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Adoptions halted for 'pit bull' pups

The leader of the Toledo-area rescue group Planned Pethood Inc. was thrilled last month when Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon was prohibited from killing puppies, but Monday her happiness turned to outrage.

The Lucas County board of commissioners unanimously extended from Dec. 31 to March 1 a moratorium preventing the dog warden from killing dogs up to 3 months old, but "pit bull" puppies will not get the same protection.

"I would like to see the dog pound operate like other dog pounds around Ohio, and for it to be less restrictive and more open to the adoption of all animals, regardless of breed," said Nikki Morey, Planned Pethood executive director.

The moratorium was first enacted by commissioners on Nov. 24.

Commission President Pete Gerken yesterday proposed that legislation include a measure prohibiting the adoption of "pit bull" puppies.

The commissioners then voted 2-1 to approve Mr. Gerken's amendment to the moratorium extension. Commissioner Ben Konop cast the no vote.
"I think we have a long-standing policy against adopting out 'pit bulls,'" Mr. Gerken said. "We are not going to euthanize 'pit bull' puppies, but we are going to control those dogs at the pound."

Mr. Konop argued that the amendment would allow for the warden to keep "pit bull" puppies at the pound until they are older than 3 months and then have those dogs euthanized.

"They are going to keep the puppies until they are determined to be 3 months and 1 day old, and then [they] can be killed," he said. "Nothing in the Ohio Revised Code prevents the dog warden office from adopting out 'pit bull' puppies or any 'pit bulls.'"

Jean Keating, co-founder of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, said the amendment Mr. Gerken made and that Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak supported is a loophole to delay the euthanasia of dogs deemed to be "pit bulls."

"We were definitely making steps in the right direction," Ms. Keating said. "Vicious dogs are made vicious by people. Pete Gerken has no qualifications in his background about what dogs live and what dogs die."

Toledo City Council President Joe McNamara took issue with the county commissioners' vote yesterday.

"No 3-month-old puppy is a threat to public safety," Mr. McNamara said. "The decision by the Lucas County Commissioners to exclude so-called 'pit bull' breeds from their extended moratorium is disappointing and should be reconsidered."

Mr. Skeldon has had a long-standing policy against adopting or transferring out any "pit bulls" from the pound. Mr. Skeldon is to leave office at year's end and retire on Jan. 31.

Mr. Konop yesterday referred to a "pit bull" puppy that on Dec. 14 avoided death at the pound after transfer to a rescue group.

The milk-chocolate brown puppy, a female that has since been named Liberty, arrived at the pound on Nov. 25 after Toledo police found her "confined in a fecal-covered portable kennel" while they were serving a warrant at 721 Spring St. in North Toledo.

The puppy was placed in the pound's isolation area because kennel workers believed she was sick and feared that she could be blind because her eyes were cloudy. Under traditional circumstances, the puppy could have soon been euthanized.

But the puppy made it through and was placed into the care of Planned Pethood because of the moratorium against puppy killing at the pound.

The dog is now living with a foster family.

Once a "pit bull" dog reaches 3 months of age, there are no restrictions against Mr. Skeldon's practice of killing all adult "pit bulls" regardless of behavior.

A "pit bull" is a generic descriptive term for a dog trained to fight and may refer to multiple breeds, including the American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, and other mixed breeds that Mr. Skeldon can determine to be "pit bulls." Ohio law considers "pit bulls" inherently vicious.

In November, the commissioners adopted the recommendation of the Dog Warden's Citizen Advisory Committee to end puppy euthanasia through the end of 2009. The only exception would be puppies that are ill, as determined by a veterinarian.

The advisory committee specifically included "pit bulls" in the moratorium for two reasons - because no 3-month-old puppy of any breed would be a threat to people and because it is too difficult to determine that such a young dog is a "pit bull."

In other business, the commissioners yesterday voted 3-0 to approve a policy against nepotism.

The policy says no one who is a family member of a commissioner will be considered for hire as a county employee.

It does not affect anyone currently employed by the county. If a commissioner's relative is already employed by the county, that commissioner will not vote on any personnel issue regarding his or her relative, it states.

Mr. Konop, who wrote the legislation, acknowledged that it affected him.

Dennis Isenberg, the son of former Lucas County Commissioner Sandy Isenberg and a cousin of Mr. Konop, was hired as an outside contractor by the county sheriff's office to do "drive-by" appraisals of foreclosed properties. He was the highest-paid appraiser last year, taking in $150,342.

Ms. Wozniak has been criticized by Mr. Konop because of allegations that she protected her cousin, Mr. Skeldon, in his job as Lucas County dog warden in the face of complaints about the low rate of dog adoption.

Ms. Wozniak and Mr. Gerken voted against firing Mr. Skeldon on Nov. 10, with Mr. Konop voting to dismiss him.

Mr. Konop said his relationship to Mr. Isenberg has never been the subject of a vote of the commissioners and that he would recuse himself if it did, as he has "implored" Ms. Wozniak to do in connection with her own cousin.