Konop: What change looks likeWritten by Ben Konop | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Several months ago, in the pages of this publication, former Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon predicted horrific violence for county residents now that he was no longer at the helm of the department (“Former dog warden warns: watch out for the pit bulls,” May 23).
Alarmingly, Skeldon stated that “this spring, summer, fall, here in Toledo, there will be a number of people mauled, maimed, disfigured and there may be somebody killed by a pit bull.”
Never one to shy away from hyperbole, Skeldon ominously pronounced that “the word is out in Toledo — the dog warden [Julie Lyle] is no longer enforcing the laws and we can do what we want.”
Thankfully, and not surprisingly, Skeldon’s doomsday scenario failed to materialize. In fact, quite the opposite actually occurred.
Under new leadership at the pound, dog attacks in Lucas County have declined in the past four months when compared to the average of the last four years under Skeldon. From June to September of this year, under new warden Julie Lyle, there were 173 reported dog attacks. During the same four-month period in 2006-09 under Skeldon, there was an average of 176 attacks. Although the decrease in violence under Lyle is slight, as any attack is certainly one too many for the victim, the data shows that Skeldon’s fear mongering was unwarranted.
While, according to the data, public safety has improved under the new leadership at the pound, the greatest gains have come in the area of adoptions.
Tragically, under the Skeldon regime, 183 healthy, “non-pit bull” puppies were killed by the warden between 2007 and 2009.
My colleague, Commissioner Pete Gerken, whom Skeldon called the only person that “stood up” for him, has repeatedly stated that adoptions were not Skeldon’s “charge.” This out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude, from the top down in county government, directly led to the deaths of thousands of innocent dogs, including hundreds of puppies. Thankfully, the new dog warden has shown that public safety and humane treatment of animals are not mutually exclusive. In September, for example, Lyle adopted out 57 dogs as compared to an average of 19 in the same month during the last four years of the Skeldon era.
Lyle has doubled the live-release rate at the dog pound as well, by increasing the transfer of dogs to area rescue groups and the Toledo Area Humane Society.
The department also has a fledgling program that reunites owners with their pets in the field rather than automatically taking a loose dog into the pound.
Long term, the dog warden is looking at large-scale efforts to promote spay and neuter programs — probably the most important piece in the puzzle of lowering euthanasia rates.
These innovations and others, many of them championed by the capable and steadfast Dog Warden Advisory Committee, are getting real results that will continue to make dog lovers and our entire county proud.
But the old guard did not go down without a fight. When a committed group of dog lovers, known as 4 Lucas County Pets, began its quest to change the dog warden, it met immense resistance. In fact, my natural inclination was to side with the status quo when I first heard complaints about Skeldon’s tactics.
Thankfully, the citizen group didn’t give up when I was not as helpful as I ought to have been, and it kept plugging away.
The group’s case was driven by data, logic and compassion. Eventually, it won me over, and together we accomplished something positive.
I believe this process can serve as a good model for reforming other aspects of the community. There is no shortage of areas of local government that are ripe for reform. The intertwining issues of job creation, poverty reduction and education — and the corresponding governmental entities that are tasked with addressing these issues — are at the top of my list. But little will be done to tackle these challenges unless there is systemic change led by involved citizens and backed by elected officials who aren’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers.
The marked improvements in the dog warden’s department show that change in our community is possible. The fear mongering of the status quo can be overcome. We can see tangible improvement, in a relatively small amount of time, if we are willing to forge ahead, despite the formidable obstacles of entrenched interests circling their wagons and preaching doomsday scenarios. And we probably don’t have any other choice but to forge ahead.
Ben Konop is a Lucas County Commissioner.