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Want to help a 'really, really friendly' stray dog? DON'T take him here

TNS Regional News • Mar 16, 2015 at 11:07 AM

The middle of a busy Toledo intersection is no place for a dog.

So when new Toledo resident Kelly McBane saw an underweight pointer mix at Bancroft Street and Upton Avenue on Feb. 8, she stopped to rescue him.

After holding him for about three hours while she figured out where he should go, she took the dog to Lucas County Canine Care and Control.

“He was really, really friendly,” Ms. McBane said.

A Feb. 13 behavior evaluation said the dog guarded a food bowl and showed concerning behaviors toward other dogs. When a rescue group couldn't be found to take him, the dog was killed by pound workers Feb. 18.

“I was kind of surprised,” Ms. McBane said.

In the time she had him, she had been able to feed him from a can of wet cat food without any trouble.

“He wasn’t food aggressive with me at all,” she said. “I held the can out to him and let him eat from it, and I could pull it away with no problem.”

Good Samaritans often find stray canines and take them to the county shelter, which state law gives authority over strays.

Director Julie Lyle said while it’s not the ideal place for them, the shelter is sometimes the best place a stray dog has ever been. They get a safe place to stay out of the weather, regular meals, and medical care.

Sad, but true

“It’s sad, but it’s true in a lot of cases,” Ms. Lyle said.

Dogs at the shelter still face possible death sentences if they do not meet the strict qualifications for adoption and they aren’t taken in by rescue groups. The shelter kills dogs it deems aggressive, too fearful, too injured or sick, or that do not score well on any one of seven portions of a behavior assessment.

Ms. Lyle noted that individuals who find a stray and bring it to the shelter, as well as owners who surrender their pets, sign a form acknowledging the dog could be killed.

“We give every dog the same opportunity,” Ms. Lyle said. “The chances that a dog is going to leave here alive are better than they ever have been before, but we still can’t guarantee it.”

In 2014, the shelter took in 2,733 dogs as strays. Of those, 1,129 were found and brought in by citizens and law enforcement as opposed to being picked up by one of the shelter’s canine control officers. Of the strays brought to the shelter last year, more than 340 were killed.

Dale Sampson of Toledo brought a stray Siberian husky to the shelter Feb. 15. The dog’s Feb. 19 behavior evaluation showed he also guarded a food bowl and acted aggressively when the assessor tried to engage the dog in play by lightly tagging him with two fingers.

Mr. Sampson said, during the day he had the husky, he had no trouble feeding or handling the dog, though he noted the dog did growl at him while being placed into a crate and again when Mr. Sampson helped the dog into a car to go to the shelter.

Since no rescue group had a spot available for the husky, he was killed at the shelter March 1.

“He was a beautiful dog,” Mr. Sampson said. “I was a little surprised, but I didn’t have him long.”

Ms. Lyle said most people who turn in a stray dog they’ve found have had the dog for only a short time.

“Having a dog for a few hours is a lot different than having it for a few days and caring for it,” she said. “It doesn’t give them an adequate picture of who that dog is. A dog is also going to act different in a new situation” than after it has had time to adjust.

An American bulldog mix found Jan. 30 didn’t make it to a behavior assessment. The dog was deemed too aggressive to be handled safely after it reportedly was lunging at workers and dogs passing by its kennel. It was killed Feb. 18.

Dog was friendly

The dog had been friendly with Rossford resident Beth Tuite, who transported the dog to the shelter from the home of the person who found it.

“He was great with us,” she said. “Once we got down there though, he did react to other dogs when they were walked through the intake area.”

Ms. Tuite added that the dog was increasingly agitated with every dog that walked by. The shelter’s holding area likely did not help as he was constantly surrounded by other dogs.

Ms. Lyle acknowledged that the shelter environment is stressful on dogs for a number of reasons. In the shelter, dogs must be confined, they have limited interaction, they’re in close proximity to other dogs, and they are subjected to loud noise from barking. Some dogs are more affected by it than others and don’t do well.

“We give them several days to settle in, but the behavior can absolutely change” from the time of intake to the time a dog is evaluated, Ms. Lyle said.

Unless an owner claims it or a rescue steps up to take it, the shelter cannot risk releasing a potentially dangerous dog, Ms. Lyle said.

People who find stray dogs sometimes keep them at home. Ms. Lyle said if a person does not bring the dog to the county shelter, they are responsible for making an effort to find an owner before keeping the dog or placing it in someone else’s home.

“Dogs are considered property,” she said. “You can’t find someone’s car and just keep it; you absolutely have to attempt to find the owner.”

Ms. Lyle said the shelter always asks people who find and hold onto dogs to report the animal to the county, get it scanned for a microchip, ask neighbors about the dog, post flyers, and post the dog on social media. Because the county shelter is where most stray dogs go, sending in a photo also helps immensely.

“If the dogs aren’t here, that lowers the chances of finding the owner,” Ms. Lyle said. “If they report it to us as a beagle mix, and the owner says it’s a [Labrador] mix, that can be a problem matching those up. ... We have people that come in over and over for months looking for a lost dog, and all along, the dog might have been re-homed without their knowledge.”

If a spot is available, rescue groups also sometimes hold onto stray dogs their members find or that individuals give to them. Ms. Lyle said local rescues are good about reporting those dogs to the county shelter and using all available avenues to try to find owners.

“If we have a space available and can help a dog and not put that on the county at all, then I think that’s better,” said Cindy Reinsel, executive director of Toledo’s PET #8226 Project.

Mrs. Reinsel said while some of the organization’s dogs have been transferred from the county shelter, the group primarily takes in strays it comes across in the course of its community education and training programs. She said many of them initially have behavioral issues such as being fearful, guarding food or toys, or being uneasy around other dogs.

“We take them in, rehabilitate them and get them well medically, and they all go through training before they go up for adoption,” Mrs. Reinsel said.

If an owner isn’t found after 30 days, a dog becomes the property of the person or rescue holding it and must be licensed and given a rabies shot.

Strays can be kept

Ms. Lyle said keeping or re-homing an unknown dog can pose a variety of risks to people and their pets with potential illness, parasites, or aggression. But if the finder is willing to assume that risk, the shelter does not require people turn in stray dogs to the shelter.

“We appreciate folks helping us catch dogs that are loose, but we want to make sure everyone stays safe,” Ms. Lyle said.

The Toledo Area Humane Society, Planned Pethood, and the Lucas County Pit Crew all maintain policies that stray dogs are turned into the county shelter.

“It’s the best thing to do in order to reunite an animal with its owner, and it’s the best thing for us to do in terms of liability,” Nikki Morey, executive director of Planned Pethood, said. “It’s [the county shelter’s] job. We’re not here to do their job.”

Ms. Morey said the county shelter is doing a good job for the strays with its limited space, staff time, and other resources. Jean Keating, executive director of the Pit Crew, agreed, adding the shelter has boosted outreach programs and increased social media presence.

“They’ve come a very, very long way,” she said. “Everybody there wants to get dogs home. That’s what they are trying to do. The reality of it is, we do have dogs out there that are dangerous and dogs that just are not going to do well in a shelter environment, but it’s not the ‘round them up and kill them’ mentality anymore.”


By Alexandra Mester - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (TNS)

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