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Published: Tuesday, 3/4/2014

Pilot food guarding program approved

'Free-feeding' program to be tested by Lucas Co. Canine Care & Control


The Lucas County Board of Commissioners today unanimously approved - beginning immediately - a 60-day pilot free-feeding program at the Lucas County Canine Care & Control for dogs who guard their food, most of which had been killed in the past.

The commissioners also approved - offering incentives for rescue groups to take food guarder dogs by waiving the $50 pull fee for them and giving an additional $100 per dog for the animals' care. The county also set a free adoption weekend event for March 15 and 16.

“This step was really a process of putting together three prongs of the stool so that it stands upright and works," Carol Contrada, president of the commissioners, said.

Free feeding is a technique endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and area dog trainers to correct food guarding. It involves providing a dog with constant access to a large amount of food, which makes food a less valuable resource. An ASPCA official said free feeding in most cases will correct a dog's food aggression within as little as two to three days.

Until now, the county's policy as administered by Julie Lyle, the director of the county shelter, was to kill most dogs who froze, growled, or tried to bite over a food bowl during a standard behavior evaluation. That resulted in a death sentence for more than 200 dogs in 2013.

The program, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the shelter's history, is estimated to cost $10,000 over the 60 days and will use the shelter's budget that is primarily funded by dog license fees. It will allow dogs who freeze or growl over a food bowl and that do well on all other areas of the behavior evaluation to be free fed.

“Those dogs are going to be transferred and the behavior modification can then take place over time, which is really what the dogs need," Mrs. Contrada said.

Dogs that try to bite a fake hand used during the assessment will still be killed.

The program also will include "pit bull"-type dogs who exhibit concerning behavior like eating faster, refusing to lift their heads from the bowl, or following the bowl with a stiff body in addition to those who freeze or growl.

The county's policy to euthanize "pit bull"-type dogs who exhibit concerning behavior, even if not definitively aggressive, on any other portion of the behavior evaluation remains in place despite the removal of breed-specific legislation from Ohio law in 2012.

Ms. Lyle said "pit bull"-type dogs make up more than 30 percent of the county shelter's population, on average. She added that the shelter's transfer partners generally adhere to the same standards regarding such dogs, making "pit bulls" with behavior problems very difficult to transfer out.

The final aspect of the resolution sets the "Lick of the Irish O-Doption Weekend" for March 15 and 16. The standard $100 adoption fee will be waived for all dogs during the event and adopters will need to pay only for a dog license.

In addition to the changes approved Today, the county last week announced a change with the shelter's existing Prisoners Helping Dogs, or PhD, program that sends dogs to the Toledo Correctional Institution to be trained by inmates there for several weeks. That program will now accept food guarders.

Also last week, Ms. Lyle implemented a change in the way the behavior evaluation is conducted. The procedure had been to discontinue the assessment immediately if a dog froze, growled, or tried to bite over a food bowl, which in most cases resulted in the dog being killed. The county is now completing the evaluation for dogs who exhibit food aggression, but the change does not affect a decision to stop the evaluation if a dog does poorly on other areas of the assessment.

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