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Published: Wednesday, 4/14/2010

New dog warden cites policy of no 'pit bull' adoptions

BLADE STAFF

The "pit bull" dog dubbed Amos will not be available for rescue because of the long-standing departmental policy barring the breed from adoption, said Julie Lyle, Lucas County's new dog warden.

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop e-mailed County Administrator Peter Ujvagi early Wednesday urging him to suspend the administrator's self-imposed 30-day ban against any operational changes Ms. Lyle might consider at the Lucas County Dog Warden's Office.

"I think Julie should be allowed from day one to make changes she sees fit that would create a better department. Included in that, I believe Julie should 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.

Mr. Ujvagi did not immediately return calls for comment.

Ms. Lyle called Amos a "lovely dog," but said her hands were tied by the policy against adopting out pit bulls.

"There could be 50 people lined up and there would be nothing I could do, unfortunately," she told The Blade.

There are as many as 30 pit bulls in the custody of the dog warden as of Wednesday, she said.

The story as it appeared in earlier editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com:

By CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT

BLADE STAFF WRITER

“Kill Day” at the Lucas County dog pound was unusually quiet yesterday.

Julie Lyle, the county's first new dog warden in 23 years, decided to temporarily halt the scheduled euthanasia of seven dogs slated to be killed. The list of dogs Pound Manager Bonnie Mitchell drew up to be killed yesterday included several healthy “pit bulls.”

Those dogs and others may not be spared for long, though.

Lucas County Administrator Peter Ujvagi said he has instructed Ms. Lyle to continue the current policies set up by former dog warden Tom Skeldon at the pound for at least the next 30 days while she comes up with recommendations for change. That means the practice of putting down adult “pit bulls” because of their breed — begun under Mr. Skeldon — remains active for now.

“The policies continue to be in place. Based on the policies, those dogs will be euthanized,” said Mr. Ujvagi, who, as a former city councilman and state lawmaker, has no background or expertise in managing a dog pound. Yesterday's halt to the killings “is not something that occurred because there is anything that is different for the time being.”

Lucas County Administrator Peter Ujvagi has ordered the continuation of the euthanasia policy for 30 days. Lucas County Administrator Peter Ujvagi has ordered the continuation of the euthanasia policy for 30 days.
AP Enlarge

Ms. Lyle, who recently relocated from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to take the dog warden's job, spent the morning riding along with one of the department's deputies.

She said she is examining current policy and investigating what changes might be made. In the past, she has expressed interest in ending the current ban on adopting out “pit bulls,” a policy which condemns the dogs to certain death at the county pound no matter how healthy or how gentle the dogs are.

“It's my second day on the job and I didn't feel I had adequate time to look at the list,” Ms. Lyle explained. “I wanted a little more time to look over the decisions.”

She is getting to know the dogs better than the former dog warden did, insisting that all dogs who enter the county pound be assigned a name and not just a canine number as under Mr. Skeldon.

Ms. Lyle had no hesitation yesterday in removing one of the “pit bulls” slated to be killed from its cage and snuggling with the brown and white dog she named ‘‘Amos.''

Under Mr. Ujvagi's directives, the dog will soon be killed. It was found running loose only two days ago.

The long-serving and controversial former dog warden, Mr. Skeldon, was forced into retirement Jan. 31 amid complaints he euthanized too many dogs and adopted out too few. As a result of his policies, Lucas County had one of the highest kill rates of dogs in the state, with nearly 80 percent of all dogs taken in ultimately put down.

Dog Warden Julie Lyle holds ‘Pinky', a female terrier mix that is up for adoption again after the person who originally adopted her recently died. Dog Warden Julie Lyle holds ‘Pinky', a female terrier mix that is up for adoption again after the person who originally adopted her recently died.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

Those policies were modified somewhat in late January, when the Lucas County commissioners voted to allow “pit pull” puppies to be transferred to the Toledo Area Humane Society for adoption.

Mr. Ujvagi said there was “nothing unusual” in requiring Ms. Lyle to continue for 30 days current policies of putting down adult “pit bulls.” He said it would help the warden ease into her new job.

“The idea was to give her the opportunity to be able to learn and understand the operations of the dog warden's office, weigh them, and make recommendations,” Mr. Ujvagi said. “She needs to be given a chance to be able to succeed in her job.”

The longtime Democratic politico, who got his $105,684 job as county administrator from the three Democrats serving as county commissioners as he faced the loss of his $67,000-a-year seat in the Ohio House because of term limits, said the county does not have the resources to stop all euthanasia of dogs, although he expects Ms. Lyle will work toward reducing killings over time.

“Her goal, our goal, is to reduce euthanasia to the absolute minimum possible,” Mr. Ujvagi said. “I'm confident … that's the direction we're going to be going in.”

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop, who has pushed his fellow commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon-Wozniak, a first cousin to the former dog warden, to adopt more dog-friendly policies at the county dog pound, expressed hope that Lucas County's treatment of “pit bulls” would change under Ms. Lyle's direction. He said her decision not to euthanize dogs yesterday was “encouraging.”

“There's definitely change on the horizon,” Mr. Konop said.

Ms. Lyle's biggest challenge will be to put in place the necessary infrastructure to keep more dogs at the pound without them being euthanized, and to increase adoptions, Mr. Konop said.

“She's got to sort of build from scratch a network to adopt out as many dogs as possible,” the commissioner said. “That's going to take a little time.”

Mr. Konop said he will attend a committee hearing in Columbus today on a proposed bill to amend the Ohio law that brands all “pit bulls” as inherently vicious. That law was one of the motivations behind Mr. Skeldon's controversial policies.

The state law does not place restrictions on adopting out “pit bulls” and does not require that they be killed, said county assistant prosecutor John Borell. However, he said the county could be at risk of lawsuits if it adopts out vicious dogs.

“The liability for the county for vicious dogs has always been a concern,” Mr. Borell said. “But that's any dog that exhibits vicious behavior, not just ‘pit bulls.'”

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: cbarrett@theblade.comor 419-724-6272.



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