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Saturday, August 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 76.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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How many pit bulls are too many?
Humane Society draws growls for its breed-based policy
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Pit bulls can make 'wonderful family pets.'
Pit bulls can make 'wonderful family pets.'

The Dane County Humane Society believes most people don't want to adopt pit bulls. So in its animal management guidelines, implemented last year, the shelter restricted to five the number of pit bulls allowed on its adoption floor. Preference is given to pit bulls two years old or younger. Having more, the guidelines say, would "deter the public from wanting to donate because they think we only have pit bulls to adopt."

The policy upsets some animal lovers, including one shelter worker who asked not to be named. "One of the most bothersome things I've noticed is the attitudes of some higher-ups toward pit bulls," the worker says. "Certain staff and shelter policies at the Humane Society not only fail to defend pits, but seem to take the demonization a step further."

The worker says a staff member recently told a woman trying to surrender a pit bull that the animal would likely be killed, because the shelter already had enough pit bulls. "This staff person also commented that pits should never go to dog parks because they are too dangerous," says the worker. "The community looks to the Humane Society for its example, and right now they are teaching the public that pits largely are dangerous animals."

Pam McCloud Smith, executive director of the Humane Society, defends the current policy. "It's hard to offer the public what they want if we only have one type of dog," she says. "They sit here for months and months because not everyone wants those dogs."

The shelter gets more pit bulls than any other kind of dog, says McCloud Smith. As of April, 79 of the 642 dogs it had taken in were pit bulls. Of these, 23 pit bulls were euthanized, many after failing temperament tests.

Emily Smith, founder of the PAWS Institute, a dog rescue group based in Madison, calls the breed's reputation as vicious fighters "unfair and wrong. They make wonderful family pets."

Her organization recently placed a pit bull puppy in a family with a young child. The dog, she says, is "extra gentle with the toddler. Pit bulls do not go after children."

Smith does caution that some pit bulls have been bred to be aggressive. "But that doesn't mean you kill them all."

McCloud Smith says the shelter is educating the public about the breed by offering a "Positively Pitties" training class, which is free for those who adopt pit bulls from the Humane Society. (The next class begins Aug. 25.)

And she says if more people start taking the animals, the shelter may change its policy. "If we're able to adopt out more, we'll wipe out the guidelines."

La Fete won't get wet

La Fete de Marquette will not take place in Central Park next weekend. The festival has moved to a parking lot behind the Mullins building on South Baldwin Street.

The Center for Resilient Cities, which owns the parkland, asked La Fete to pay a $4,000 fee to use the grounds this summer. For the past two years, the festival was allowed to use the grounds for free, although part of proceeds went to support the park.

But Gary Kallas, head of the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, which puts on La Fete, denies the fee caused the move. "That wasn't the problem," he says. "A fee is understandable."

The problem, rather, is that the turf at Central Park is not yet established. "It's not ready to handle thousands and thousands of folks for another year," says Kallas. Other recent park events have been mired in mud.

The Mullins family donated the use of the parking lot, which Kallas says is a better space. "It has loads more trees," he says. "The grounds are rainproof."

Thomas Dunbar, who became executive director of the Center for Resilient Cities in April, approves of Wil-Mar's decision to move La Fete to Baldwin Street.

"One of the most difficult things in an urban park is to get turf established," he says, "especially if you have a lot of events with lots of people." Dunbar expects La Fete to eventually return to Central Park, once the grass grows in. "This is only a temporary situation."

Rebuilding the zoning code

The city of Madison is updating its zoning code for the first time in 40 years. Among the issues under discussion is whether to allow some developments to get automatic approval, instead of making developers jump through numerous hoops.

"We do want to encourage infill development," says Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, a member of the Zoning Code Rewrite Advisory Committee, which meets for the third time next week. "The zoning code should give us the tools to do that easily."

But Rhodes-Conway doesn't want the city to lose public input: "We've developed a pretty good system right now. There are multiple places for public comment. Everyone knows you have to work with the alder of the neighborhood."

The committee is considering whether, under the new zoning code, developers should be required to work with neighborhoods.

One group hoping to be added to the city's zoning code is co-op housing. The city's current zoning law restricts the number of unrelated people living in a house to just five. Most co-ops have at least 10 housemates.

"We've had to typically get a conditional-use permit," says Tony Anderson of Madison Community Co-operative. "Every time we go in to deal with zoning, it seems like we have to explain what we are to people."

He says the group, which owns houses all around the city, has had trouble getting permits for remodeling because co-ops are not recognized under the old zoning code. "It impedes us from developing more in the community."

City Channel on the move

Madison City Channel is losing its premium spot on the cable dial. As of Aug. 12, the local government station is being moved from Channel 12 to 994.

"The nosebleed seats, you could call it," says Brad Clark, City Channel's station manager.

The city's old franchise agreement with Charter Communications guaranteed the station the No. 12 spot. But under the new Video Competition Act, Charter no longer negotiates deals with individual municipalities and isn't bound by any past agreements. And so Charter is creating a "public affairs neighborhood" in the 900 tier for Madison City Channel, Wisconsin Eye and other government stations.

"It's good news for customers," insists Tim Vowell, a Charter spokesman. "Folks interested in that kind of programming will have a whole block of those channels."

Charter will not replace City Channel 12 with other programming, but will instead use the extra bandwidth to boost its high-speed Internet service and add high-definition channels.

Sun Prairie's KSUN-12 and KIDS-4 are also being moved, despite being on channels 12 and 4 for 30 years. "This is a devastating blow," says Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie), a member of the board for KIDS-4. "It's going to be difficult to find them up in the 900s."

Hebl wants the Legislature to take a second look at the Video Competition Act. "All we've done is make it easier for cable providers to make a buck," he complains. "The public has been sold such a bad bill of goods. It's going to take some time, but people are going to realize it."

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