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Published: Sunday, 12/22/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

LUCAS COUNTY CANINE CARE & CONTROL

6 ‘pit bulls’ could be 1st ex-fighters to escape death

Experts see possibility of rehabilitation

BY ALEXANDRA MESTER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Laura Simmons, left, and Julie Lyle play with Butterball, a ‘pit bull’ evaluated by BADRAP of California, at the Lucas County Canine Care & Control in Toledo. Laura Simmons, left, and Julie Lyle play with Butterball, a ‘pit bull’ evaluated by BADRAP of California, at the Lucas County Canine Care & Control in Toledo.
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The six “pit bulls” rescued from a dog-fighting operation nearly 11 months ago and spared by a Lucas County Common Pleas judge last month are on their way to their next milestone.

The dogs were evaluated Saturday by two nationally recognized experts, Donna Reynolds and Tim Racer. The Lucas County Pit Crew brought the co-founders of BADRAP, a California-based “pit bull” rescue, education, and advocacy group, to the Lucas County Canine Care & Control to complete the evaluations.

The pair saw positive signs the dogs could be rehabilitated.

“There are some strong candidates for adoption,” Ms. Reynolds said. “They could all be saved if resources exist, but that’s the hard part.”

The dogs have been at the county shelter since they were seized Jan. 31. Toledo police responding to a report of a suspicious person discovered the dogs caged and chained to the floor in an otherwise vacant, boarded-up house in the 200 block of South Fearing Boulevard.

Their former owner, Carl Steward, 21, of 716 Cherry St. was convicted Oct. 23 of five felony counts of dog fighting. Judge Gary Cook acquitted Steward on one count relating to a young female “pit bull” that had no fighting scars and had not been bred.

Mr. Steward was sentenced last month to jail, ordered to pay $12,030 for the care of the dogs, and banned from owning another dog.

Eleven months in a noisy shelter environment is stressful for any dog. The cruelty victims have proved resilient and have adapted well to the environment.

Tim Racer, co-founder of BADRAP in California, holds Michaela at Lucas County Canine Care & Control in Toledo. Tim Racer, co-founder of BADRAP in California, holds Michaela at Lucas County Canine Care & Control in Toledo.
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“They were living in kind of a kennel-like environment before, so they don’t think this is too bad,” county shelter Director Julie Lyle said. “That’s sad, but unfortunately, a lot of times, we’re the best place a dog has ever been.”

The dogs have been named Bear, Michaela, Mopsy, Eleanor, Honeysuckle, and Butterball. Bear is the only male, and Butterball is the young female who did not appear to have been fought.

Ms. Reynolds and Mr. Racer noted that nothing the dogs did during their evaluations was surprising. Butterball did the best of the bunch and breezed through her evaluation with little trouble. While there are concerns with the others, those could be overcome.

“It’s sort of like kids who have been given a really crappy start in life,” Mr. Racer said. “You can give up on the kid, or you can give the kid what he never had. … We give [the dogs] all those things they never had, and then we watch them flourish.”

“They’ve never had a leader,” Ms. Reynolds added. “As soon as you give them a game plan, a leader, and some training, they immediately become better dogs.”

None of the six will be placed up for adoption from the county. Ms. Lyle said she has already reached out to rescue groups, some as far away as Chicago and New York. Any group that takes one must be experienced with and knowledgeable about both the breed and dogs from cruelty cases.

“Our hope is that all of these dogs will be placed with rescue groups that have the resources and knowledge to turn them into what they could be,” she said. “We do not place dogs that are human-aggressive and there is one [Bear] who has shown us he might be willing to be human-aggressive. It really just depends on what groups step forward and can take them.”

The Pit Crew definitely plans to take one of the dogs.

“We’ll take one right off the bat, and we’ll see who all else steps up,” Executive Director Jean Keating said. “If it turns out they can’t find a spot for another dog, then we’ll try to take a second one.”

Ms. Keating noted many rescue groups that specialize in such cases are full and inundated with requests to take even more dogs.

Dogs not taken by rescue groups still could be euthanized. Those that fail temperament testing but are considered transferable typically get a week for a rescue to show interest before being killed. The process will be more complicated for the six cruelty-case dogs.

“There are a lot of variables in it,” Ms. Lyle said. “It’s not as easy to find someone who could take these dogs, as opposed to our typical transfer dogs. It’s going to take more time and effort.”

Ms. Keating said even if the dogs are moved to rescues, their futures still aren’t secure. They may act differently and present different problems in a home environment.

“We may see things six months from now that makes them unsafe for the public, and the decision may have to be made to euthanize them,” Ms. Keating said.

But the mere consideration of rehabilitation for these dogs is a new development in Lucas County. Until 2012, “pit bulls” were automatically deemed vicious under Ohio law and were killed. Tom Skeldon, Ms. Lyle’s predecessor who was ousted in 2009, was known to be hostile toward “pit bull”-type dogs.

“What we’re doing now with these dogs was a pipe dream a few years back,” Ms. Keating said. “It’s a testament to how far we’ve come. Even if they don’t all make it, it’s still a huge step forward. The community should be proud of it.”

Ms. Reynolds said the six will set an example because they are Lucas County’s first former fighting dogs to be spared.

“These ones are game-changers,” she said. “They are history-makers because they’re going to help the rest of Lucas County and the rest of Ohio see that they are simply dogs who want to be treated with compassion. It’s incredibly exciting. The entire country is watching this and is cheering for you. They see that nothing is going to be quite the same.”

Contact Alexandra Mester: amester@theblade.com, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.



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