Barbara Costilla, who is fostering Grady for Planned Pethood, shares a treat with him at Wildwood Metropark.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
Schultz, a beagle and basset hound mix who was transferred from the Lucas County Dog Warden’s Office to the Toledo Area Humane Society where he was supposed to go up for adoption, was killed after showing signs of aggression during behavioral testing.
The dog was up for adoption at the pound for about one month. He was a favorite of the staff and volunteers who walked him daily. They discovered he had been taught a trick: He would get up on his hind legs and beg for treats. The trick was caught on video by a volunteer and posted on YouTube.
The Toledo Area Humane Society promotes that its mission is to never kill an adoptable dog. But how the group defines “adoptable” can be subjective.
The humane society has killed 154 dogs so far this year for behavior and temperament issues. That’s up from 125 during the same period last year, although the group has taken in more dogs this year, 1,229 compared to 1,061.
Both the dog pound and humane society administer a seven-item test designed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called the SAFER Aggression Assessment, which stands for Safety Assessment For Evaluating Rehoming. The ASPCA says the evaluation is a predictive, consistent method for evaluating the probability of canine aggression in individual dogs.
The 6-year-old dog Schultz was transferred to the humane society on Aug. 20 only to be killed a week later after scoring poorly on parts of the SAFER test where the dog is handled, squeezed, and tested for sensitivity, said Gary Willoughby, executive director of the humane society.
“He also didn’t do well with the food portion of the test,” he said. “He tried to bite the tester during the tests.”
Two veterinarians at the humane society conducted independent medical exams on him, and he was X-rayed to make sure there was no medical reason for his behavior.
“I can’t speculate as to why he didn’t pass evaluations,” Mr. Willoughby said. “We had staff and volunteers walk him and those interactions were positive, too. SAFER testing and volunteer interaction are very different, of course.”
The humane society did not offer the dog back to the dog warden or offer him to a rescue group or place him in one of its dozens of foster homes for behavior modification.
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“The only other current partner we have for smaller breed dogs normally would take dogs from us if we strongly believed that the aggression was due to the shelter environment or something potentially manageable like food or resource guarding,” Mr. Willoughby said. “Due to our efforts through multiple tests, vet exams, X-rays, allowing a week to get settled, etc., staff felt that unfortunately, Schultz wasn’t a good candidate for adoption. We didn’t feel that we could safely place him in a home, for fear that he was likely to bite someone.”
Schultz came into the dog warden’s office on June 24 as a stray. He was found on East Broadway in Toledo. He had some medical issues that precluded him from being evaluated until July 18. The pound does not conduct the SAFER test on dogs who are sick. He never as much as growled at anyone the entire month he was up for adoption.
“He didn’t show any overt aggression or else he wouldn’t have remained up for adoption,” Lucas County Dog Warden Julie Lyle said.
The humane society would like for the dog warden to re-evaluate dogs’ temperaments before transferring them. The group would still re-evaluate them upon arrival, Mr. Willoughby said.
“My thought with them ‘re-SAFERing’ is so they can be on the lookout for changes in behavior for long-stay dogs to determine whether or not they are still good adoption and transfer candidates,” he said.
2 escape death
Cotter and Grady are two transfers from the dog warden’s office who were set to be killed at the humane society, but escaped death.
Cotter was transferred Aug. 28 and scored poorly on the food guarding portion of the SAFER test. He also exhibited very rough, mouthy play, Mr. Willoughby said.
“If we had more time and space, we would have tried to work more with Cotter, but are unable to do so at this time,” he said.
The 2-year-old German Shepherd and “pit bull” mix came back to the pound Aug. 30 and was transferred to the Lucas County Pit Crew on Saturday. He is being fostered by Omar Smiley, a long-time pound volunteer who was devastated when he heard that Cotter was going to be killed at the humane society and volunteered to foster him to save him from being killed.
The gray dog had been-SAFER tested at the pound only a week before his transfer to the humane society and did not show any signs of aggression, Ms. Lyle said.
Grady, a 4-year-old Boxer mix, was up for adoption for four months at the dog warden’s office. He was transferred to the humane society and also showed signs of aggression when he was SAFER tested there.
“Grady had much difficulty in handling and was easily over-stimulated and mouthy to staff working with him,” Mr. Willoughby said. “As the area’s only open admission shelter, space issues sometimes play a factor in our decision-making process in cases like these. If we were in a position where we could dedicate much more time with Grady to try and work through some of these issues, we certainly would have made the effort.”
‘Very laid back’
Before going to the humane society, Planned Pethood, an area rescue group, had expressed interest in him. So on hearing that he was set to be killed at the humane society, the pound asked that he be returned.
His foster moms, Barbara and Sylvia Costilla of Toledo, who have had the 60-pound dog since Aug. 9, say he has been “very laid back” and has shown no signs of aggression to them, their other dogs, or their cats.
“He’s perfect, he even lets the cats rub up against him,” Barbara Costilla says. “I can’t believe he was going to be euthanized.”
The dog warden depends on the humane society to help ease its overcrowding situation. Since all stray dogs are brought to the pound, including those that are turned in at the humane society, the pound usually has between 140 and 180 dogs in its care at any one time.
It’s also helpful for dogs who have been up for adoption at the pound for awhile to be transferred so they can get a new set of potential adopters viewing them because some people might look to the humane society exclusively when adopting and do not view the adoptable dogs at the dog warden, Ms. Lyle said.
Ms. Lyle said she did not know how many dogs have tested well on SAFER at the dog warden’s office and then shown signs of aggression at the humane society.
“Most are euthanized at [the humane society] as once they have not passed the SAFER, they are not adoptable here,” Ms. Lyle said. “We do not keep records of these instances.”
No return policy
Dogs can’t be brought back from the humane society and relisted for adoption at the pound after showing signs of aggression, she said.
“We are a public safety agency and the safety of the public remains our primarily goal,” Ms. Lyle said. “So we will not put dogs back out into the community that are showing us they might not be safe.”
One criticism of the humane society is that they use the SAFER test on the dog almost immediately after they arrive when they are still stressed from the truck ride and new surroundings. The SAFER manual suggests that shelters wait three days before conducting the test.
“While it is generally recommended to allow dogs two to three days to settle in before providing assessment, the realities of our space don’t always allow that to occur,” Mr. Willoughby said. “We wish we had more space, more help, more resources to help even more animals, as we are passionate about what we do, but sometimes we aren’t able to help as much as we’d like to.”