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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 2/22/2014

EDITORIAL

Guarding the guarders

Why is Lucas County’s ‘canine care’ office killing hundreds of animals over behavior that can be changed?

Lucas County’s director of canine care and control, Julie Lyle, generally has acted in humane contrast to her predecessor, dog warden Tom Skeldon. Instead of killing stray and surrendered dogs in the county pound as the first option, Ms. Lyle has mostly worked hard and well to prepare them for rescue and adoption.

So it’s disturbing that Ms. Lyle’s office continues to execute hundreds of dogs a year for so-called food guarding — behavior that experts say can be corrected promptly and does not warrant a death sentence. That has to change.

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In response to an inquiry by The Blade, Carol Contrada, the president of the county board of commissioners, has properly ordered new procedures at the animal shelter to reduce the death toll among “food guarders.” But Ms. Lyle’s assertive support of the kill-first policy raises unsettling questions.

Ms. Lyle describes guarding — apparently aggressive acts by dogs to protect their food supplies — as “unsafe behavior.” She says her office lacks the staff and resources to work with dogs to modify such conduct once it is assessed, and insists she usually has no alternative to killing the animals to preserve public safety. That appears especially true for “pit bull”-type dogs.

But a credible 2012 study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — which Ms. Lyle acknowledges she has read — concluded that many dogs that guard their food amid stressful conditions at a shelter “can be adopted and guarding is seldom seen in the home.” The study added that killing dogs because of food guarding “may no longer be appropriate.”

Experts say a standard test of behavior used by the county office, which includes a food-guarding evaluation, must not be the sole basis for killing a dog. The ASPCA official who created the test calls food guarding “incredibly treatable.”

In most cases, she added, the simple expedient of making food available to a dog at all times corrects guarding behavior within “48 to 72 hours.” Ms. Lyle says she has no plans to adopt such a policy, citing its cost and “consequences.”

Lucas County badly needs a new dog pound with larger and more-modern facilities, which would enable Ms. Lyle’s office to expand behavior-modification activities. County commissioners have been remiss for years in not moving on that priority.

Yet Ms. Lyle will not build public support for a new center by justifying the deaths of hundreds of animals with essentially bureaucratic defenses. Efforts to reduce the number of dogs put to death for guarding are the least the county can do. Meanwhile, groups that work with Ms. Lyle’s office on rescue and adoption could review, and liberalize, their policies on accepting food-guarding dogs.

It’s to be hoped that after nearly four years on the job, Ms. Lyle isn’t allowing institutional inertia to overcome her more-humane instincts. Should her office regress to the bad old days of the Skeldon era, she will sacrifice much of the goodwill she has built.

When Ms. Lyle was new to her job, the mere fact that she wasn’t Mr. Skeldon seemed good enough. Such a low bar isn’t acceptable now.



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