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Published: Friday, 11/13/2009

Puppy kills must stop, panel says; planned rules seek photos, shots

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A committee charged with oversight of the Lucas County dog warden called yesterday for a time-out on puppy killing at the county pound and asked that most dogs who enter the pound - adult or pup - get vaccinations and their photos on a county Web site within 24 hours.

The puppy proposal would temporarily end the killing of any pound dog under 3 months of age, including "pit bull" puppies, unless a licensed veterinarian diagnoses the dog as terminally ill or severely injured.

The moratorium and photo and vaccine requirements were two of three recommendations discussed and endorsed yesterday afternoon by the Dog Warden Advisory Committee, which met in a Lucas County Emergency Services Building conference room before an audience of about 20 people and members of the media.

The third recommendation, suggested by Toledo Councilman-elect Rob Ludeman, asks county commissioners to seek grant funds for DNA testing to determine which dogs at the pound are truly "pit bulls," which are not a breed but a label that describes several breeds of dogs, including the American Staffordshire terrier and the Staffordshire bull terrier - both regularly shown at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.

The committee's recommendations - all approved by unanimous votes - are set to go to the county commissioners for a final vote later this month.

Dog Warden Tom Skeldon refuses to adopt out any "pit bulls" and kills all "pit bulls" and "pit bull" puppies regardless of their behavior, unless redeemed by their owners.

Committee Chairman Steve Serchuk said the group will also meet within a week with Dog Warden Skeldon to share the recommendations. Even if Mr. Skeldon doesn't like the recommendations, commissioners have the authority to impose them on the warden's office, officials said.

Mr. Skeldon was not present at the meeting and did not return a phone message at his home for comment.

Dog Warden Advisory Committee members, from left, are Lt. Matthew Bombrys, Dr. Deb Johnson, Dale Emch, Tara Kestner, Angela Holt, Steve Serchuk, Carol Dunn, Rob Ludeman, and John Dinon. Dog Warden Advisory Committee members, from left, are Lt. Matthew Bombrys, Dr. Deb Johnson, Dale Emch, Tara Kestner, Angela Holt, Steve Serchuk, Carol Dunn, Rob Ludeman, and John Dinon.
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The 11-seat committee, currently down to 10 members, has met nearly 20 times since its formation in March and last month finalized four other recommendations for improving operations at the dog warden office.

Committee member Tara Kestner, also president of Humane Ohio, suggested yesterday the stop-order on puppy killing.

"I think we need a moratorium on killing puppies at least until the end of the year," Ms. Kestner said, adding that the break would allow time to examine the dog warden's practices and procedures for putting down puppies.

"It makes absolutely no sense to me why a puppy would be put down unless it was ill, or injured, or had a terminal disease for which it wouldn't be able to be treated," she said.

Of the more than 1,800 dogs euthanized this year by the warden, a Blade review found that 78 were puppies under 3 months of age. Records show that in February, the warden put down a family of 10, 8-week-old puppies which were chow and shepherd mixes. The pups were surrendered to the warden by their owner.

Committee member Carol Dunn, president of Planned Pethood Inc., presented the recommendation the warden vaccinate and photograph nearly every dog, including "pit bulls," that enters the pound and post photos and descriptions on a county Internet site within 24 hours.

The group decided that only the dogs surrendered by owners for euthanization should not be photographed or vaccinated.

Publishing the dogs' photos on a Web site would help reunite owners with their pets and encourage adoption, members said. Dogs that remain unclaimed but are later deemed adoptable would have their photo and description also placed on Petfinder.com.

"They need to be on the Web site - that's critical," Ms. Dunn said.

The committee's third recommendation was to begin seeking funding for a DNA testing program to help distinguish between "pit bulls" and other muscular dog breeds. Ohio law considers "pit bulls" as inherently vicious and Mr. Skeldon refuses to adopt out those dogs.

Several committee members voiced concerns, shared by an animal law specialist who recently lectured in Toledo, that animal care agencies often misidentify "pit bulls."

Mr. Skeldon received more criticism than praise from committee members during the approximately 90-minute meeting. Toledo Police Lt. Matthew Bombrys voiced the most support for the warden, asking his colleagues to consider Mr. Skeldon's mission when they evaluate his decisions for dogs in that gray area between adoptable and unadoptable.

"The number one thing we have to remember is that his job is enforcement of the laws and protection of the public," the lieutenant said.

The three county commissioners sent staff to the meeting but did not attend themselves.

Commissioner Ben Konop, whose effort to fire the warden was shot down 2-1 this week by his colleagues, said that he supports all three of the committee's recommendations. The recommendations "are in line with what I've been talking about for awhile now," he said.

"It indicates to me that a lot of innocent dogs, especially puppies, are dying when they don't need to be," Mr. Konop said. "The dog warden should do all these things. The only problem is it took a committee months and months of meetings to get to this point."

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, who is the warden's first cousin, last night thanked the committee for the recommendations and said she would reserve comment on them until today, when she can review them.

Pete Gerken, president of the commissioners, said: "I can't comment on recommendations I haven't seen. I would love to talk to Steve Serchuk [today] and find out the ramifications of them.''

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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