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Published: Thursday, 6/10/2010

Proposed revamp of dog laws approved

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A citizen-led committee yesterday endorsed a detailed recommendation for new and sweeping regulations for dogs and their owners in the city of Toledo.

Yet minutes after voting 9-2 to forward their plan to city officials for further review, committee members heard a plea for help from new Lucas County Dog Warden Julie Lyle, who told how the county pound is being overrun with illnesses such as kennel cough.

"My dogs are dying," Ms. Lyle told the 13 members of Lucas County's Dog Warden Advisory Committee.

The warden described how the growing health problems stem in part from inadequate veterinary attention and cramped quarters. And staffing shortages are preventing dogs from being promptly vaccinated against illnesses, she said.

"We have a horrible sick ken-nel full of dogs," Ms. Lyle said. "I would say over half our dogs are ill … it's a mess right now."

The committee's "dog ordinance" proposal runs nine pages in length and would replace and significantly expand the policies that have existed in the city's "vicious-dogs law," which is four paragraphs long. Members said the overarching goal is to encourage responsible dog ownership that will prevent bites.

Members had worked since February to write the ordinance proposal at the request of Mayor Mike Bell, who sought a replacement for the existing dog law after a judge struck it down in January.

Toledo Municipal Court Judge Michael Goulding found the law's restrictions on "pit bulls" and "pit bull" mixes to be unconstitutional, including the one-only limit and requirement that "pit bulls" be leashed and muzzled when off owners' property.

The new proposal would apply a set of various restrictions to misbehaving dogs of any breed - not just "pit bulls." Ohio is the only state that deems "pit bulls" inherently vicious.

Larry Vasko, an alternate member of the committee for the Lucas County Health Department, cast one of the two opposing votes yesterday.

The deputy health commissioner said after the meeting that he couldn't support the ordinance because "pit bulls are the number one biter in the county," and those types of dogs should be specifically regulated for public safety.

In addition, Mr. Vasko said he disagreed with the new proposed restriction against chaining a dog and leaving it unattended for more than 15 minutes.

Other features of the proposal include:

•An escalating scale of fines for unprovoked dog bites.

Penalties would rise from $150 to $500 to $1,000, and could include mandatory pet ownership classes or community service with an animal welfare organization.

•New "level one" and "level two" threat classifications for naughty dogs.

•Restrictions against leaving a dog unattended for more than 24 hours.

•Mandatory spay or neuter surgery at owner's expense for dogs caught running at large more than once.

•The ability to seize the dogs of owners deemed reckless.

The group's recommendation will now go to the city's law department for review. A final proposal would require approval by Toledo City Council before it could become law.

Shortly after voting on the plan, committee members heard the dog warden's distressing report about illness running rampant.

"I'm just so shocked," said Deb Johnson, head veterinarian with the Toledo Area Humane Society.

Asked if volunteers could help her operation, Ms. Lyle replied that she has yet to receive the necessary permission from her department's employees' union.

"It's bad," Ms. Lyle said of conditions at the pound. "It's summer and so many dogs are coming in. They don't go outside; they just stand there and cough on each other."

Several members voiced criticism of the county's veterinary care contract with Dr. Roger Spiess of Wauseon. Dr. Spiess and his associate, Dr. Cindy Thurston, have provided veterinary services to the pound under a contract approved by county commissioners in January.

Ms. Lyle said the $24,000 contract allows for just 11 1/2 hours of billable vet care a week if the department is to make it through the year.

The vets are paid $40 an hour under the contract, and each visit must be billed as at least four hours even if it's just for 30 minutes, the warden said.

And because the county is billed for travel time, which could include the drive to and from Toledo from Wauseon, there is that much less time for the dogs.

Committee Chairman Steve Serchuk said he will speak with Lucas County commissioners about changes to the contract.

"I think we need to have a few people sit down with the commissioners on this one issue," Mr. Serchuk said.

Dr. Spiess did not return a message left yesterday on his personal cell phone.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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