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Published: Thursday, 4/15/2010

Break with the past

JULIE Lyle said she wanted to observe for a while before deciding what changes to make in the Lucas County Dog Warden's office. Tuesday, just her second day on the job as the new county dog warden, she had seen enough to cancel a "kill day," saving several dogs, including healthy "pit bulls," from death.

Yesterday, that wise and humane decision was killed, as were several dogs she had hoped to save. County Administrator Peter Ujvagi, despite a total lack of expertise or experience in animal care or control, says Ms. Lyle cannot alter any policies for at least 30 days. In other words, he demands she continue killing healthy, adoptable dogs now so that she can study how - perhaps - to save them later.

Mr. Ujvagi is trying to defend a past that is indefensible. Life at the Lucas County pound under the heartless administration of former dog warden Tom Skeldon was wretched, and for "pit bulls," it was universally fatal. The silence of county Commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak - Mr. Ujvagi's ostensible bosses - on this issue makes them complicit in the carnage and suggests a condescending attitude toward the public because they're not running for re-election this year.

Who could look at Amos, the "pit bull" featured on the front page of Wednesday's Blade who could be dead by the time this is read, and say there's a dangerous dog that deserves an immediate death sentence? Amos cannot even keep his new name, according to Mr. Ujvagi, who plans to kill the dog tomorrow because he wants to continue Mr. Skeldon's hellish practice of labeling an entire breed vicious?

Remarkably, Mr. Skeldon was in Columbus yesterday, begging a legislative committee on behalf of the Ohio Dog Warden's Association to keep the state's medieval laws concerning "vicious" breeds. Rather than a credible authority, he stands for everything that's wrong about animal control. Perhaps it's time for sweeping changes in dog wardens' offices across the state as well as modernizing state laws concerning dogs.

Ms. Lyle was brought in to make a clean break with the death culture that dominated the dog warden's office for so long, not to be co-opted by forces that do not want change. The community expects her to implement policies that will protect the public from dangerous animals, encourage responsible dog ownership, and increase adoptions from the pound and through the Toledo Area Humane Society and canine-rescue groups.

Ending the killing, except for those dogs too old, sick, or demonstrably vicious to be adoptable was a good start for the county's first new dog warden in more than two decades. It's what county residents want. No animal should die while Ms. Lyle is evaluating the deadly policies left over from the Skeldon era, not even if it means a full dog house at the county pound for a while.

But overcrowding shouldn't be a problem. Adoptions are way up at the pound, partly because of The Blade's daily list of available animals. There's no reason to believe that won't continue.

Changes are needed in the dog warden's office. To make those changes, the Lucas County commissioners may have to take a more active interest in the dog warden's office, including assuming some funding responsibility. But not if county oversight means continuing the deep-seated killing culture that still has proponents inside and outside the dog warden's office.

Some things have to change now - not in 30 days and certainly not after dozens more animals have died needlessly. That's a difficult concept for career politicians, such as Mr. Ujvagi, who are more used to studying problems than solving them.

Dogs entrust their lives to humans. They deserve to have that trust rewarded. If Mr. Ujvagi and the commissioners don't understand that, they should get out of the way.

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