"Scooby" sniffs the rubber hand while it is taking away its food her food during a SAFER test that determines whether a dog is a "food guarder" at the Lucas County Canine Care and Control in February, 2012. "Scooby" passed the test.
The Lucas County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved — starting immediately — a 60-day pilot free-feeding program at 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-guarders by waiving the $50 fee and giving an extra $100 per dog for their 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,” said Carol Contrada, commissioner president.
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 it a less valuable resource. An ASPCA official said free feeding in most cases will correct a dog’s food aggression within two to three days.
Until now, the county’s policy as administered by Julie Lyle, the county shelter’s director, was to kill most dogs who froze, growled, or tried to bite over a food bowl during a standard behavior evaluation. That meant a death sentence for more than 200 dogs in 2013.
The program, 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 primarily funded by dog-license fees. It will allow dogs who freeze or growl over a food bowl but do well on all other areas of the behavior test 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 evaluation still will be killed.
The program will include “pit bull”-type dogs who show behavior such as 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 kill “pit bull”-type dogs who exhibit concerning behavior, even if not definitively aggressive, on any other part of the behavior evaluation stays in place despite the removal of breed-specific legislation from Ohio law in 2012.
“This is a [local] policy,” Ms. Lyle said. “We went from euthanizing nearly every ‘pit bull’ to transferring them and adopting them. We want to keep the community safe, keep them feeling safe, and putting the best of the best dogs out there.”
She said “pit bull”-type dogs make up more than 30 percent of the shelter’s population, on average. She added that the shelter’s transfer partners generally adhere to the same standards, making “pit bulls” with behavior problems difficult to transfer out.
Rescue groups that accept a food guarder from the county shelter will not have to pay the $50 per dog fee and will receive a bonus $100 for each dog’s care.
“We have a lot of partners in the community now, and we want to help those partners take dogs that they can help their behavior,” Ms. Lyle said, adding that the county shelter has more than 50 transfer partners. “We’ve been in communication with a number of them with positive responses, and they are excited to enter into this program with us as well.”
The final aspect of the resolution sets the “Lick of the Irish O-Doption Weekend” for March 15 and 16, near St. Patrick’s Day. The standard $100 adoption fee will be waived for dogs during the event and adopters only will need to pay for a dog license.
Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said the event will free up space at the county shelter.
“This will help you do the work you’re trying to do, which is to find more homes,” she told Ms. Lyle.
Ms. Lyle said more adoptions allow the shelter to dedicate more resources “to dogs that need more help medically, behaviorally,” and who sometimes just need more time.
Commissioner Pete Gerken did not comment on the resolution at the meeting and declined to comment to The Blade afterward.
In addition to the changes approved on Tuesday, 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 now will accept food guarders.
“We’ve invested a lot in training the inmate trainers, and I think they’re skilled enough to move onto bigger behavior issues,” Ms. Lyle said. “It’s a wonderful merging of programs that we can undertake here. ... That’s a way that we can get really down and dirty and get that behavior modified.”
Ms. Lyle said the county shelter chooses dogs for the program that are social with both people and other canines and not fearful overall. The dogs as a group also have to be able to safely interact off-leash.
“Pit bulls,” Doberman pinschers, and Rottweilers are not allowed in community service programs in the state’s prisons, however. A memo sent to county dog wardens in September, 2012, from the west, east, and central regional directors of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said the breeds are not permitted because of “incidents of aggressive behavior, i.e. growling, barking, and lunging at other dogs, involving the aforementioned breeds.”
Toledo Correctional spokesman Darlene Mitchell did not return phone calls or emails from The Blade requesting comment.
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 killing of the dog. 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 evaluation.