August 20, 2013 Hearing
Watertown, WI - Back in August, dog bite victim activists geared up for the first reading of the proposed High Risk Dog ordinance. The Watertown Safety and Welfare Committee had been working on the ordinance since February and a considerable amount of public input had already been given. In mid August, the revised ordinance was introduced to city council and contained two tracks 1.) High Risk Dogs (pit bulls) and 2.) Vicious Dogs (pertaining to all dog breeds).
The High Risk Dog portion included an anti-tethering restriction for pit bulls and their mixes, confinement restrictions, mandatory warning signage on the dog owner's property, mandatory sterilization, mandatory registration and a liability insurance policy of $100,000. The breed-specific portion also banned pit bulls and dogs declared "vicious" from visiting or living in a multiple living unit dwelling or building (a triplex or larger, affecting all high density renting environments).
DogsBite.org edited the August 20 Watertown public hearing video to show a variety of supporters of the proposed ordinance so that readers can see what happens during public comments period of a city council meeting. Many readers will recognize two speakers, Jeff Borchardt, whose son was killed by two pit bulls in March while under the care of his babysitter, and Susan Iwicki, the babysitter and owner of the two pit bulls. A lifelong friend and supporter of Jeff also spoke.
If you want to be a part of something that helps saves somebody, helps save a life, a face, a limb? Start with this bill. - Phil Hughes
Speakers were limited to 3-minutes, a standard time period in public comments. Watertown Mayor John David presided over the hearing and on several occasions reprimanded insolent pit bull advocates in attendance. Those in opposition to the pit bull portion of the ordinance were cut from this 16-minute video segment because our goal was to show the powerful voices in support of adopting a preventative ordinance that would literally help "save a life, a face or a limb."
On August 20, the proposed ordinance narrowly passed. The amendment to remove the "breed-specific language" -- the High Risk Dog portion -- was defeated in a 5 to 4 vote. On September 3, during the second and final reading of the bill, the High Risk Dog portion was stripped. The amendment to remove the breed-specific portion succeeded 6 to 3. Aldermen Robert Stocks and Augie Tietz flipped, bowing to local and out of jurisdiction pit bull advocates and animal groups.1
Upon learning of the September 3 vote, which we only learned just after midnight that night, Jeff Borchardt was deeply saddened. He also appeared at the second reading and spoke, which he described as lengthily and highly contentious. As he previously stated during the August 20 hearing, Jeff reiterated, "If this ordinance would have been in place on March 6, my son would still be alive today." He added in an email to us, "God help them if something happens in that town."
All of the speakers in support of the High Risk Dog ordinance were courageous with compelling arguments. Their viewpoints were vastly more powerful than those voiced by pit bull advocates, who told typical anecdotal stories ("But my pit bull is good!") and pushed propaganda points ("It is impossible identify a pit bull!"). The key to the defeat of the High Risk Dog portion lies in the weak-kneed aldermen who conceded to pressures of local and out of state animal groups.
The upshot is that all of the contention focused on the first track of the proposed ordinance, High Risk Dogs, and ignored the second track, Vicious Dogs, which did pass and is a sizeable improvement over the previous Watertown dog ordinance. We suspect that a number of careless pit bull owners will get nailed under the new definition of a Vicious Dog, which includes "attempt to attack … or otherwise endanger the safety of human beings or other domesticated animals."
See: Finalized Watertown Dog Ordinance
Portions of Video Transcript
Most of you know I drive a school bus ...
I had my hand on the handle, I saw the dad carry the little boy out to the bus, pit bull like a frozen rope2 headed for the door of the bus. I just barely got the door closed; dog hit that door three or four times, before the dad was able to restrain it ...
This was a Head Start bus. These are 3 and 4-year old kids on that bus who are restrained in 4 point harnesses.
I gotta believe that dog would have gotten through me if it had gotten on the bus. I can't imagine the mayhem that could have been committed.
The headline would not have said, "Irresponsible dog owner let's dog torment bus riders." It would have said, "Children and bus driver maimed when driver does not get door closed."
Even pit bull breeders themselves recommend that a responsible pit bull owner carry a "break stick" -- I'm going, "What is a break stick?"
I'm reading a break stick is something you should carry if your dog does bite something, you need to pry it in to open their mouths to get them to release.
That made me really think, there is something inherently wrong with that.
My son, 14-months old, was killed by two pit bulls on March 6, 2013.
His attack lasted for 15-minutes. They attacked the babysitter who was watching him at that time … she did everything she could to save my son's life…
I'm in support of this bill. I have read it in its entirety. If this bill would have been in place in Williams Bay at the time, my son would still be with us today.
I have had nothing but time to do the research on this. I don't have a son to take care of any more. He was our only son...
We're talking about lives here. We're talking about human beings.
If you want to be a part of something that helps saves somebody, to help save a life, a face, a limb? Start with this bill...
If you want to stand in office and say, "I passed something that saved a life," that saved a child from having to live a life of being maimed and disfigured … If you want to be part of something that saves a child's life...
I was Dax's babysitter on March 6th of 2013. When my own pit bulls attacked me while I was holding Dax in my arms. They attacked me first, viciously holding onto my arm, and the other one went at my leg, making it impossible for me to keep Dax in my arms.
We were outside at this time and I had to quickly put my entire body over Dax ... I will never forget every second of that day.
I am here to stand up and say: I was a responsible pit bull owner...
1During the August 20 hearing, Sean Van Derel, a board member of the Watertown Humane Society, threatens city council members saying that if the city passes the proposed ordinance, "our service contract with the city is going to go up" (scare tactic). He also played the DNA "scare" card, claiming that DNA tests would be required because humane professionals are unable to identify pit bulls, despite the fact that on any given day in the United States at least dozens (if not hundreds) of humane groups operate "pit bull specific" programs, for example, the Michigan Humane Society (No DNA test required!):
"However, their pet must meet the program’s breed criteria. Dogs covered under this program must be a Pit Bull-type dog, which include the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Cane Corso and Presa Canario. If visual verification cannot be made by the individual issuing the certificate, the final decision of breed approval will be determined by the MHS veterinarian or veterinary technician at the time of the sterilization appointment."
Van Derel also flat out lies when claiming that the city would be responsible for the costs of these "supposed" DNA tests. No city should ever entrust public policy decisions concerning the health and safety of human beings to people like Van Derel or animal groups like the Watertown Humane Society.
2"Like a frozen rope" is a very telling description as it represents a "B line" attack, the most dangerous of all attacks (See a video of this type of attack). There is no question of the dog's intention, which is to inflict maximum harm.
09/17/13: Dramatic Decline in Attacks by Pit Bulls Since Pawtucket Adopted Pit Bull Ban
07/26/13: Beyond the Myth: Essay of a Fatal Pit Bull Mauling
07/16/13: Cities with Successful Pit Bull Laws; Data Shows Breed-Specific Laws Work
09/29/08: Break Sticks: A Tool Used to Pry Open a Pit Bull's Jaws