The Lappen family was unaware of Waunakee, Wisconsin’s “pit bull” ban when they moved to Waunakee, and only learned of Waunakee’s breed-specific law (BSL) when their dog, Clay, barked at someone and was reported to police. Waunakee Police made the Lappens aware of the ordinance when the Lappens were ordered to have their dog removed from the city within a mere 20 days.
As with so many people struggling to abide by vague and poorly-written breed-specific legislation, the Lappens* weren’t sure their dog was a “pit bull.” The Lappens considered having Clay’s DNA tested but then reconsidered, because, as Kelly Lappen contends,
It shouldnt matter what our dog is . . . “
Indeed, it shouldn’t, because Waunakee’s own standard isn’t a DNA test, nor were DNA tests even available for dogs in 1988 when Waunakee passed their “pit bull” ban. So all Waunakee has is their subjective opinion about what is and what is not a so-called “pit bull,” which isn’t even a breed. And as Denver has illustrated time and again, Animal Control officers typically cannot tell what a “pit bull” is as defined by their own ordinance.
And speaking of fictitious breeds, Waunakee’s own Animal Control ordinance states:
No person shall own, harbor, or keep within the village any dog of the breed Staffordshire terrier, or any other dog known as a pit bull terrier.
There are no such breeds as “Staffordshire terriers” or “pit bull terriers.” There are Staffordshire Bull Terriers. There are American Staffordshire Terriers. There are American Pit Bull Terriers. But are these breeds what is meant by Waunakee’s extremely vague definition?
Waunakee’s ill-defined and vague definition of a so-called “pit bull” is a perfect example of what the courts mean when they rule that breed-specific legislation is “unconstitutionally vague” and is therefore a violation of the dog owner’s due process rights. In other words, Waunakee’s definition of “pit bull” is so hard to decipher that even if dog owners like the Lappens tried to abide by it, they couldn’t because Waunakee is listing breeds that don’t exist, and the Lappens have a rescue dog, meaning a dog that doesn’t have registry papers denoting the dog’s breed heritage.
Without registration papers from a breed registry, it is very difficult to determine breed. And the jury is still out on whether DNA testing for canine breed heritage is accurate enough to be relied upon for situations as crucial as this, which may be why the Lappens declined to have one done.
So Waunakee’s own standard for a so-called “pit bull” is simply a visual standard performed by the Waunakee Police Department and/or Animal Control, both of which are untrained and offer nothing more than a subjective opinion based on an ill-defined standard. Looks like the Lappens have a case, both in an actual court and in the court of reason and simple logic.
*For more information on the Lappens’ fight to save Clay, you can click on Kelly Lappen’s Facebook page here, or donate to the Lappens’ legal fund here.
**Photo source: Kelly Lappen.