Monday, April 19, 2010

Candidates assail ‘pit bull' policy

Candidates assail ‘pit bull' policy
Commissioner hopefuls say breed should get a shot at adoption

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Candidates running for the vacant seat on the Lucas County Board of Commissioners agreed yesterday the county should move on from its long-standing policy of automatically assigning “pit bull” dogs to be killed.

Ben Krompak, one of six Democrats running in the May 4 primary for the seat that is soon to be vacated by Commissioner Ben Konop, was the first to weigh in.

He said the county should abandon its policy of refusing to offer for adoption all dogs identified as “pit bulls,” and said it was unfortunate that the current county administration had to be “dragged kicking and screaming to more modern and humane practices.”

Mr. Krompak, who lives in East Toledo, said, “it's past time to change the practices of executing and refusing to adopt out dogs based not on their behavior but on their breed.”

He also said County Administrator Peter Ujvagi should not have ordered the new county dog warden, Julie Lyle, to carry out the scheduled killings of dogs.

“He sees himself as enforcing county policy. That's not an administrative action that I think he should have taken,” Mr. Krompak said.

Ms. Lyle attempted to suspend the killing of “pit bull” dogs on Tuesday in her first week in the job but was ordered by Mr. Ujvagi to stick to the county's past practice for the next 30 days.

In addition to six Democrats on the ballot there are three Republican candidates. The top Democratic and Republican vote-getters will face off in the November general election for the seat now held by Mr. Konop, who is not seeking re-election.

Contacted by The Blade, most said Ms. Lyle should have been allowed to establish her own office policies and also that “pit bulls” should have the same shot at adoption as other dogs.

Mike Zychowicz, a Democrat, of Sylvania Township said he did not agree with the current policy on “pit bulls” and said Ms. Lyle should be allowed to suspend killing of “pit bull” dogs if she wants to study the possibilities of putting “pit bulls” up for adoption.

“That's an idea worth studying. I certainly believe there should be a balance between being kind to animals and also protecting the public,” Mr. Zychowicz said. “I think she's the expert. Her opinion means more to me than Peter Ujvagi's, at this point.”

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Andy Glenn, a Republican, of Springfield Township said dog adoption and euthanasia policies should be based on a dog's behavior, not its breed.

“Mr. Ujvagi was way out of line in instructing the new dog warden to continue with the old policies for 30 days,” Mr. Glenn said.

He said there should be “no tolerance” for a vicious dog, and there should be stepped up consequences for owners of dogs that do harm.

“Absolutely I think the policy should be changed, and it should be based on the behavior of the animal or the wellness of the animal as to whether it should be adopted or put down,” Mr. Glenn said.

Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken defended the policy, saying the county has criteria for offering dogs for adoption, including that they not be a breed deemed under state law to be vicious, as “pit bulls” are. He said the county could face legal liability if a dog that is labeled vicious injures someone.

He also said the Toledo Area Humane Society does not accept “pit bulls” under its contract with the county, and that the county doesn't have the resources to board dogs that can't be adopted.

“I don't have an infrastructure to house vicious dogs long term,” Mr. Gerken said.

“Pit bull” is a generic descriptive term that may refer to multiple breeds, including the American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, and other mixed breeds as determined by the dog warden.

Mr. Krompak said he didn't have an estimate of the cost of dropping the policy of euthanizing all “pit bulls,” but said he believed there would be plenty of homes available to such dogs.

“We need to be looking for solutions rather than excuses,” he said.

State Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township) is the author of a bill to remove “pit bulls” from the definition of vicious dogs. She said yesterday dog wardens should enforce penalties against individual aggressive dogs, “not by persecuting one particular breed.”

She commended Ms. Lyle for “temporarily freezing the indiscriminate euthanasia of pit bulls and exploring more humane dog pound policies.”

“For too long, temperate dogs have been unfairly targeted simply based on their breed, while vicious dogs of other breeds continue to roam our neighborhoods,” Ms. Sears said in a statement provided to The Blade.

Carol Contrada of Sylvania Township, a Democrat running for county commissioner, said killing all pit bulls based on the assumption that all animals in that breed are vicious is not a sound policy.

“I believe the new dog warden should have the opportunity to implement a trial policy that she feels is appropriate based on her experience and her position. And if that means she wants to suspend scheduled euthanasia then she should be able to do that,” Ms. Contrada said.

Tim Porter of Sylvania Township, a Democrat, said, “I'm a dog lover and there's no breed that's more vicious than another breed.

“It's something I'd have to discuss with the other commissioners but I'm not in favor of putting down every pit bull that's an adult,” Mr. Porter said.

Dan Steingraber of Oregon, a Republican, said Ms. Lyle has been “thrown under the bus” in her first week on the job and should have been allowed to suspend the dog killing.

Mr. Steingraber, who said his hobby is training and “trialing” Springer spaniels, said consigning all adult “pit bulls” to the canine execution chamber is not valid. But he said the county also has to take state law and its liability into consideration.

“The problem is some of the policies are given by state law so she doesn't have a choice but to follow state law,” Mr. Steingraber said. “If we don't agree with the law then we need to change it.”

Democrat Earl Murry of Maumee also disagreed with a blanket anti-“pit bull” policy. He was not so sure Ms. Lyle has the discretion to suspend policies that are backed by a majority of the commissioners.

He said Ms. Lyle should meet with the commissioners and find out how much authority she has in her office.

“I think she took the job believing she was going to be in charge,” Mr. Murry said, but he said that if she reports to Mr. Ujvagi, it's fair to assume that he's acting with the approval of at least two of the three commissioners, and so she should follow Mr. Ujvagi's direction.

George Sarantou, a Republican, said the county should do a much better job of promoting adoption of dogs.

“I think to single out a breed and say all pit bulls are vicious is absolutely wrong,” Mr. Sarantou said. He said the new dog warden and the county's Dog Warden Advisory Committee should be allowed to do their evaluation and come up with recommendations for improving the rate of adoption.

Art Jones, a Democrat, of South Toledo said Ms. Lyle was hired to oversee animal control issues and should be given the latitude to do so.

“If she wants to hold off on [euthanizing dogs], let her, and Mr. Ujvagi should not be stepping in, because he was there when they hired her,” Mr. Jones said.

“We should not be euthanizing dogs right now until the new dog warden has got her feet wet to see what's going on.”

Mr. Krompak also called for a $5 dog license fee for people who have a financial hardship, instead of the regular $25 fee. He said the lower fee would encourage dog owners to get a license and increase the number of dog licenses.

Mr. Gerken said he would not support the reduced fee because it is set to support the operations of the warden's office.

Contact Tom Troy at:tomtroy@theblade.comor 419-724-6058.
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