Story of Cheerio generates storm of reader reaction

Some comments blame owner; others take dog warden to task

Cheerio, a beagle mix, was killed Thursday by the dog warden after its owner was unable to free the pup.
Cheerio, a beagle mix, was killed Thursday by the dog warden after its owner was unable to free the pup.

The story of a small black-and-brown dog named Cheerio that was killed Thursday by the dog warden generated a fevered reaction Saturday.

More than 60 comments about the story were logged on The Blade Web site.

Some of those comments blamed the dog warden for not doing more to save the dog.

Some suggested it would have cost less money to simply give the dog back to its owner than to have kept it for as long as it was kept.

Others pointed a finger at the owner, saying the dog should not have gotten out in the first place, that it should have been wearing its license, and that the owner should have been more resourceful in coming up with the money to free the dog. Others questioned why a rescue group hadn’t taken the dog when it was offered to them.

Although Melissa Cousino bought the 2013 dog license for Cheerio, a beagle mix, she said in an interview Saturday she had not owned the dog for seven or eight months.

She said she had given him away to another resident at the mobile home community where she lives in Holland. She said his first name is Gary, but that she does not know his last name.

The dog was brought in as a stray July 18 to the Lucas County Dog Warden’s Office.

He was not wearing a collar with a license tag, but the department was able to search dog licenses in the area he was found and figured out he was once Ms. Cousino’s dog, County Dog Warden Julie Lyle said.

Department officials tried to call her at the phone number she had furnished when she bought the license. They sent a certified letter telling her she had 14 days to redeem the dog or else it could be killed or put up for adoption.

The dog warden sent Ms. Cousino the certified letter because she never transferred the license to the new owner and the new owner never transferred it to himself, Ms. Cousino said.

She said that when she took the letter to show the new owner he swore, and threw the letter down.

He said he wouldn’t help her with any money to get Cheerio back, according to Ms. Cousino.

Ms. Cousino said she went to the dog warden to find out what she could do to get the dog back.

She said she doesn’t remember the date she went in, but that she owed about $140 to redeem him.

Because it costs $45 on the first day to redeem a dog, $55 on the second, $63 on the third and then $8 each day additionally, it would have been about 13 days after Cheerio was brought in that Ms. Cousino went into the dog warden.

“I work 12 hour days and don’t get a lot of time off,” she said. “I went in as soon as I could.”

Ms. Cousino said she didn’t have the money to pay the redemption fee. She makes $9.50 an hour working in a group home. She said she has to take care of herself, her daughter, and her granddaughter on a limited income.

This isn’t the first time Cheerio has ended up at the dog warden, Ms. Cousino said.

Last summer when Cheerio got out, it cost $100 to redeem him and she borrowed the money from her boss, she said.

“He used to get out and run around the neighborhood all the time,” she said. “I thought he’d have a better home with Gary. He was a single guy and he was lonely. I cared about Cheerio and I tried to do the right thing by him.”

She said she didn’t call her boss for money this time because the last time, after her boss found out that she had used the money for a dog, she was angry.

“She’s not an animal person,” Ms. Cousino said. “She couldn’t believe I spent that kind of money on a dog.”

She wishes the dog warden would have offered her some kind of payment plan.

“I could have afforded $40 a month,” she said. However, she would not have kept Cheerio if she had been able to get him back because of problems she’d had with him in the past.

“We were going to put him up on Craigslist and see if we could find him a good home,” she said.

Before giving the dog away, she had him for about two years after obtaining him on Craigslist herself, she said.

Her neighbors reported her to the mobile park management office many times and they threatened to evict her if they got any more complaints about the dog, she said. Neighbors caught him last summer and held him in their home until the dog warden came out to get him.

“He was getting loose a lot,” she said. “The neighbor kids would always help me chase him down.”

Cheerio could not go up for adoption because he failed the behavior evaluation all dogs must undergo. He did not like being handled and he showed food-guarding tendencies, Ms. Lyle said.

However, the dog warden offered him up to their approved transfer partners, which include the Toledo Area Humane Society along with about 40 rescue groups.

The groups pay fees to obtain dogs — usually $50, which applies to dogs that are unaltered and that the dog warden has spayed or neutered before the group takes them. The dog warden charges $10 for a difficult-to-place unaltered dog, $25 for dogs that are previously altered or the rescue alters elsewhere. An additional $20 is charged for a rabies vaccine. The Toledo Area Humane Society is not charged transfer fees.

The Toledo Area Humane Society was full, said Executive Director Gary Willoughby. However, even if the group had space, it probably would not have opted to take Cheerio, he said.

“We don’t often take in dogs from them or other groups who have done poorly on their SAFER testing,” said Mr. Willoughby, referencing the standardized test developed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that the humane society also uses to evaluate temperament.

SAFER stands for Safety Assessment for Evaluating Rehoming.

“If we think there is something we can do with a special foster home trained in these areas, we can try, but our foster families are all pretty well full right now,” Mr. Willoughby said. The Humane Society has more than 100 foster homes, but only a handful that can take on the “hardest” cases, he said.

“We do take in from them many other dogs needing special care,” he said. “Since [early this year] we’ve taken in puppies with mange, a terrier recovering from a broken leg, another with a broken pelvis, and many other shy dogs that need time and care before being ready for adoption.”

The Humane Society has taken 206 dogs from the dog warden so far this year, and 466 in 2012, he said.

Contact Tanya Irwin at tirwin@theblade.com, 4190-724-6066, or on Twitter @TanyaIrwin.