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Wausau examines the dog number question

by on April 18th, 2012

Imagine if you will you that you move to a new town, maybe for a job transfer.  Regardless of the reason for the move, you do move.  You, your spouse and your four children move to a new town.  You buy a house, you start your new job, you settle in.  Then you go to register your children for school only to learn that you are not allowed four, you are only allowed two and the other two have to go.

 

Or, imagine a Brady Bunch situation.  You are a single parent with two children and you fall in love with and marry another single parent with two children.  But when you combine households, again you learn (after the fact) that two children are the limit.  Two of them have to go.

 

I know this sounds like a far fetched concept, but is a reality for many families with pets.  Now there are pet people out there and there are non-pet people.  As a pet person, I can attest that for many, people’s pets are no different than children.  And for other pet lovers, their pets are so much more than just children.

 

Recently, news has been made of a family moving to the City ofWausauwith four dogs only to be told after the move that two have to go.  So, that situation above is very real.  It is real enough that at Monday’s City ofWausau Public Healthand Safety Committee meeting, this topic made their agenda, filled the room, and took up over two hours of discussion and debate.

 

In reviewing the committee packet of information on the City ofWausauwebsite, they were going to look at three possible options to proceed.  Option 1 was the status quo.  Currently, dog lovers who live within the City ofWausaucan have up to two dogs.  Period.  No exceptions.  Option 2 was to raise this limit to a higher number… maybe 3… maybe 4.  Finally, Option 3 was to create a permitting process by which the limit stayed at 2, but households with more than two dogs could obtain an annual permit allowing for more dogs until, through (for lack of a better term) natural attrition, the number came down to two.

 

Of course, with each of those options, there were a number of people not happy.  The status quo was not acceptable to those who moved here with more dogs that the City limit.  There was no room for compromise.  And those dog owners would not give up some of their dogs to come down to that limit as sure as parents would not give up two of their children to come to that limit.

 

Raising the limit did not sit well with a number of people in the city who live next to problem pet owners.  There are pet owners who allow their dogs to bark all night, to roam the neighborhood, who do not pick up after their dogs.  There are people who complain to the police about these dog-related problems (the Wausau Police Department responds to around 1,100 animal-related calls per year — that is an average a 3 a day and an average of $22,000 per year in man hours).  To these city residents living next to irresponsible pet owners, increasing the limit 50% to 3, or doubling it to 4 simply increases the problem 50% or doubles it.

 

Plus, what should the new limit be?  I personally know of noWisconsincities that allow 4 dogs.  Based on my experience with city ordinances all over the state as past president of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, I know of no city that allows more than 3 without some kind of special permit or variance.  City staff researched a number of cities inWisconsinsimilar in size toWausau, and also looked at neighboring communities such as Schofield, Rothschild and Weston.  Again, the limit never was more than 3.  Yet, this entire thing was started by a family with 4 dogs.

 

The final option did not appeal to those who have 3 or 4 dogs, and have always had three or four dogs and when a dog dies, they want to maintain the same size of the household.  However, after hearing all of the public comment and two hours of discussion, the Public Health and Safety Committee felt that this compromise was the best way to proceed.  They instructed the City Attorney to draft an ordinance that would allow for paid permits for extra dogs until the number of dogs in a household was down to two.  This system would not allow a 2 dog household to add dogs except in extenuating circumstances.

 

Personally, I am a firm believer that much like the vicious breed argument (including pit bulls, Dobermans, rottweilers, etc.), the dog number argument is actually less about the dog and more about the owner.  I truly believe that there are people with four or five dogs who are not a problem to their neighbors.  They take care of the animals, pick up after them, don’t allow them to be a burden to the neighborhood.  On the other hand, I have first hand knowledge of people who have one dog, and that is one dog too many.  They should not be allowed to have any pets, as a service to their neighborhood.

 

And, in pulling this comparison back to children, there are some large families out there with a number of children who are well behaved and will grow into productive members of society.  And, there are people out there with one child and that one child because of lack of good parenting is on a path to crime and will be a burden on society.

 

So, fully acknowledging that there are good pet owners who have 3 or 4 dogs in the City ofWausau, and have had 3 or 4 dogs for many years with no neighbor complaints, I can sympathize with them.  The law making the limit 2 was made with them in mind.  However, to be fair, no law is.  Laws are made to protect society from the irresponsible.  That is a necessary evil.  If everyone was considerate of others, and we all looked out for each other, most rules would not be needed.  But that is not the case.  We must protect the many from the few.

 

My thoughts were to allow for a variance in the law.  We do this for zoning.  If someone wants to build a house that doesn’t fit within certain codes (for example, how far the house will be from the property line), they can go through a hearing process, neighbors are notified, the facts are looked at, and the City can on a case-by-case basis decide if an exception should be made to the law.  Why not do the same thing for pets.  If someone wants 3 dogs or 4 dogs or 5 dogs, they can make application through the City, there is a hearing process, neighbors are notified, and on a case by case basis, a variance from the 2 dog limit can be expanded.  That way, people who are responsible multi-pet owners are not being punished because of those who are not.  If the multiple pets become a problem for neighbors, the City can revisit, and if needed revoke the variance.

 

Another great suggestion that came from someone who has five dogs who has been thinking about moving toWausaufrom out of state was to have a citizen advisory board created to look at this issue and try to come up with some type of solution.  Personally, betweenWausauand Weston, I have served on three such committees.  I will agree with PH&S Committee Chair that these citizen panels take time.  It is hard to get meetings because of schedule conflicts and it could take a year or more before they come up with a final recommendation and the City ofWausauneeds some type of resolution faster than that.  Those are extremely valid and accurate points based on my personal experience.  However, also based on personal experience, when stakeholder committees/board/task forces are created to address issues, although it takes longer to come up with a solution, those solutions do tend be better, long term solutions.

 

So, Wausau… two dogs or not two dogs, THAT is the question…

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