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Published: Friday, 10/15/2010

Doggone good law

TOLEDO City Council has gotten its doghouse in order. That's more than can be said for the Lucas County commissioners. Much of the credit has to go to a group of volunteers who share a commitment to public service, a sense of justice, and an affection for man's best friend.

Previous rules governing local dog ownership did little more than target "pit bulls" for extinction. The law approved by council this week, while not perfect, is a significant improvement.

From now on, dogs in Toledo will be judged by what they do, not their breed. Taking the automatic "vicious" label off "pit bulls" actually broadens the definition of a vicious dog. That should make people safer. The two-tiered threat classification makes a needed differentiation between nuisance and dangerous animals.

The emphasis in the new law is on responsible ownership. Fines of as much as $1,000 for unprovoked dog bites will encourage owners to restrain their animals. Mandatory sterilization of dogs caught running loose more than once puts owners of breeding animals on notice and may influence nonbreeders to have their animals spayed or neutered.

The law also protects dogs from neglect by owners. People will no longer be able to chain their dog outside and leave it there for more than an hour - or at all if the owner is away from home. Nor will it be legal to leave a dog completely unattended for more than 24 hours.

As county Dog Warden Julie Lyle points out, these provisions could be difficult to enforce. But they will make it possible to punish the worst offenders. And they will make owners think twice about chaining a dog outside while they go shopping for the afternoon or on an overnight trip.

While City Council accomplished all this, Lucas County officials played games with the definition of "surplus," tried to disband the volunteer group responsible for the positive changes at the dog warden's office, and overruled Ms. Lyle when she tried to end mass dog killings.

It took months of dedication and hard work for the Lucas County Dog Warden Advisory Committee to craft Toledo's new dog ordinance. At the county level, much has been accomplished. Killings are down, adoptions are up, and the pound's union workers have agreed to allow volunteers to provide the dogs extra care.

But there is more work to do. First on the agenda should be a closer look at the county license fee, which, at $25, is the highest in Ohio.

Would lowering the cost mean more people would license their pets? Or is it better to keep the license fee high and use the surplus to improve facilities at the dog pound or increase the adoption rate?

The effort doesn't end here.

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