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Wednesday, November 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 17.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Up to their ears in dogs
Humane Society struggles under yoke of impounded animals
Holmes, with shelter dogs: 'We can't do impounds at the cost of our animals.'
Holmes, with shelter dogs: 'We can't do impounds at the cost of our animals.'
Credit:Mary Langenfeld

If the Dane County Humane Society has to continue impounding animals, it may not renew its contract with the county at the end of this year.

'We can't do impounds at the cost of our animals,' says Cathy Holmes, president of the shelter's board. 'Today, if a homeless animal comes in and space is taken by an impound animal, there's nothing we can do.'

Holmes says impound cases have long been on the rise, with the agency now taking in three to five animals each month. Then, this summer, the Humane Society had to accept 48 pit bulls confiscated from a town of Dunn farm. Police suspect the dogs were used for fighting, but the owner, Robert Lowery, has not been charged with any dog-related offense. Until the case is resolved, the agency must keep the dogs.

Sheltering these animals has cost the agency $96,000 so far, and is expected to top $150,000 by year's end. The pit bulls ' many of whom may be euthanized eventually because of their aggressive temperaments ' are making it harder for the society to take in other dogs. The pit bulls take up more than half the shelter's dog cage space and all of its isolation cages. Says Holmes, 'We've been working all summer long not to have to euthanize, and it's been very difficult.'

The Humane Society is meeting with county staff this week to discuss renegotiating its contract so it no longer must accept impounded dogs. 'That doesn't mean we wouldn't do some,' says Holmes. 'But we'd be able to pick and choose when to do it.'

The county is sympathetic to the agency's plight, says Topf Wells, chief of staff to Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. He calls the pit bull situation 'a disaster for the Humane Society' and says Falk hopes to add funding to the 2007 budget to help with impound costs. But he's not sure what else the county can do.

'One of the questions is, how long are the dogs going to be here?' says Wells. 'If it looks like months and months, we will probably try to find some kind of alternative to housing them at the Humane Society.' But, he adds, 'That would be difficult, because there's no place I know of that's set up to hold nearly 50 pit bulls.'

Holmes is also worried about the new 'dangerous dog' ordinance passed by the city of Madison earlier this month. The law would make it easier to impound dogs.

'Once a dog is declared dangerous, there are steps an owner can take ' like putting up fencing ' to get the dog back,' says Holmes. 'But there is no limit to how long it can take to do that.' Holmes asked the city council to include a deadline for owners, but it did not. Ald. Cindy Thomas, who sponsored the ordinance, did not return a call.

Dane County pays the Humane Society about $500,000 a year for humane officers and to shelter strays. It doesn't fund the $15,000 a year the agency usually spends on impounds. The city of Madison pays nothing at all to the Humane Society. And while some owners pay for impound costs, most do not.

But Holmes says money is not the only issue. She criticizes animal control laws for leaving impounded dogs to languish. 'They see animals as property,' she says. 'They don't address the needs of the animals.'

Dueling referendums?

Jane Jensen, head of Military Families for Peace, waited more than six hours, until it was past 1 a.m., to testify before the County Board on a proposed anti-war referendum. The measure was scheduled for debate on Sept. 7, after a protracted debate on a controversial change to Section 8. Jensen urged that the referendum be put on the Nov. 7 ballot, then watched in shock as the County Board ' which has a liberal majority ' voted 20-12 against it.

'They made such fools of us!' she fumes. 'For us to sit there until 1 a.m., when [the vote] had already been fixed.'

Five liberal County Board members voted against the referendum. Supv. Carousel Bayrd, one of the referendum's original sponsors, switched her vote to help Fair Wisconsin. She says the group, which is working against the proposed state amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions, was 'concerned there was too much on the ballot,' because 'we keep adding and adding referendums.'

And while Bayrd is opposed to the Iraq war, she notes, 'In all reality, no one is leaving because we vote to send the troops home. But with [the marriage ban], something actually could happen.'

Mike Tate of Fair Wisconsin says he did not lobby against adding the anti-war referendum. But when asked, he told supervisors that voters could be confused by too many referendums. 'In a perfect world, I would rather not have other stuff on the ballot,' he says.

Bayrd, noting that communities including Madison have already passed anti-war referendums, is willing to back a countywide referendum next spring. Jensen is not mollified.

'The soldiers will keep dying until spring,' she says, adding that Fair Wisconsin overstepped its bounds. 'It's not their business to stop anything on the ballot. I think it's grossly unfair.'

Bourgeois scum beware

Madison's Common Sense Coalition plans to offer a 'package' of public safety reforms, including an anti-loitering ordinance, in the next couple of weeks. The city abandoned its last loitering ordinance in 2002, citing concerns that it was used disproportionately against black men.

There are no details yet on how the new loitering law would work, but that hasn't stopped some citizens from being furious about it. A man named Bill Anderson sent the city council and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz an angry e-mail last month, warning them, 'Your day of reckoning will come.'

In the e-mail (see Document Feed at, Anderson wrote, 'How long will the oppressed continue to tolerate your rule, before revolting against the tyranny which you impose unto them.... [W]hen all is said and done, there are far more of us than there are of you. You better watch your backs, you bourgeois scum.'

When Ald. Paul Skidmore got the e-mail, he contacted the police. 'They're taking it as a serious threat,' he says.

Police spokesman Mike Hanson says Anderson was investigated, but no charges have been filed. According to Hanson, police receive three or four reports of threats per day. 'It happens all the time,' he says. 'We have to at least follow up.'

Rainbow gathering

In the past year, the Rainbow Project helped a 4-year-old who was kicked out of five different daycare centers for violent behavior. The agency also helped another pre-kindergartener, who introduced herself to people as 'the kid who hurts people.'

It's been a tough year for the nonprofit agency, which works with traumatized and abused children. But this Friday, the Rainbow Project will have a little fun at its annual fund-raiser. There's a salsa dance contest and an auction where attendees can win lunch with local 'celebrities' (including Isthmus film critic Kent Williams!).

The agency hopes to raise about 5% of its $511,000 annual budget from this event. The city of Madison has recommended a 3.6% hike in funding to the agency next year. But the Rainbow Project expects no increase from Dane County.

'I think people give a lot of rhetoric to kids, but it doesn't always show in the funding,' says Sharyl Kato, Rainbow's director, noting that reductions in state and federal aid have made it difficult for municipal governments to help. 'I don't want it to be that kids programs are seen as a luxury.'

The fund-raiser is at the Palace Latin Club at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $60 for premium seating.

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