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Published: Tuesday, 10/18/2011

Modifying behavior

Catching and killing dogs is relatively easy. Preparing stray, abandoned, and surrendered animals for new homes is harder, and begins with a genuine commitment to that goal.

Lucas County has made considerable progress since the bad old days when a trip to the pound was a death sentence. Dog Warden Julie Lyle is working to transfer more animals to private shelters and rescue groups that are willing to invest time in retraining them. She is hiring a professional dog trainer to teach pound animals basic manners, conduct behavioral evaluations, and design effective enrichment programs.

But she continues to resist the idea, embraced by other county dog pounds, that training aimed at behavioral modification is part of her job. As a result, animals still are killed each day that might otherwise become loving companions. And other county officials continue to use the complexity of the problem as an excuse to do too little. That’s intolerable.

The county is spending down some of the huge surplus that the dog warden’s office accumulated by charging the highest licensing fee in the state. The department has added a full-time veterinarian, a part-time veterinary technician, and an office manager. It has renovated the adoption area at the pound, added an outdoor exercise area, and soon will open a surgical suite.

But a surplus of several hundred thousand dollars remains in the dog warden fund. It is wrong to sit on that much money while animals die needlessly because they respond to the stress of kennel life by guarding their food too aggressively or resisting examination.

The attitude adjustment must extend beyond dogs at the pound. When local animal shelters and the Toledo Area Humane Society can take over evaluation and training, that’s good.

But county residents have made clear that ultimate responsibility for behavioral modification training rests with the county agency. It is troubling that there is little transparency in the behavioral evaluation process.

Expand the use of volunteers. Aggressively pursue donors and rescue partners. Look for creative solutions to problems, such as the canine play groups the Longmont (Colo.) Humane Society employs. And most of all, commit to reducing dog euthanasias from hundreds each year to fewer than 100.

It can be done. Geauga County is doing it. Longmont, Colo., is doing it. Lucas County officials also can do it with sufficient desire — a problem easily solved with human behavioral modification.



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