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Published: Wednesday, 4/30/2008

Lucas County dog warden's door-to-door inspections put on hiatus

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon says his deputies do not enter homes or peer into windows when checking to see if owners have a license for their dog. Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon says his deputies do not enter homes or peer into windows when checking to see if owners have a license for their dog.
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The Lucas County commissioners plan to halt door-to-door dog license inspections until at least the end of the year.

While no vote was taken, Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the commissioners, and Commissioner Ben Konop said they were concerned about and uncomfortable with the program.

They want to see if a one-year halt would affect dog owners' compliance rate.

"I want to assume people will buy the license because they believe in it," Ms. Wozniak said after a public hearing yesterday.

Wozniak Wozniak
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"If you have a driver's license, nobody's knocking on your door to see if you're in compliance," she said.

County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon defended the program, under which deputy wardens knock on the doors of homes and ask residents if they own a dog.

"This is one of the few times that a law enforcement agency can be proactive," Mr. Skeldon said during the hearing. "Law enforcement is caught too often cleaning up a mess."

Mr. Skeldon emphasized that he instructed deputies not to enter the home or peer into a house's window - only to see if any signs of a dog are in plain sight.

But Mr. Konop said he was worried the program might impinge on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects citizens against searches without a warrant.

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"I think it comes close enough to the line to warrant some close scrutiny," Mr. Konop said.

He also said the money involved in the dog license checks - which could run up to 1,500 hours of work for the two deputies, if the program went throughout the summer - could be better spent in other enforcement efforts.

Lucas County has the highest compliance rate with the state law requiring dog owners to purchase a license - but, at $25, it also has the highest license fee.

Mr. Skeldon said halting the program will result in fewer license registrations and a drop in revenue for his department, which is almost entirely funded by license fees.

He also dismissed the concerns that the checks might brush up against residents' civil liberties.

"It's kind of putting the rights of the scofflaws above the rights of people who go out and do the right thing," Mr. Skeldon said.

At yesterday's meeting, two county residents spoke out against the program.

One of them, Tamara Ernst of the Old West End, said she didn't think compliance with the state's licensing laws justified the door-to-door checks.

"I don't see how a license tag makes a community safe," she said.

But the program did have defenders, including Lucas County Deputy Dog Warden David Blyth, Cuyahoga County Dog Warden John Silva, and Commissioner Pete Gerken.

Mr. Blyth disputed that the program kept dog warden employees from focusing on dangerous dogs. "We have never failed to address an emergency situation because of license checking."

Mr. Gerken claimed the program helped the dog warden get his message out to residents. "I see it as community outreach."

County Administrator Michael Beazley said he would present other options for promoting compliance with the state's dog licensing laws within a few weeks.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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