Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wisconsin dogs...

MADISON, Wis.— A Wisconsin lawmaker wants to ban many felons from owning vicious dogs.

The bill being circulated by Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay would make it a misdemeanor for someone convicted of a violent or drug-related felony to own a dog that has been declared vicious by law enforcement or a humane officer.

The misdemeanor could carry up to nine months in prison. If that dog attacks another person and the owner didn't try to control the dog, the owner could be charged with a felony that carries a maximum sentence of up to six years in prison. The prohibition would last 10 years after the felon is released from prison or until the end of the felon's extended supervision.

A dog could be determined "vicious" if it caused serious injury or death to a person or another animal, bit a person without being provoked or is seen as reasonably threatening by another resident. Hansen introduced versions of the bill in the last two sessions, with both bills dying at the end of the Legislative sessions.

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The bill includes a provision allowing felons to apply for an exemption based on their livelihood. Hansen said the language was added to protect those who may run breeding operations or require a guard dog for their business. It also allows a felon to appeal the determination of viciousness.

Green Bay Police Lt. Bill Dongle said vicious dogs are being used mostly by felons involved in drug trafficking and those involved in dog fighting operations. Dongle cited one incident in which a SWAT team on a local drug bust was attacked by a pitbull, which police then had to shoot.

The department's animal control officer, Sharon Hensen, said drug task force and probation officers have encountered dogs in at least half of the visits they make. Hensen said felons who use their dogs as weapons should be punished.

"To me it's a very necessary legislative tool," Hensen said. "If a convicted felon cannot hold a gun, why can they have a dog that's so dangerous?"

The Dog Federation of Wisconsin, an advocacy group for dog owners and breeders, opposed the bill in past sessions. Tracey Johnson, the group's vice president, said previous versions prevented a felon from owning a dog that was not spayed or neutered and that such a law ignored the fact that the felon has "served their debt to society."

Johnson said the group had not yet decided whether to support the latest version, but said she thought the definitions of vicious were difficult for a humane officer to interpret.

"In order to have a credible finding, the person observing and or testing the dog would have to be knowledgeable about canine behavior," Johnson said. "The current State of Wisconsin Humane Officer training does not begin to provide those officers with the necessary education to make a vicious dog declaration."

Hensen dismissed the criticism, saying that humane officers know these situations better than normal law enforcement officers.

"I'm very proactive, I don't want to see children get harmed, I don't want to see the elderly get taken down," Hensen said. "If they don't take steps to correct that behavior, they're leading down that path."

AP-WF-04-23-11 1516GMT

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