The Lucas County shelter assesses dogs’ behavior through playgroups instead of one-on-one meetings.
LUCAS COUNTY CANINE CARE & CONTROL Enlarge
Lucas County Canine Care & Control is continuing the trend of not killing more dogs in its care.
Year-end statistics show the percentage of dogs reclaimed by owners, adopted, or transferred to rescue groups increased to 67.30 percent last year, up from 65.91 percent in 2014. On the opposite side, the percentage of dogs killed or that die in the shelter of illness or injury without euthanasia was down to 35.11 percent from 38.84 percent the previous year.
The numbers are a trend of improvement over the last several years, even through the shelter’s intake numbers have remained fairly steady between 3,400 and 3,600 dogs. In 2011, the shelter saved 54.63 percent of dogs and 51.54 percent were killed or died. The total is more than 100 percent because the shelter always begins each year with dogs already there that aren’t included in that year’s intake numbers.
“We do things pretty systematically,” Director Julie Lyle said. “We’re continuing to analyze the numbers and see where we can help the most dogs.”
Ms. Lyle said a change made in June to using daily playgroups has had a notable impact. The activity helps staff better assess dogs’ personalities, and lets them burn energy and socialize so they better maintain a more positive mental state in the high-stress shelter environment.
“It also helps some of our fearful dogs who we can barely handle,” Ms. Lyle said. “We get them out in the group and they see the other dogs interacting with us and begin to interact with us as well.”
The dog-aggression portion of the shelter’s canine behavior assessment also now uses playgroups instead of one-on-one meetings, which Ms. Lyle said has been very effective. The shelter killed 220 dogs in 2015 for poor interactions with other dogs during their formal behavior evaluations, 72 fewer than the 292 killed in 2014 for the same reason.
The shelter also removed any formal food-behavior assessment in December after completing a formal study on the behavior in October. The full impact of that decision is yet to be measured, Ms. Lyle said, but the shelter killed 33 food guarders in 2015 versus 117 the previous year.
“Removing obstacles that were previously in place was probably the most effective measure we’ve seen save lives,” said Nikki Morey, executive director of the animal rescue Planned Pethood that takes in dogs from the county shelter. “When we become too married to a doctrine, we close ourselves off to other options.”
Planned Pethood pulled 162 dogs from the county shelter in 2015, up from 130 in the previous year. Overall, transfers to rescues went up slightly to 19.89 percent in 2015 from 18.89 percent in 2014.
Ms. Lyle said the shelter also altered its transfer program for rescues that take at least 10 dogs per month to waive per-dog pull fees used to help cover part of the cost for the dogs’ medical and general care.
Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the Lucas County board of commissioners, credits the shelter staff and its partners for the shelter’s upward motion.
“You’re creating a real chance for positive outcomes, and that’s showing up in the numbers,” she said. “I think everybody is feeling very positive about where things are headed.”
Ms. Morey also noted that the general public’s attitude is changing toward the shelter, once known for very high kill rates under previous dog warden Tom Skeldon, who was most known for his strong stance against “pit bulls,” even killing very young puppies.
“People aren’t as afraid as they used to be to turn in a stray animal,” Ms. Morey said. “They know there are more options available to get them out alive. [Shelter staff are] not monsters.”
Ms. Lyle said one of the primary factors slowing progress is the state of the shelter itself. The building was not designed to house animals and is deteriorating.
“One of our limiting factors has consistently been the building,” Ms. Lyle said. “It’s an older building and it doesn’t have the ideal setup for housing dogs. We make do with what we have as best we can.”
A feasibility study was completed in 2015 to determine if the county could renovate the shelter at 410 S. Erie St. near downtown Toledo, build a new one, or renovate the former county engineer’s buildings at property at 2504 Detroit Ave. near the Anthony Wayne Trail. Each option came with an estimated price tag of about $10 million, Mrs. Wozniak said.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to funding,” she said. “We’re trying to be responsible with taxpayer dollars and the needs we have in our buildings.”
The county is also trying to build a jail, which must take priority, she said. But a new or renovated dog shelter is also very high up on the county’s list of building needs, Mrs. Wozniak said.
“It’s definitely not off the table,” she said.