A day after her political competition blasted a policy at the county dog shelter, Lucas County Commission President Carol Contrada announced she will introduce a resolution next week to save some of the dogs at the facility who guard their food.
Additionally, the Ohio Department of Corrections granted approval Wednesday for an out-of-shelter dog training program at the Toledo Correctional Institution to begin rehabilitating dogs with food aggression.
Except for a select few dogs deemed able to be transferred to other rescues, current county policy is to kill dogs who freeze, growl, or bite a fake hand that takes their food bowl during their evaluation.
Mrs. Contrada met with The Blade on Wednesday and said, if passed at the commissioners’ regular meeting on Tuesday, the resolution will direct Julie Lyle, director of Lucas County Canine Care & Control, to implement a 60-day pilot free-feeding program for dogs who freeze or growl over a food bowl during a behavior evaluation.
Free feeding is a technique that makes food a less valuable resource by giving dogs access to it at all times, which national experts say corrects food guarding in a few days for the majority of dogs.
“For 60 days, we will try free feeding,” Mrs. Contrada said. “We will have to develop protocols on when we retest, how we retest, and what happens from there. We still need to do some program design.”
Ms. Lyle did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment.
The program would not change the county policy to kill dogs that bite over a food bowl, or a policy to kill “pit bull”-type dogs who display any concerning behavior, even if not clearly aggressive, on any portion of their behavior evaluation.
“We want to be able to have our staff have the opportunity to take it step by step,” Mrs. Contrada said. “We want to be able to manage the program and understand what additional things we need to do. This makes it a manageable program for us.”
During the 60-day period, the county would be continually evaluating the program and researching other possible options to help food guarders on-site.
“The rationale behind this is that we want to do the free feeding, but we also want to have a defined amount of time where we can evaluate national best practices,” Mrs. Contrada said.
“We’re going to dedicate resources to finding out what other options are available and what other shelters, kennels, and dog pounds are doing. That takes time.”
A second part of the resolution will be for the county shelter to schedule a free adoption weekend where prospective adopters will not have to pay the standard $100 adoption fee to give a home to a dog. Adopters will only have to purchase a dog license as required by state law.
The final part of the resolution will be a call to expand the shelter’s transfer program that sends dogs to other rescues.
“Our transfer partners over the last week have become aware that we want to implement some attempts at helping food-guarding dogs,” Mrs. Contrada said. “But we need to have a more comprehensive approach with those transfer partners and find others that may be able to help us expand.”
Peter Ujvagi, chief of public policy and legislative affairs for the county, said he has spoken with each of the three commissioners individually about the resolution and expects it to pass.
“There is support for this,” he said.
The prison program sends several dogs at a time from the county shelter to the Toledo Correctional Institution for six weeks of basic obedience training with inmates there.
Mrs. Contrada said that program will now accept food guarders for behavior modification training, provided those dogs do not have any additional behavior issues.
Mrs. Contrada said the county will have to operate within the state’s restrictions on the size and breed of dogs allowed in the program, but the county is “going to try to get as many food guarders into that program as we can, because those dogs will have an extensive period of time to be cared for and trained.
“This is a great example of one way we can deal with this through a program or transfer partner that has the capacity to really work with food guarders,” she said.
Republican candidate for commissioner Ben Roberts, the former Lucas County director of elections, on Wednesday called the county’s practice of killing dogs who protect their food “unconscionable,” and said he guarantees “that this will be a major campaign issue.”
“The Democratic Party has had a stranglehold on county government, and that is the reason why Mrs. Contrada and the commissioners [all are Democrats] feel untouchable and able to break promises they made to get elected and continue to kill dogs,” Mr. Roberts said.
On Tuesday, Michael Hood, a long-time Spencer Township trustee who is Mrs. Contrada’s Democratic competition in the May primary, said he does not believe dogs who guard their food should be labeled “aggressive” and the killing of dogs should always be the very last resort for any dog at the shelter.
And Kevin Haddad, a former Sylvania Township trustee who is running on the Republican ticket, said no dog should be killed for behavior problems without any attempt to help it change its ways.