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Published: Tuesday, 6/10/2008

Door-to-door checks by Wood County dog wardens legal

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Door-to-door checks for licensed dogs are legal, according to an opinion written by Wood County Prosecutor Raymond Fischer.

Officers can go door-to-door without violating Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, so long as they don't enter a home uninvited, Mr. Fischer wrote.

Wood County commissioners requested the opinion after concerns were raised in Lucas County, where similar checks were halted by commissioners there.

The Wood County opinion will not have any legal effect in Lucas County. However, it could support Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon's position for door-to-door checks.

"Dog shelter employees are instructed to use the front walk, as any other visitor or delivery person, to approach the front door," Mr. Fischer's opinion states. "If the occupant of the premises answers the door, the shelter employees can advise of the purpose of their visit and ask if they have a dog and if the dog is licensed."

The resident doesn't have to answer the officer's questions.

But if the dog warden employees see evidence of an unlicensed dog while doing the check, he or she can use it for a citation.

Wood County commissioners support the program, which they claim has boosted the county's compliance rate.

Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon defended the practice in the past, claiming it helped keep Lucas County's compliance rate up.

Dog warden deputies only ask residents if they have a dog, and if it is registered, according to Mr. Skeldon.

They target neighborhoods with a high number of complaints, he said.

The Lucas County prosecutor hasn't been asked to issue an opinion about the program, but an assistant county prosecutor, John Borell, has said he believes it is legal.

Commissioner Ben Konop, one of the two commissioners who pushed to halt the program, said he's still uneasy about the program's constitutionality, despite the ruling from the Wood County prosecutor.

"It didn't cross the line, but it got close enough to worry," Mr. Konop said.

He said he was worried that there were no written instructions regarding the dog license checks to ensure that an inappropriate search doesn't occur.

But he said his primary concern was the county's budget.

"The main issue, to me, has always been the cost-effectiveness of this measure," Mr. Konop said.

Mr. Konop and Tina Skeldon Wozniak, Lucas County commissioners president, both asked the dog warden to halt the checks until the end of the year, to see if a drop in dog registration occurs.

Mr. Skeldon said there are 1,000 more license registrations today than there were at the same time last year, but that he may fall short of his 64,000 goal.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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