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Lucas County named a new dog warden yesterday who intends to increase dog adoptions, lower the county's historically high kill rate, and pursue sensible law enforcement targeting bad owners rather than specific breeds.
County commissioners voted unanimously to hire Julie Lyle of Ishpeming, Mich., for the post vacated in January by Tom Skeldon, the long-serving but controversial dog warden who resigned amid criticism that he euthanized too many dogs and adopted out too few.
Ms. Lyle, 31, beat out 47 other applicants who sought the job and was the screening committee's top pick. She is scheduled to start April 12 or soon after and be paid $58,010 annually - the low end of the position's salary range. Mr. Skeldon's salary was $69,097 his final year.
For county Commissioner Ben Konop, Ms. Lyle's hiring represents the dawn of a new era in local animal control.
"If Julie does what she's saying she's going to do, I think we're going to be a shining example of what a dog warden ought to be in 2010," Mr. Konop said after the afternoon vote.
"There was a culture over there for decades that just didn't put a very high value on the lives of the animals, and in turn had one of the highest kill rates in all of Ohio," said Mr. Konop, who had led the charge against Mr. Skeldon. "That sort of nonthinking, catch-and-kill mentality hopefully will be long gone."
Lucas County killed 72 percent of all dogs who entered the pound last year and weren't reclaimed by owners, or 1,951 dogs. The kill rate was 5 percent lower than in the previous year, thanks to a flurry of end-of-year adoptions which county officials attributed to The Blade's coverage of the dog warden department.
Commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak also welcomed Ms. Lyle, who sat in a back row of the near-empty meeting room during the vote.
"Thank you for liking us as much as we like you," Ms. Wozniak said.
Ms. Lyle recently met with members of the area's animal welfare community. Jean Keating, co-founder of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, applauded the commissioners for hiring Ms. Lyle.
"She has the qualities and the tools that we're looking for to make us a model program in the state," Ms. Keating said.
In an interview with The Blade, Ms. Lyle said she is eager to begin.
"I think it's a great time for Lucas County pets," she said. "I think we're going to make some improvements. We're going to fine-tune things a little bit and get things going on the right track."
Ms. Lyle said she hopes to raise the pound's adoption/transfer rate to at least 80 percent, start greater cooperation with area rescue groups, and improve owner responsibility.
"Hopefully we can get the dog warden operation to run a bit more smoothly," she said. "I think the staff there is great, and I don't think I'm going to come in and make humongous changes right off the bat."
One immediate change will be to give each dog a name.
"Right away, I'm going to name the pets," she said. "I don't want to see dog number 1503 or something. We're going to give them some names."
A bigger change will involve how the department handles "pit bulls."
Ms. Lyle said she is against targeting specific breeds and would like to eventually reverse the county's long-standing policy against adopting out any "pit-bull" or "pit-bull" mix dogs regardless of an individual animal's behavior or a prospective owner's responsibility.
"I want to see that lovely pet - adult 'pit bulls' - can be rehomed," she said. "I think there are 'pit bulls' that probably won't get to be rehomed despite a lot of rehabilitation and things like that, but I don't want to see that just because a dog is a 'pit bull' that it's not rehomed."
Ohio is the only state that deems "pit bulls" inherently vicious. The city of Toledo is appealing a judge's recent ruling that struck down a city vicious dogs law related to "pit bulls" and "pit bull" mixes.
Once Ms. Lyle starts, county Administrator Peter Ujvagi said, she must take training courses or workshops in darting and euthanasia to ensure she is qualified to carry out the warden's role.
Bonnie Mitchell, the acting dog warden, is expected to initially help Ms. Lyle with those aspects of the job.
Ms. Mitchell likely will return to her previous position as pound manager, Mr. Ujvagi said.
Ms. Lyle said she and her husband and their four children and three dogs - a shepherd mix, a Labrador, and a Doberman - are ready for the move from Michigan's rural Upper Peninsula to urban Lucas County. She believes the move will be more of a personal than professional adjustment.
"The dogs are going to have dog behavior - whether it be in the U.P. or whether it be down here," said Ms. Lyle, who has a bachelor's degree in zoology from Northern Michigan University. "They're still going to act like dogs … and I have pretty good knowledge about dog behavior."
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