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Published: Thursday, 5/1/2008

Dog license checks wise financially and legally, counties say

BLADE STAFF

BOWLING GREEN - Door-to-door dog license checks might make Lucas County commissioners uncomfortable, but their neighbors to the south defend the practice as legal and financially sound.

"We've checked with our prosecutor and [he said] we are not initiating an illegal search-and-seizure," Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. "The dog warden goes to the door, asks if you have a dog, and asks to see the license.

"They're not entering people's homes, and by law you must have a dog license if you own a dog. Our philosophy here in Wood County for the past many years is that if everyone who was supposed to buy a dog license actually purchased one, we can keep our dog license rate low."

In fact, Wood County has kept its license fee at $12 since 2004 when it began doing door-to-door inspections. During the same period, license sales have increased from about 16,000 to more than 20,000 a year, Mr. Kalmar said. Lucas County has the highest license fee in the state at $25.

"We've greatly increased the revenue going to the dog shelter to support it," he said. "Before that, we were having to support it out of our general fund, yet at the same time we haven't increased rates for dog licenses."

Other area counties said the practice was the legal right and obligation of a county dog warden, although few have enough staff to do it themselves.

Henry County Dog Warden Beth Spurgeon said that with just one part-time employee, she only has time to contact residents who obtained dog licenses the year before but failed to get one the next year.

"Tag sales [are] a big way of operating my department because I don't get money from anybody else," Ms. Spurgeon said. "If we're not allowed to check on them, eventually people aren't going to buy [licenses]. It puts you in a bind."

Fulton County Dog Warden Pete Skeldon, a younger brother of Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon, figures only about 60 percent of the dogs in Fulton County are licensed - something he would like to change. "We want to do [door-to-door checks] real bad in a big way, but we're a two-man crew and to cover 430 square miles, we do it as best we can," Mr. Skeldon said.

He plans to submit a proposal to Fulton County commissioners this summer that calls for hiring four off-duty police officers to do a sweep of residences. The idea, he said, would not be to cite people who don't have dog licenses, but to make sure they buy one.

"I suggested if we do this for two years in a row, we could probably calm down that effect for two or three years because I think we'd have everybody in the system," he said.

Mr. Skeldon said contrary to claims Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop made that the checks may be unconstitutional, he believes they are warranted under state law.

"The law tells us we have to do it," he said. "It's part of our job to survey and document every dog in the county. That's what the Ohio Revised Code says."

Officials in both Ottawa and Seneca counties said their dog wardens don't have the staff to conduct door-to-door checks, although they do contact previous license holders who don't get a license the following year and they follow up on any complaints they receive about unlicensed dogs.

- Jennifer Feehan



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