Lucas County Dog Warden Julie Lyle has improved conditions at the county pound during her first year on the job. Yet her department’s challenges are growing even faster, demanding a broader and more-urgent response from elected officials as well as dog owners.
The Blade reported this week that the warden’s office killed 361 dogs in the first three months of this year. That’s 30 percent more than in the first quarter of 2010, but less than in the same period of 2009.
Ms. Lyle notes that the number of dogs seized by or surrendered to the pound from January through March of this year also grew rapidly — almost 26 percent over 2010. That figure suggests that more owners are giving up their dogs as the local economy remains bad, and that more irresponsible owners are letting their dogs run loose without licenses.
But some problems at the pound appear self-inflicted. Ms. Lyle has worked hard to move most dogs from cramped metal cages to kennels. Under her leadership, the pound no longer kills healthy puppies. Still, though, it continues to kill many animals simply because they aren’t adopted quickly enough.
The dog warden’s office maintains a mostly arbitrary distinction between “pit bull-type” dogs and other breeds. The “pit bull” designation has grown so amorphous as to be largely meaningless, yet the pound still singles such dogs out for special classification — and death.
The pound identifies dogs of all breeds for execution because they fail tests designed to determine whether they are too aggressive to be adopted. Ms. Lyle concedes that training more of these dogs to modify their behavior could rehabilitate them and spare their lives.
But she says she lacks the resources to do so, and potential owners wouldn’t want such dogs anyway. At any rate, the behavior tests could gain credibility if outside experts monitored their administration and application at the pound.
Ms. Lyle is doing other things right. She is arranging many more dog adoptions and is working more closely with agencies such as the Toledo Area Humane Society to promote placements.
She has extended hours at the dog pound. She is hiring professional staff, including a full-time veterinarian, and is recruiting volunteers to walk dogs. She is building a surgical suite and an outdoor exercise area at the pound, and is preparing to open a larger adoption area.
But she needs help. County commissioners finally are spending down the huge surplus they needlessly allowed to accumulate in the dog warden’s reserve fund, mostly proceeds from the county’s $25 dog licensing fee.
Commissioners can allocate more money to pay for further improvements, without merely spending for its own sake. Such investment could include a new dog pound or an overhaul of the current one.
To encourage more owners to license their dogs, the county should lower the $25 fee — the highest in Ohio — at least for low-income households. They should offer incentives for spaying and neutering. If nothing else, they could offer a one-time discount as part of a licensing blitz.
The General Assembly finally needs to reform a state law — the only one in the country — that automatically defines “pit bulls” as vicious dogs. Officials in Columbus as well as Lucas County must define dogs by what they do, not what they are.
Other solid recommendations by the county’s Dog Warden Advisory Committee remain to be adopted. They deal with such matters as dog warden funding sources other than fees, public information and education, and a crackdown on so-called backyard dog breeders.
Dog owners need to do their part. Those who allow unlicensed animals to roam free must bear the financial and other consequences of their actions. Responsible owners in Toledo can take advantage of a new program run by the dog warden that will spay or neuter a licensed “pit bull” for just $5, and install a microchip that can track a lost dog.
The dog warden’s office, like all other parts of county government, is subject to legitimate questions about official accountability, transparency, and the effective use of public money. Yet many county residents evidently consider the issue beneath their notice or a subject for a stale joke.
An attitude of “they’re just dogs — who cares?” guided dog warden operations for too long. A similar public attitude will impede the necessary, but unfinished, culture change at the dog pound.
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