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Pit bull terrier puppy's release may signal change in Ohio's Lucas county

A pit bull released from the Lucas County Dog Warden's Office on December 14th is one lucky puppy. The adoption of pit bull terriers and pit bull-type dogs has long been prohibited by dog warden Tom Skeldon. Because Skeldon will retire as of January 31st, and has already left office, it is possible that the release of the puppy on December 14th will set a new precedent for Lucas County.

Nikki Morey, Executive Director of Planned Pethood, an all-breed rescue based in Toledo, is waiting to see whether the regime change will lead to a positive change in the way that dogs - including pit bull terriers - are treated by Lucas County, which operates separately from the city of Toledo.

Currently, the Dog Warden's Office has a reputation of low adoption numbers, high euthanasia rates, and an unwillingness to work with all-breed rescues, with the exception of the Toledo Area Humane Society. In 2009, 3,000 voters signed a petition calling for change; and they won an important concession. On November 24th, County Commissioners passed a moratorium on the euthanasia of puppies under three months of age.

When Morey went to the shelter on December 14th, her agenda was "to leave with a dog." However, once she saw the female pit bull terrier puppy, "that became the agenda." Though the moratorium protected the puppy from immediate euthanization, Morey feared that she would be in danger as soon as she reached three months and a day.

Determined not to leave until the puppy was freed, Morey waited in the lobby for more than four hours, while an assistant to Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop, and representatives of the Toledo Area Humane Society, negotiated with pound officials. The puppy was finally released to the Humane Society and transferred to Morey in the parking lot.

Once deemed blind and unadoptable by the Lucas County Dog Warden's Office, the puppy certainly has a new lease on life. "Her vision is fine, and lots of people wanted to adopt her," Morey says. One special family did adopt her, on Sunday, January 10th. Dr. Bob Esplin, a local veterinarian, sensitive to the plight of pit bull terriers, threw a "pittie party" to celebrate the official adoption of the puppy now named Liberty.

So far, Liberty has been the only one of her kind to leave the Dog Warden's Office and to find a loving home; the future of pit bulls in Lucas County is still obscure. Since the November 24th moratorium that saved the young pup's life, the Lucas County Commissioners - Pete Gerken, Tina Skelton Wozniak (first-cousin to Tom Skeldon), and Ben Konop - voted 2-1 to not allow pit bull puppies to be released from the Dog Warden's Office. Konop was the only hold-out against the policy of euthanizing pit bulls, and the only Commissioner to attend Liberty's adoption party. (Liberty's adoption party pictured on left.)

Despite this setback, Nikki Morey is cautiously optimistic that Tom Skeldon's replacement will overhaul the system and bring Lucas County more in line with other Ohio counties. She would like to see the new Dog Warden expand adoption hours and promote low-cost spay and neuter clinics. And she says that people are starting to become proactive about the way that pit bulls terriers are treated. "People are starting to pay attention to [the officials] they support."

In addition to the spread of public awareness, more and more rescues like Planned Pethood are taking in pit bulls and becoming more vocal about it. Organizations like 4 Lucas County Pets and Ohio Coalition Of Dog Advocates are joining the battle against Breed-Discriminatory Legislation (BDL).

People can help by becoming informed citizens and dog owners. Learning the local rules and regulations governing dog ownership is crucial to preventing the spread of BDL. The climate in Lucas County might be difficult to change, but an informed and proactive citizenry can help facilitate that change in Ohio and beyond.

How You Can Help

Toledo City Councilman Joe McNamara requested a committee charged with oversight of the Lucas County Dog Warden examine and evaluate the city's law for "vicious dogs." For more information, please click here.

Those interested in joining the advisory task force can e-mail Mr. Steel at or send a letter to his attention to One Government Center, 640 Jackson Suite 2200, Toledo, OH, 43604

Join the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates

Click here to download the Job Posting for the Chief Dog Warden in the Lucas County Dog Warden Department.