In 2012, the taxpayer-funded Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (otherwise known by the punchy acronym MADACC) put more than 1,780 dogs to death within the walls of its small, unassuming facility on West Burnham Street. It equates to about a third of those that passed through its doors, a cycle of extermination that prompted a loosely connected group of animal lovers to declare all-out war on the agency. And what a fight it’s been.
Critics of MADACC have directed a tsunami of blog posts and a hurricane of emails to public officials such as Milwaukee Ald. Jim Bohl, who’s not insensitive to the cause. “Who could argue that killing that many animals is not too high?” he says.
But the battle has been a long time coming. MADACC’s kill rate has remained stubbornly buoyant for years as agencies in some other cities have driven theirs as low as 10 percent. Some critics, in turn, have resigned themselves to a recalcitrant standoff with the animal control group. And some of them have been barred from agency headquarters, even those who say they’ve had success finding homes for pit bulls, a breed that’s notoriously difficult to place.
The fiercest of these exiled activists have turned up at the agency’s administrative committee meetings to demand change. Among the most prominent of the anti-MADACC contingent is Cassie Richardson, an Air National Guard veteran of the Iraq war and the founder of a Baraboo rescue group that placed 75 pit bulls before being barred from MADACC for a time. There’s also Marissa Saad from Milwaukee, another banned volunteer who claims to have led successful programs that resulted in numerous adoptions, including many pit bulls. Major players in the resistance’s Web campaign have included Milwaukeean Rick Grainger, who’s spearheaded email protests, and Kathy Pobloskie, a no-kill advocate and author of Wisconsin Watchdog, a blog that connects many of the critics.
Dave Mangold, another activist from Milwaukee, says MADACC blocked him from attending volunteer orientation after he became an outspoken critic of the “court case dogs,” animals kept in cages while their owners await trial, sometimes for years.
“As a public agency, you have to have thick skin,” Bohl says of the group’s response to criticism, though he acknowledges that MADACC critics have at times been “pretty harsh.”
Smoothing the tension has fallen to the organization’s new director, Karen Sparapani, who formerly ran the smaller Elmbrook Humane Society. Under her watch, the shelter became the state’s first no-kill facility, making her the darling of local animal lovers and a safe hire for a MADACC board hoping for a new era of relative tranquility. She’s already reinstated some barred volunteers and mended some strained relationships. Even Pobloskie wrote that she felt a “positive energy” while attending a MADACC meeting and implored her readers to support Sparapani, a woman she and other activists consider one of their own.
But how long will the honeymoon last as Sparapani grapples with the unusual demands of the flashpoint shelter? And could MADACC ever become a no-kill facility? For most supporters of the idea, that’s a distant hope.