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Published: Tuesday, 11/10/2009

Dog warden told to push adoptions; board seeks to reduce euthanasia

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

They may be uncertain about which dog-kill statistics to trust, but all three Lucas County commissioners agree the status quo is unacceptable at the county dog warden's office and said yesterday they have made it clear to Dog Warden Tom Skeldon they want fewer dogs killed and more dogs adopted.

“It's very clear to Tom that it's an important goal of the board,” Commissioner Tina Skeldon-Wozniak, the dog warden's first cousin, told The Blade.

Commissioner Ben Konop said he told Mr. Skeldon at least 16 months ago to work harder at improving the ratio between euthanasia and adoption.

“Tom understands the wishes of the board,” said Pete Gerken, the panel's president.

A four-page memo submitted to the commissioners yesterday by county Administrator Mike Beazley documented the county's euthanasia rate for dogs at 65.8 percent in 2008, not quite as high as an 80 percent figure previously cited by some members of the appointed dog warden advisory committee.

Stephen Serchuk, the 11-member committee's chairman, said the panel will review the discrepancy in hopes of establishing a more definitive baseline as it continues to consider proposals for improving operations of the dog warden's office.

Both analyses have the same raw figure of 2,483 dogs being euthanized last year. That itself is down sharply from the average of 2,970 dogs being euthanized a year between 1989 and 2008, according to Mr. Beazley's memo.

Based on Mr. Skeldon's data, the memo shows the county on pace for one of the lower rates of euthanasia in recent years.

It claimed 61.8 percent of the shelter's dogs this year had been put down as of Oct. 23. The figures also showed about 71 percent of those were pit bulls. Some 31 to 53 percent of the dogs euthanized each year since 2004 have been pit bulls, the Beazley memo states.

No matter what comes of the figures, there will be a greater emphasis on recruiting volunteers to help place more dogs in good homes, Mr. Gerken said.

Commissioners yesterday accepted four recommendations aimed at improving the county dog warden's office.

The recommendations include the establishment of a manual outlining standard operating procedures; the immediate vaccination of all dogs as they're brought in; a check-off box for spaying/neutering on dog license renewal applications, and the reinstatement of door-to-door license checks.

Mr. Serchuk said he was pleased by the county board's response and was told a proposed operating manual would be submitted to his committee for review by Nov. 12.

“We want a dog warden department the community embraces and doesn't dread,” he said outside the commission chambers.

Mr. Konop said he was dismayed that the figures presented yesterday also included a decline in adoptions each year after 15.1 percent of the shelter's dogs were adopted out in 2004.

“We frankly haven't done as well as we ought to when it comes to meeting those goals,” Mr. Konop said. “There needs to be a sense of urgency about it.”

This year, the shelter is on pace to surpass the 2004 figure for adoptions. As of Oct. 23, some 16.1 percent of its dogs had been matched up with new owners.

The advisory committee is charged with making recommendations that will improve the shelter's operations, make it more visible to humans and humane to dogs, increase adoptions, and improve relations between the dog warden and the public, Mr. Serchuk said.

“We're concerned about how the department operates. We're not concerned about who operates it,” he said.

Dr. Deb Johnson, head veterinarian at the Toledo Area Humane Society, said conditions at the dog warden's office will improve simply by moving forward with the recommendation to immunize all dogs that enter the facility. The cost will be about $5 a dog, she said.

Mr. Skeldon, the county's dog warden since 1987, has been asked by county officials to decline media requests for interviews.

“While the dog warden advisory committee has yet to make any formal recommendations regarding the adoption or euthanasia rates in the dog warden's office, we recognize that these are the issues of greatest concern in our community,” Mr. Gerken said, quoting the text of Mr. Beazley's memo during yesterday's board meeting.

“We strongly believe that this must be an area of continued, consistent improvement for the dog warden's office.”

In a related matter, the board yesterday announced it is seeking applicants for a community-at-large seat on the dog warden advisory committee. The deadline to apply is Nov. 20. The term expires Feb. 28, 2010.

Applications are available from the commission's office in Suite 800 of One Government Center or by calling 419-213-4500. A printable version of the application is available at www.co.lucas.oh.us.

Contact Tom Henry at:thenry@theblade.comor 419-724-6079.



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