Kevin Butler looked at the caramel-brown German shepherd pup cradled in his wife's arms as their three children fawned over it.
"We gonna get the dog?" he asked with a grin.
The answer was clearly yes.
"OK," he said. "Let's go."
The pup, about 2 months old, was surrendered to the Lucas County dog warden along with its littermates a few weeks ago. Mr. Butler's wife, Lanette, said her husband had a German shepherd when he was a youngster, and the couple wanted to get another one.
"We've been looking all over the Toledo area -- we almost went to Paulding -- and I said no, we're coming down here for adoption day," Mr. Butler said.
Although the Butlers' new dog is just a pup, the county dog warden is hoping to ramp up adoptions of older dogs with a renovated adoption area.
Dog Warden Julie Lyle officially opened that area Saturday with an event dubbed "New Digs for Dogs." Twenty-seven spacious new cages were filled with dogs ready for adoption. It was a chance to get the public in, adopt some dogs out, and highlight the progress within the office.
In the past, large dogs weren't viewable, and the cages were cramped.
"If we're going to have an adopting program, we need to have an appropriate adoption area," Ms. Lyle said.
The renovated area has windows to let in natural light and the largest cages the warden's office has ever had, which give the dogs room to exhibit their natural behaviors. Those will help reduce the dogs' stress levels, which in turn cuts down on the chances for the dogs to develop disease and behavioral issues.
Ms. Lyle said having the more agreeable area could speed adoptions and help keep more free space available. "I think it's huge for the future of our adoption program," she said of the room. "I think it's really important for people to be able to browse and make a connection with the dog. Before they'd go and look at a list and say, 'Let me see Bob.' If they get to browse they might make a connection with a dog they wouldn't have otherwise chosen. I think it's a really important part of the process."
Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak praised the improvements, which she said were "most needed." "I love what dogs do for families in terms of making a family complete," she said. "So come and get a dog, come and see the pound, and come continue to be a part of this and make Lucas County know we are all working on our dog pound's considerations and issues [in order for] our care for animals in our community to be the best it can be."
The additional pound space is made available as Ms. Lyle continues her efforts to reduce the kill rate in the county pound and increase the number of adoptions. Ms. Lyle was appointed March 30, 2010, after the retirement of former Dog Warden Tom Skeldon, who drew criticism from animal advocates for policies that seemed more focused on killing animals than on finding new homes.
However, the dog warden has continued to kill dogs either because they were deemed unadoptable, because they failed the dog warden's behavior test, or they were too aggressive to be tested.
But many adoptable dogs were killed simply because the pound didn't have enough room to keep them alive until homes were found for them. Particularly at risk for being killed because of a lack of capacity are "pit-bull"-type dogs. Ms. Lyle set a limit of five on the number of adoptable "pit bulls" that will be housed at the pound. Once the limit is reached, "pit bulls" are killed.
Ms. Lyle said keeping dogs in pens longterm makes them unadoptable. The main goal of the new adoption area was to show big dogs.
The dog warden is financially a stand-alone department that receives no money from the county general fund, relying instead on fees and proceeds from Lucas County's $25 dog license fee.
The usual capacity for the warden's office is about 105 dogs, but Ms. Lyle said her office can accommodate up to 140 dogs. The new cages, which cost about $38,000, technically will add to that capacity, but Ms. Lyle said without more staff she will not have the ability to hold more dogs. If she did, she said, the care would suffer for all dogs in her control. Total cost for the new adoption room was approximately $120,000.
Also new is a fenced-in grassy area of about 2,000 square feet just outside the door. That will give volunteers more space to freely exercise and play with the dogs, as well as allow those seeking a dog to get a chance to see how the animal acts off a leash. That cost about $5,000, the dog warden said.
County Commissioner Pete Gerken said dogs don't come to the warden voluntarily, and many are from very poor conditions, so it's important to give them a good place to stay and a good chance at finding a new permanent home.
"These dogs are on a journey. We hope the hard part of their journey is behind them. They've found a good place to be here, a great adopting center, and what we really need then is a caring public that will come and take the animals that need the help. We always step up for kids, we step up for seniors, we should, but we also need to step up for these dogs," he said.
Ms. Lyle said she initiated the changes when she took over as warden last year. She said similar recommendations may have come from the Lucas County Dog Warden Advisory Council, although that wasn't specifically where the changes originated.
The council was formed in late 2008 in response to complaints about the former dog warden. Among the committee's recommendations was to upgrade the facility so 50 percent of all dogs are housed in kennels rather than in cramped cages by September, with every dog in a kennel by December, 2013.
Officials had also planned to show a surgical suite during the open house, but it is not yet complete.
Ms. Lyle said the room itself is finished, although the office hasn't ordered the surgical equipment yet. The recently hired veterinarian is still working on an equipment list -- things such as an anesthesia machine, surgical table, lights, and intravenous-fluid poles -- which will then go out to bid. Ms. Lyle said she hopes the office will be able to start performing in-house spaying and neutering procedures within six to eight weeks.
Previously, the warden loaded dogs into trucks, took them elsewhere for the procedure, and returned them the same day. The county was paying $70 each for those procedures, which amounted to more than $25,000 last year. The county budgeted $27,500 for spaying and neutering this year.
Hiring Dr. Cindy Thurston and a new vet tech and buying all the equipment in the surgical suite will cost the warden's office $141,000 this year. That money comes from the dog warden department's own fund, supported by dog license, adoption, and surrender fees.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.