Taking Liberties: Wisconsin family set to lose house over dog ordinance

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Melissa Lecker is walking outside her three-bedroom home in downtown Wausau, Wis., and talking about her dogs.

“These dogs are our family,” she says as she looks down at two 13-year-old golden retrievers, Abbie and Jesse.

Right behind her are her 1-year-old Yorkie, Archie, and Chester, her 3-year-old shih tzu.

“They are just like our children,” she says.

In fact, she says emphatically her four dogs are more important to her than her money or even her home.

“This house doesn't mean as much to us as they do.”

Ironic because it’s the house she and her husband are set to lose because of their love for their pups.

James and Melissa moved to Wausau in early January, buying a new home and what they thought was the beginning of a great life in Wausau.

What they didn’t know is Wausau has an ordinance limiting the number of pets.

In Wausau, for instance, you can’t have more than three cats, three gerbils or three rabbits. And, unfortunately for the Leckers, you can’t have more than two dogs.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said when a police officer told her she was over the dog limit and subject to a fine of more than $100 per day. “I had never heard of anything like that.”

She says town officials have given her an unbearable choice.

“They told us that the ordinance clearly states they cannot work with us… that it's either two dogs or that you have to move, as you can't have four dogs here.”

No one from Wausau would return repeated calls from Fox News for comment. Not Mayor James Tipple. No one from the Wausau City Council. Not even Lisa Rasmussen, chair of the Public Health and Safety Committee, which oversees the pet ordinance.

But in local articles town officials have said their hands are tied.

"Our current ordinance doesn't allow for a variance," Wausau city attorney Anne Jacobson told WAOW.com.

Other city officials say the ordinance was passed in 1989 to curb animal “nuisance” complaints like dog bites.

And one municipal attorney from New Jersey says he understands the purpose of the ordinance, particularly when it comes to dogs.

“They smell. They bark. They have excrement,” explained attorney Jeff Gold, who fully supports laws limiting pets.

“You’re not punishing [the Leckers], he explains. “You're regulating society.”

He says animal regulations are some of the oldest regulations on the books.

“Animals used to be in houses,” he explains. “They used to be in front yards. Society gets to regulate it.”

“Well," counters Melissa while holding Chester in her arms, “I believe there are other ways to handle the nuisance complaints.”

“They should punish the nuisances, not responsible pet owners.”

Melissa says she has put her house on the market and is willing to take a $15,000 loss in order to keep her dogs.

“I hope we can work something out,” she said. “But they are just being so mean. My dogs didn’t bother anyone.”