COLUMBUS - Ohio dog wardens were hunting lame duck yesterday as they sought to kill a bill they argued could turn them into stray-cat wardens with less money to do the job than they're getting now.
A major overhaul of state animal control law - sponsored by Rep. Shawn Webster (R., Hamilton), a veterinarian - would reclassify "dog wardens" as "animal control officers" and require them to wait at least two weeks before euthanizing dogs implanted with microchips.
It also would require pet owners to have a veterinarian vaccinate their animals for rabies, double the slice of dog license fees that go to state veterinary research to 20 cents per license, and increase dog and kennel registration fees.
"Our job is to protect people from dogs," Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon told the Senate State and Local Government and Veterans Affairs Committee.
"That's our foremost responsibility," he said. "To change the name would put county commissioners under a great deal of pressure from animal rights groups for us to do all sorts of things not required by the law, and that would create an unfunded mandate."
He noted that most dog wardens in large urban counties like Lucas are self-sufficient, relying on license fees rather than county budgets to fund their operations. He said that could change if wardens' duties are expanded while more of their license fees are diverted to veterinary research.
Dr. Webster said he was surprised at the opposition to the portion of his bill that would require counties to have scanners on hand to retrieve information stored on microchips implanted under the skin of dogs that end up at the pound.
"They want to eliminate microchips," said Dr. Webster. "They're a reality. Why would you rush to put an animal to sleep that's been microchipped?"
The Ohio House passed House Bill 446 in May, but Sen. Gary Cates (R., West Chester), the Senate committee's chairman, said the disputes over the bill make it less likely it will clear the upper chamber before lawmakers end the two-year session before Christmas.
All bills that haven't reached the governor at that point will die and have to start the legislative process over again after the first of the year.
Mr. Skeldon noted that the only municipality in Lucas County that has an animal control officer is Maumee.
Some other municipalities contract with him for dog control. He said little is done in the county about cats outside of private humane societies and nonprofit organizations.
"Dogs chase the mailman," he said. "Dogs go after kids as they're going to school. The ones that threaten public safety are dogs, not the cats."
Some kennel owners objected to a portion of the bill that not only would greatly increase their registration fees but also require them to register every dog that is at least 3 months old. That would eliminate the practice of having kennel owners pay for five registration tags at full price with each additional tag costing just $1.