Chicago Court Case Dogs Program could serve as model for Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE -- The dogs involved in Milwaukee court cases have done nothing wrong, but the system places them behind bars for months on end. They are considered property seized by police as evidence, and held at the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control shelter.

Dogs are seized by Milwaukee police from puppy mills, dog fighting rings or abusive situations. Police place the animals in cages at MADACC -- David Flagler's facility.

"These animals are starved for attention. They're animals on very short chains. They may or may not have protection from the weather," Flagler said.

Milwaukee Police Animal Cruelty Expert Sgt. Caroline Knitter says dogs taken from crime scenes by officers are automatically involved in court cases.

"Until the case is processed and completed, the animal is put on hold," Sgt. Knitter said.

These holds keep dozens of dogs at MADACC for weeks, months, or in some cases, close to a year. Some dogs deteriorate so badly behind bars, that by the time the court case is complete, the only humane thing to do is euthanize them.

The plight of Milwaukee's court case dogs has drawn the attention of people like David Mangold. He runs the Facebook page "Save Milwaukee's Court Case Dogs."

"The police department needs to get their holds off these dogs, so they can live a normal life," Mangold said.

Sgt. Knitter says the police department shouldn't be blamed because what is happening is the law.

"Animals come down to being considered property and people have a right to get their property back if they win the case," Sgt. Kniter said.

Cynthia Bathurst of Chicago says as recently as two-and-a-half years ago, Chicago's court case dogs were even worse off than those in Milwaukee. Some were in shelters for up to three years.

Bathurst says now, Chicago's court case dogs usually spend no more than 90 days at Chicago Animal Care and Control.

To accomplish this, Bathurst says it took a total team effort, coordinated by her non-profit, grant-funded group -- "Safe Humane Chicago." In the Windy City, officers give anyone with a seized dog the opportunity up front, to surrender the animal. If the owner won't willingly surrender the dog, volunteer lawyers for "Safe Humane" help and encourage the state's attorneys to force the surrender of the animals to the "Safe Humane Resocialization Program," through which the dogs are eventually adopted.

Sgt. Knitter says the Milwaukee Police Department recently began doing something similar.

"When we go to any type of animal investigation, ask them if they'll surrender their animals so MADACC can adopt them out or do what they have to do," Sgt. Knitter said.

Sgt. Knitter says this strategy helps the court case dog problem, but she says local laws may have to become more like those in Chicago, for a full-on court case dog program to come together in Milwaukee.

Bathurst suggests coming together as a community might be the key to cracking Milwaukee's court case dog conundrum.

"It's getting a lot more people in a bigger way to be compassionate and humane for animals who have done no crime, and just need to be resocialized," Bathurst said.

Chicago's Court Case Dog Program took 10 years to come together, so this is not something that happens overnight. However, it could serve as a blueprint Milwaukee could use to come up with something that works under Wisconsin law.

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