  

Regardless, we will debunk this ridiculousness yet again.   First, the claim that pit bulls are more vicious or do more damage than the average canine is just another variant of the locking-jaws/more-powerful-jaws urban mythology of the pit bull, which is wholly false.   In 2005 Dr. Brady Barr in a show for National Geographic called Dangerous Encounters conducted bite-force tests for several kinds of animals.   Also included in the tests were three breeds of dog: the German Shepherd, the Rottweiler, and the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT).   Of the three, the American Pit Bull Terrier had the least amount of bite force, which was found to be well below the average dogs 320-pound bite pressure.

Further, I. Lehr Brisbin, Ph.D., who is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and an expert in training, handling, behavior and the anatomy of bulldog breeds has said that,

The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of [American Pit Bull Terriers] show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than that of any [other] breed of dog. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of locking mechanism unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier (Source: American Dog Breeders Association, Discover the American Pit Bull Terrier).

Additionally, in testimony from the Toledo v. Tellings case in 2006, Dr. Brisbin also explained gameness, which many people incorrectly believe makes pit bulls more dangerous than other breeds of dog.   The court affirmed Dr. Brisbins findings that,

Many pit bulls [which the court defined prior as meaning the American Pit Bull Terrier] may also exhibit a behavior or trait referred to as ˜gameness, which, simply stated, is the ability or willingness to continue doing an action once begun, i.e. stick-to-it-iveness. Gameness, in itself, is not a negative trait. For example, the ability to carry out duties or trained tasks, despite injury, distraction, or frustration, is desirable in [APBTs] which have been trained to be search and rescue dogs, protection dogs in the U.S. military, drug sniffing dogs, and therapy dogs.

Judging from Dr. Brisbin’s definition of gameness, you can see how people are misled to confuse gameness with dog-on-human aggression, which is extremely rare in any breed, despite what propagandists would have you believe.   Still, to argue that one can supposedly breed viciousness — particularly viciousness directed towards humans as if there were no difference between dog-on-dog aggression and dog-on-human aggression — into a breed of dog is to not at all understand canines, their breeding, or their behavior.  

Indeed, Alderman Smith makes it sound as if you can put all the “ingredients” to making a vicious dog into a dog’s uterus, and plop, a few weeks later, out comes a vicious dog.   How absurd!   Smith is confusing gameness with what he believes, or has been told, is dog-on-human aggression, which again is extremely rare in any breed.  

As Dr. Brisbin testified, gameness, where it is found, can be directed towards desirable behavior or undesirable behavior, just like a dog with speed, strength, and stamina can be trained to do good things — like compete in agility trials or become bomb-sniffing dogs — or can be trained to do bad things like fight other dogs.   To put that another way, no matter what physical traits a dog of any breed may possess, you still have to train a dog, and good people train their dogs to be good, and bad people train their dogs to be bad.  

For instance, German Shepherds were trained to attack African-Americans during the segregation era, and German Shepherds were trained to attack Jews and other “undesirables” during the Holocaust.   Does this make German Shepherds bad?   Does it make them racist?   No, of course not.   It just makes them highly trainable.   And hopefully we would all agree that Nazis and Jim-Crow segregationists are bad people who trained good dogs to do bad things.  

Another way to easily poke a hole in Alderman Smith’s flawed argument would be to say that if “pit bulls” were as inherently vicious as Smith alleges, then there would be dead owners of “pit bulls” numbering in the millions everywhere.   Are there?   No, there aren’t.

Like I said, dogs of any breed can be trained to do good things, bad things, or, if left unattended like when an owner allows a dog to free-roam, dogs may do less than desirable things.   The less than desirable things are more conspicuous, certainly, but are still an indication of an owner problem, not a breed problem.   The irresponsible owner problem isnt going to go away simply by banning or restricting the breed of dog they are thought to own since these types of irresponsible owners ” who are in the extreme minority compared to the majority of responsible dog owners ” typically demonstrate their unwillingness to abide by the law well before breed-specific legislation is even ever proposed.

And though there is decade after decade of evidence that BSL doesn’t work, some politicians still propose it as a quick, Band-Aid-type fix.   I guess you could call that willful  ignorance on their part; they could be educated, but they refuse.   Yes, I am to the point now where I believe that those who still seek to pass breed-specific laws are either purposely ignorant, or corrupt.   Seriously, with the Internet, is there any excuse for not knowing that breed-specific legislation doesn’t work (meaning it doesn’t reduce bite rates), that it kills the innocent dogs of law-abiding citizens, and that irresponsible owners just switch breeds or become even worse scofflaws?    

So there it is Watertown.   The majority of your council doesn’t seem to care that “pit bull” isn’t a breed.   They don’t care that therefore statistics on so-called “pit bulls” are wildly inaccurate and indicative of nothing.   They don’t care that all the “pit bull” urban mythology is untrue.   They don’t care if breed-specific laws are unconstitutional, or even if Watertown’s ordinance proposal is particularly unconstitutional because it is a particularly bad piece of legislation.   They don’t even care if they severely adversely affect their constituents and make their lives a living hell.  

That’s right Watertown.   A majority of your council doesn’t care what you think.   Aldermen Fred Smith, Mark Kuehl, Steve Zgnoc, Augie Tietz and Robert Stocks have been and look like they will continue to give more credence to junk science information on a Facebook page than your rights.   They even managed to sway Robert Stocks who had prior been against the legislation.  

So what have you learned Watertown?   Five members of your council couldn’t seem to care less about you or your rights.   Instead, they engage in prejudice that is about as infantile, ill-informed, and ignorant as racism, and negates many of the same constitutional rights that racism used to.   They refuse to listen to reason from within or without Watertown, but they will entertain junk science from a Facebook page.   What do you think about that?  

I think Sean Van Derel, a member of the Watertown Humane Society Board of Directors, said it best when he pointed to the fact that the council had heard a lot of sad stories during the meeting but that, as the Watertown Daily Times put it, “the information and facts being provided by the council and people in the audience were not true.”   Mr. Van Derel added,

“I am disappointed tonight that this legislation can pass on no facts, no evidence and information from a Facebook blog. I hoped it would be decided by the use of logic and intelligent thinking . . . “

If Alderman Fred Smith still believes that “pit bulls” have locking jaws and can actually be bred to be dog-on-human aggressive like a recipe for baking a cake, then to say the Watertown Common Council is about to pass a law based on “no facts, no evidence” and more precisely, junk science, flawed statistics, and hysteria, would be a huge understatement.

Likewise, beware of those who push legislation in a hurry-up manner:

“We need to ensure the quality of life in this community. I don’t think its perfect, but this needs action tonight and again in two weeks,” [Mark] Kuehl said.

Just like a used car salesmen, those who put a time limit on how quickly you must buy something are almost certain to be selling something.   And should the aldermen on the Watertown Common Council “buy” what is being sold to them, they may very well discover later on that they have a serious case of buyers’ remorse.  


**Just as an aside for the attorney (or attorneys) that will almost certainly be suing the city of Watertown over this atrocious ordinance: Alderman Smith acknowledged two things that on the face of it make the ordinance proposal unconstitutional: 1)   Smith asserts that, “Those characteristics . . . do not surface to the same extent with every dog” which is an acknowledgement that Watertown’s ordinance would unfairly target some innocent dogs within the definition of what they call “pit bull,” which is an equal protection violation.    2)   Smith further acknowledges that “All breeds bite,” and while he tries to make the case that so-called “pit bulls” do more damage when they bite, it is fairly easy to prove that all dogs of medium- or large-breed size can do extensive damage when they bite (and that even small-breed dogs have been known to kill infants).     For example, in 2005 a woman in France became the first successful recipient of facial transplantation after her dog, a Labrador, mauled her face unrecognizable.   And yes, I’m fairly certain she went to a trauma center.


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