Sunday, May 27, 2018
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County draws fire on dog policy issue

For Dr. David Grossman, the idea of Lucas County commissioners deciding which dogs should live and which should die at the county dog pound doesn't make much sense.

The physician and Toledo-Lucas County health commissioner noted Wednesday that commissioners have not set health department policy for him — and said he doubted if they wanted to micromanage the dog warden's office. “I can't imagine Pete [Gerken, president of the board of commissioners] calling me and saying, ‘you gave the wrong flu vaccine this year,'” Dr. Grossman said.

The health official, a member of the county's dog warden advisory committee, said he thought policy decisions should emanate from the dog warden's office.

That's not what's happening now under the orders of two of the commissioners, Tina Skeldon-Wozniak and Pete Gerken, and their handpicked administrator, Peter Ujvagi, who was term-limited in the Ohio House when they offered him the job as administrator earlier this year.

After a one-day reprieve, new county Dog Warden Julie Lyle followed the orders of Mr. Ujvagi and killed 12 dogs yesterday.

He continued to insist yesterday that the past policies of Tom Skeldon, the former county dog warden forced to retire because of the outcry over the county's high dog kill rate, be followed by the new dog warden.

Mr. Skeldon dictated that all unclaimed “pit bulls” be killed and that none be offered for adoption, no matter their temperament.

Before her hiring, Ms. Lyle said she intended to increase adoptions of all dogs and decrease the record killing of dogs under Mr. Skeldon.

For the time being, however, the policy of euthanizing “pit bulls” instead of adopting them out rests with the commissioners, although they will allow the newly installed dog warden to weigh in with her recommendations within 30 days.

As of yesterday, Ms. Lyle had been on the job for three days.

The commissioners will vote prior to any policy changes recommended by Ms. Lyle once she has more work experience here, Mr. Ujvagi said yesterday.

“That doesn't mean she can't make any recommendations for 30 days,” Mr. Ujvagi told The Blade.

“It's just to make her comfortable with the fact that she doesn't need to fix everything all at once. She doesn't have to change everything all at once.”

Ten of as many as 30 “pit bull” dogs in the custody of the dog warden were euthanized by the county Wednesday, Ms. Lyle said. Records show that most of them captured were running loose. Some were aggressive and at least one had bitten a person.

The other two dogs killed were surrendered by their owners for euthanasia because they were old or sick.

One “pit bull” that was not killed was “Amos,” who was pictured on the front page of The Blade Wednesday being held by Ms. Lyle. She said the brown and white dog was caught running loose and was a gentle dog.

Mr. Ujvagi said Wednesday Amos would be killed Thursday at the pound.

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop e-mailed Mr. Ujvagi early Wednesday urging him to suspend what he considers a 30-day ban on any operational changes Ms. Lyle might consider.

The new dog warden “should be allowed from day one to make changes she sees fit” and “be allowed to adopt out any dog regardless of breed that she deems ‘adoptable,'” Mr. Konop wrote in the e-mail obtained by The Blade.

He noted that Mr. Ujvagi, who communicated the 30-day directive to Ms. Lyle, has less than 30 days on the job himself.

‘A double-standard'

“When you're hired to do a job, you do a job. I think there's a double-standard here,” Mr. Konop said. “She's got more experience in animal welfare than Mr. Ujvagi does in county administration.”

Commissioners Wozniak and Gerken said they support the waiting period.

“Julie Lyle has been our dog warden for less than 36 hours,” Ms. Wozniak said in a written statement.

“I believe it is important to sit down and talk with Julie and Humane Society Director John Dinon before any changes are made to our existing policies in this 30-day period.”

Mr. Gerken said the county is not yet equipped to handle the overflow of dogs that would likely come with the reversal of the euthanasia of all “pit bull” dogs. He said he'd be “willing to discuss” reversing the policy, but has not committed to a position on the matter.

Of Ms. Lyle, he said: “We all want her to grow and be successful, and you have to learn the elements of the job.”

Although Ms. Lyle has not yet influenced major policy changes regarding “pit bulls,” Mr. Dinon of the Humane Society emphasized that she is already making a positive impact in her new position as dog warden.

“I know she is already making changes. For one thing, they're naming dogs,” Mr. Dinon said. “I think they're allowing her to make some changes.”

His own agency is about to reconsider its policy against adopting out “pit bulls.”

The board of the Toledo Area Humane Society will discuss offering the breed for adoption, rather than the current policy of transferring rescued “pit bulls” to other advocacy groups, during their noon board meeting April 21.

Other local animal advocates are hopeful that Ms. Lyle will push to overturn the breed-specific euthanasia policy.

Reverse policies

Tamara Ernst, founder of 4 Lucas County Pets, the local animal advocacy group that criticized policies imposed against “pit bulls” by Mr. Skeldon, said she is hopeful that the new dog warden will reverse policies regarding the breed.

Ms. Ernst said future policies should “identify the people, not the dogs.”

“I think that somebody coming in that's got a perspective that's coming from a place that didn't have those policies, didn't have that mentality, didn't have that philosophy, she's an incredible asset,” Ms. Ernst said.

She stopped short of criticizing Mr. Ujvagi's 30-day delay before Ms. Lyle recommends policy changes, saying that the new dog warden should first “learn the ways and means of this agency.”

“Baby steps for now,” Ms. Ernst said. “I think anything radical is probably too soon for them.”

Jean Keating, co-founder of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, said that county officials shouldn't stand in the way of changes to be made to the dog warden's office.

“We did a very good job weeding through the candidates and picking a candidate that I have full confidence in, that is going to make the changes that the community wants to see happen in Lucas County,” Ms. Keating said. “We need to let her do her job.”

— Bridget Tharp and Carl Ryan

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