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Published: Sunday, 3/18/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Ex-dog warden stands by actions on 'pit bulls'

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tom Skeldon, Lucas County warden from 1987 to 2010, says he was enforcing the law. Tom Skeldon, Lucas County warden from 1987 to 2010, says he was enforcing the law.
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Former Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon stands by his assessments of which dogs were "pit bulls" when he was in the position from 1987 to 2010.

He said he based his decision on phenotypes -- how does it look -- as opposed to genotypes, or what is it made up of.

"The law, at the time, said a 'pit bull' mix was a 'pit bull,' " Mr. Skeldon said. "It's a fighting dog going to be fought in the pit and it's bred to fight in the pit. Over a few generations it will look like a 'pit bull' because that's the most efficient type to fight in a pit."

Mr. Skeldon said he never went into court with dogs that were iffy. "We went into court with dogs that either looked like 'pit bulls,' or looked sort of like a 'pit bull' and acted exactly like a 'pit bull,' " he said. "So we went in there based on the phenotype and it was up to us to prove that this was a 'pit bull.' And we almost always were able to do that. "

He said he won almost all, about 98 percent, of the court cases. "The other side would disagree and sometimes they took us to lengthy trials," he said. "But if we had a dog that fit the profile and then they are taking us to a lengthy trial, we've usually got behavior that backs up what we're saying. We would back up with how it looked like a 'pit bull' but how it acted like a 'pit bull' also. Because behavior is a phenotype."

Julie Lyle, the current Lucas County dog warden, says her office is still killing too many dogs. Julie Lyle, the current Lucas County dog warden, says her office is still killing too many dogs.
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A high percentage of the dogs that Mr. Skeldon destroyed were "pit bulls," he said. "The whole problem with euthanasia was a 'pit bull' problem," he said. "But we had started to turn the corner on it. Through strong law enforcement, and city council laws and state laws we had turned the corner. We went back to way back in the '90s to like 47 'pit bulls' and then it went to 147 and then 200, and then it went to where we got up to almost 1,300 'pit bulls' in a year, which was about 40 to 45 percent of the dogs we picked up."

The strong law enforcement kicked in as the problem got stronger "and everybody in town knew you had to be within the law if you were owning vicious dogs because somebody would do something about it. But that's all gone now."

The killing rate dropped to under a thousand, to around 900 a year, he said.

"We were the only place in the country that had turned the corner on this problem," he said. "It was well known that you better control a 'pit bull.' And if you don't the cops will stop you and so will the dog warden. We kept a lid on it, but the lid's gone."

County records don't bear that out. Records show that in 1989, two years after Mr. Skeldon became dog warden, 3,312 dogs were killed at the pound, followed by 3,723 dogs killed in 1999. By 2009, kills had fallen to 1,951. By last year, under the new dog warden, Julie Lyle, kills had fallen to 1,788, a rate she has said is too high and she is committed to reducing as much as possible.

That doesn't please the former dog warden. "Nobody's enforcing the law here now and they haven't for two years," Mr. Skeldon said.

He warned that Ms. Lyle's lack of patrolling the streets looking for "pit bulls" to pick up was going to result in problems for city residents. "This is going to be the first year when we haven't had much of a winter and we no longer have any curtail whatsoever on 'pit bulls,' " he said.

"And you've got a dog warden who is not interested in enforcing the law. So over the next month or two, watch out because the 'pit bulls' are going to be all over the place and they will be intimidating and they will be breeding and they will be getting out and running amok and biting people and biting people bad. It's one reason why neighborhoods are deteriorating."

Ms. Lyle rejected Mr. Skeldon's allegations. "We most certainly have been patrolling, and when we see an at-large dog, it most certainly does get picked up," she said.

Not all the "pit bulls" Mr. Skeldon came in contact with were "crazed," but they were all ones whose owners were breaking the law or ones that were taken in drug raids, he said. And he made sure they all died.

Mr. Skeldon said he did not enjoy killing so many dogs.

"I wish we didn't have to," he said. "But you have to read what the job is of the dog warden. It is first and foremost to protect people and their property from ravages by dogs, whether that be disease or attacks or whatever.

"Nobody likes killing dogs. But the way I mentally handled it was euthanasia was a whole lot better than some alternatives," he said.

"When it's sodium pentobarbital, which is a drug you get if you have major surgery to put you under long enough for the surgery -- that's a sweet way to go compared to other ways to go. But it's also better off than having a broken pelvis from being hit by a car, being put in a pit for dog fighting, being a menace to society because you're going after kids or the mailman or whatever."

"So I had to look at it where dogs who had been abused or thrown out of a car or nobody wanted," he said. "Euthanasia was better than dragging it on and keeping them alive just to keep statistics the way you want them to be looked at."



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