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Published: 9/18/2010

Barking mad

Leaders of Lucas County government continue to support indirectly what public opinion forced them to repudiate overtly: the excessive killing of dogs at the county pound. Even if you couldn't care less about the fate of stray dogs, you still might wonder: What else are these public servants doing to substitute their own whims for legal and popular mandates?

The $25 fee the county charges residents to license a dog is the highest in Ohio. State law requires proceeds from the fee to subsidize operations of the county dog warden. County Commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak and County Administrator Peter Ujvagi have suggested the county can't afford the kind of upgrades that animal-welfare advocates say would further reduce the pound's kill rate and enable more dogs to be adopted or rescued.

But The Blade has reported that the county's “dog and kennel fund” has quietly racked up nearly a $900,000 surplus during the past three years. That's more than enough to pay for many of the improvements that would make the pound more efficient, humane, healthy, and user-friendly.

It might even be enough to roll back the high license fee, encouraging more owners to register their dogs. That would reduce the number of strays and enhance education to promote responsible pet ownership.

Mr. Gerken says the dog-fund surplus “shouldn't be a surprise to anybody.” Oh? It was a surprise to County Commissioner Ben Konop, who said he didn't find out about it until last week. It was a surprise to the county's Dog Warden Advisory Committee, which has worked hard and well to propose improvements at the county pound and modernize Toledo's dog law, even as Mr. Gerken sought recently to put these public-spirited volunteers out of business.

Toledo City Councilman Rob Ludeman, a committee member, suggests county officials were “not telling the truth” about the fund surplus. The committee's leader, Steve Serchuk, says officials generally won't share data unless the panel specifically knows to ask for it.

Now that the surplus has become common knowledge, Commissioners Gerken and Wozniak say they back Dog Warden Julie Lyle's plans for spending down some of the surplus, rather than hoarding it against vague threats of future fee increases or county budget problems.

Ms. Lyle has largely rejected the “kill all those bad dogs” mentality of her predecessor, Tom Skeldon, which the Board of Commissioners majority endorsed until popular opposition made it politically untenable to do so. The pound now is euthanizing fewer than half of the dogs that come under its control, down from more than two-thirds previously. That's still too many, but the dog warden also is emphasizing animal rescue and adoption and encouraging inclusion of community volunteers in a way that the office formerly disdained.

It's disappointing that Ms. Lyle knew of the surplus but kept quiet about it. Yet it would be understandable if she had chosen not to cross her bosses.

How much more could have been achieved if county leaders had put the dog-fund surplus to its designated use — that is, if they had chosen to follow the intent of the law rather than indulge their own preferences? Where else are county leaders similarly exercising their personal prerogatives in the use of tax dollars?

And tell us again: Why doesn't Lucas County government need to be reformed — now?



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