By Bob Petrie, Sheboygan Press
The motto of the newly formed Lakeshore Bully Club is "Remarkable Dogs, Responsible Owners."
"We want to help people in this community … who may never have interacted with a pit bull and might have a negative idea of what the breed's all about, we want to familiarize them with the breed and help them realize that they're just dogs," said Rebecca Barisas, 38, of Sheboygan, who serves as the treasurer of the Lakeshore Bully Club.
The organization hopes to raise funds to provide discounted spay and neuter programs, host community outreach "meet and greet" events with their dogs, and promote proper pet licensing with the City of Sheboygan and other municipalities.
"The need is more now than ever (for responsible pit bull ownership)," said Rachel Now, 23, who owns a 3½-year-old female pit bull mix named Mya.
The organization was formed following a lengthy — and contentious — discussion among city officials and aldermen over the creation of a dangerous dog ordinance. The original measure, as proposed by Ald. Scott Versey, would have targeted specific breeds as dangerous dogs, including pit bulls.
The uproar from pet owners led to the formation of a special subcommittee that helped draft an ordinance to curb dangerous and vicious dogs, but not a law that was breed-specific.
"We recognized that there were some legitimate concerns about irresponsible ownership with dogs, specifically bully breed dogs," said Carla Wolowski, 38, marketing director of the Lakeshore Bully Club, and owner of a 6½-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier named Elvis. "There was some concern in the community."
Wolowski said the ordinance that was approved by the Common Council was able to address the problems of dangerous dogs, without singling out any particular breeds.
Lakeshore Bully Club members contacted the founders of the Brew City Bully Club, formed in 2008 to deal with the same kind of issues in the greater Milwaukee area, for help and guidance in setting up their club in Sheboygan.
"They asked for a lot of advice, and they asked for anything that we could let them know what we did right, what we did wrong, and I think that's just a really responsible way to start something," said Michelle Serocki, 37, of Hartland, who along with her husband, Jeremy, helped found the Brew City Bully Club, several years after acquiring a pit bull puppy named Capone.
"Our mission is to rehabilitate the reputations of the pit bull with great emphasis on reducing fear in the community," Michelle Serocki said. "We feel awful that folks have to live in fear of this animal and walk to the other side of the street and feel uncomfortable in their own neighborhood. That's really a sad state of affairs."
The Brew City Bully Club holds about 40 outreach events a year, mainly at street fairs and other outdoor activities, bringing their pets and information about the group to the public. They have spay and neuter programs and have helped with 48 spays and neuters of pit bulls so far this year, with a goal of 400 by year's end. They also talk to pit bull owners about being responsible about their pets.
Serocki said that it's a difficult task trying to start a pit bull advocacy group, as opposed to other so-called more friendly breeds, such as golden retrievers.
"You're starting in a deep hole and you have to dig yourself out just to get a little bit of respect," Serocki said.
The Lakeshore Bully Club will host a kickoff fundraiser and raffle from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 6, at the Windjammer room at Lakeshore Lanes, and Serocki said members of the Brew City club will be there to support the new group.
"They're going to have to pay their dues and get people to understand that, 'We are not saying that they're not scary, we are not saying that you've got to love 'em, we're not saying they're the best dog in the world, we're not saying any of that," Serocki said. "What we're saying is you don't have to be scared out of your mind."
Barisas, the owner of a female red nose pit bull named Astrid, admires the job that the Brew City Bully Club has done in Milwaukee and hopes the Lakeshore club can do the same.
"We want to start the ball rolling with our goals," she said. "Brew City Bully Club started small and now they're doing huge things in that community."