On June 14,
2006, the FBI executed a U.S. Department of Justice search warrant on the
property of Robert Lowery, looking for evidence related to drug trafficking.
Lowery was arrested on drug charges and held without bail. The authorities
discovered and seized 48 pit bulls housed on the Lowery property - dogs that
had allegedly been involved in dog fighting. While Lowery remained in custody,
state law enforcement officials gathered the necessary evidence and charged
Lowery and his wife Julie in December of 2006 with dog fighting under 951.08,
Wis. Stats., a full six months after the dogs had been seized.
with a contract between Dane County and the Dane County Humane Society
("DCHS"), Lowery's dogs were held at DCHS pending resolution of the
criminal dog fighting charges. As the state and federal criminal cases
proceeded, Lowery's attorneys filed a petition under Chapter 173 of the
Wisconsin Statutes (a civil statute) seeking the return of his dogs. In January
2007, the Dane County Circuit Court heard the case. Subsequently, in March 2007
the DCHS, Dane County and the Lowerys settled the civil matter, with the
Lowerys agreeing to surrender the dogs in return for a dismissal of charges and
a waiver of costs. From the day that the dogs were seized to the day of the
settlement, DCHS incurred well over $200,000 in costs. This figure doesn't
include the cost of the original seizure or the attorney fees from the court
action. To help with the costs, Dane County included a special $100,000
appropriation in its 2007 budget specifically to help DCHS with the expenses
related to the Lowery's pit bulls.
As a result
of this experience, DCHS and Dane County, in association with many other local
governments, state prosecutors, humane societies, and non-profits located
around the state that have experienced the financial and other adverse
consequences associated with animal seizure cases, have sought to have Chapter
173 modified from its current form.
has been introduced in order to make these situations less onerous on county
governments and private and public animal shelters, as well as less stressful
for the animals themselves. Among other things, the proposed legislation will:
Change current state law to provide clearer rules
enabling a court to require that an owner of an animal who is the subject of a
Chapter 173 seizure or a Chapter 951 criminal case, to pay for the reasonable
costs of custody and care for the animal.
Change current state law to allow local animal shelters
working under contract with a political subdivision and having custodial
control of an animal impounded under Chapter 173 to directly petition a court
for an early disposition of the civil matter.
Change current state law by setting reasonable time
limits for the court to act on certain items related to any animal seizure and
for the owner to respond to various steps in order to expedite the entire
disposition process under Chapter 173.
Change current state law by removing the requirement
that an animal alleged to have been involved in fighting be maintained in
custody pending the outcome of any criminal charges, and instead allow that the
animal be retained in custody for a period that is reasonable to allow the
collection of evidence relating to the animal.