Update: Dog Warden Tom Skeldon has resigned effective January 1, 2010. Stay tuned for more information.
Original report: The Dog Warden Advisory Committee for Lucas County, Ohio has unanimously voted approval of 3 recommendations for notorious Dog Warden Tom Skeldon.
The Committee has said Skeldon should temporarily end the killing of any pound dog under 3 months of age, including "pit bull" puppies, unless a licensed veterinarian diagnoses the dog as terminally ill or severely injured. The Committee also asks county commissioners to seek grant funds for DNA testing to determine which dogs at the pound are truly "pit bulls". Finally, the committee recommends that the dog warden vaccinate and photograph nearly every dog, including "pit bulls," that enters the pound and post photos and descriptions of the animals on a county Internet site within 24 hours to help owners locate lost pets and promote adoptions. Dogs that remain unclaimed but are later deemed adoptable would have their photos and descriptions also placed on Petfinder.com
The group decided that only the dogs surrendered by owners for euthanasia should not be vaccinated or photographed. Why that should be is not clear. Surely these animals deserve a chance to find a good home, too.
The recommendations now go to the county council. Skeldon will be required to follow these recommendations if the county council approves them.
The county commissioners have said recently that they expect a lower euthanasia rate and more adoptions. Skeldon says the euthanasia rate was 65.8% in 2008 and 61.8% this year, 2009. Others place the number much higher, at 77%. 2, 483 dogs were killed at the shelter in 2008 and as many are likely to die there this year, 2009. 78 puppies have been killed at the shelter so far this year. Lucas County has one of the highest kill rates of Ohio public shelters. Its adoption rate is a mere 13%.
Many attribute that to Skeldon. Indeed, Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop and many Toledo residents have called for Skeldon’s termination. (Skeldon has a supportive first cousin, Tina Skeldon Wozniak, who is also a Lucas County Commissioner.)
Residents say he doesn’t even really try to adopt out animals or foster them. That is why he has to be told to vaccinate animals and publicize their photos and descriptions, something most shelters have been doing for years.
Skeldon has refused to work with rescues. Breed rescues will typically take purebreds and mixes of particular breeds. Shelter records show dozens of such dogs are routinely killed at Lucas County’s shelter. No one there bothers to contact breed rescues to ask if they would save the dogs. Breed rescues are effectively denied access. Rescues, whether they rescue a particular breed or all dogs, typically help public shelters place animals or will take them and place them in foster or permanent homes. Rescues will help raise funds for vaccinations and other veterinary care including spay/neuter of shelter animals. They will often help transport shelter animals to new homes. They can be a wonderful resource for underfunded public shelters. Skeldon has responded, "A lot of rescue groups … don’t have a long record of standing. They almost tend to be cults".
Skeldon has called scanning dogs for micro-chips a "poor waste" of shelter workers’ time. Micro-chipping is a great way, of course, to identify owners of lost pets. It saves lives and helps hold owners accountable for their animals. But it doesn’t do any good if the public shelter refuses to scan for the chip and instead simply euthanizes the animals as lost or abandoned.
This year a public outcry erupted when Skeldon’s deputies used a tranquilizer dart on a 10 pound dog that was loose and running around the neighborhood. The deputies couldn’t catch the little dog so they simply tranquilized the animal, killing it. There was no indication the dog was dangerous. In an explanatory email, Skeldon seemed to say they could have shot the little dog instead.
The local Toledo Blade has been running a series of articles on Skeldon. One reader responded, "On the average work day, … Skeldon presides over the death of one dog every single hour. It looks like his day consists of: 1) punch in, 2) kill four pets, 3) go to lunch, 4) kill four pets, 5) punch out. This is his schedule day after day, until he can retire and collect a taxpayer-funded retirement based on a $70,000 taxpayer-funded annual salary. In theory, taxpayer-funded officeholders are answerable to the public that pays their salary. But that theory appears to have lost traction when it is applied to the office of dog warden. In spite of public outcry and heart-wrenching testimony from pet owners in mourning, Mr. Skeldon has shown no sign that he has any intent to change his procedures, which result in certain death for nearly 8 out of 10 dogs that have the misfortune to cross his path."
It is this seeming callous indifference to the lives of these pets that has angered so many in Toledo. Skeldon’s views his job as simply to protect the public from dogs. This philosophy is said to be "outdated", "reactive".
Skeldon is the poster boy for BSL
Skeldon also has his own policy of not adopting out any dog he believes is a "pit bull". Of course, he himself determines whether a dog is a pit bull. Pit bull is a term applied under state law to dogs "commonly known as a pit bull dog". OH Rev. Code §955.11 Ohio defines these dogs as "vicious" and imposes certain restrictions on their owners. There is no definition of "pit bull". Skeldon simply kills any dogs he decides are "pit bulls".
Though records show Skeldon has killed at least 70 different breeds, he claims most of the dogs killed are what he calls "pit bulls". He attributes the euthanasia rate to the numbers of people who fight dogs, usually pit bull breeds, and also to drug dealers who use these dogs for intimidation or protection. He says the dogs are easy to breed and sell for $250-500.
Skeldon, in effect, kills the dogs because of the people he believes own them, people who fight dogs and drug dealers. He blames all "pit bulls" for the actions of some irresponsible and criminal owners.
Indeed, Skeldon has supported the Ohio breed discrimination law defining "pit bulls" as vicious regardless of their temperament or behavior. In the case of Tellings v. Ohio, he testified, "(1) when pit bulls attack, they are more likely to inflict severe damage to their victim than other breeds of dogs; (2) pit bulls have killed more Ohioans than any other breed of dog; (3) Toledo police officers fire their weapons in the line of duty at pit bulls more often than they fire weapons at people and all other breeds of dogs combined; (4) pit bulls are frequently shot during drug raids because pit bulls are encountered more frequently in drug raids than any other dog breed." The Ohio Supreme Court found this testimony significant to its finding that the state’s breed discrimination against pit bulls was constitutional and should be upheld.
The appeals court, though, struck down the Ohio law as unconstitutional, pointing out Skeldon’s testimony that if a dog was 50% pit bull but didn’t resemble a pit, then he did not consider the dog a pit bull. He said if a dog looked like a pit bull, regardless of the % of breed, he considered it a pit bull. Skeldon testified one cannot really tell whether or not many dogs have pit bull in them. The Tellings appeals court noted "Criminal charges have likely been brought based on purely individual and speculative decisions on whether the jaw of a dog is "massive" enough or the chest is muscular enough or the brow is broad enough to be designated as a "pit bull". The appeals court found the process of identifying a pit bull was too subjective, basically that there is no definitive way to prove a mixed breed is a pit bull. The appeals court found it was likely many non-pit bull dogs had been mis-identified.
It is virtually impossible for anyone to identify by sight a dog as a "pit bull" breed which typically refers to American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier or Staffordshire Bull Terrier and dogs which have the majority of or substantially conform to the characteristics of those breeds. DNA testing is revealing more and more that dogs thought to be a "pit bull" breed or a mix of "pit bull" breeds are actually mixes of a number of breeds. It is not known how many thousands of dogs that Skeldon has killed using the excuse he thought they were "pit bulls". Also, it is impossible to predict a dog’s behavior based on its appearance or perceived breed.
Skeldon exemplifies the ignorance and fear, the baseless vendetta against dogs because of their breed. His operation of the Lucas County shelter is a testament to the cruelty and carnage engendered by breed discrimination. Nothing, however, will stop the killing of dogs believed to be "pit bulls", puppies or otherwise, by Skeldon and other dog wardens for that matter, until there is an end to the state sanctioned breed discrimination, an end to the canine profiling, that has no scientific, veterinary or dog behavioral basis.
Next steps for Lucas County – beyond the Committee recommendations
The rudimentary steps suggested by the Committee are only a start. Lucas County won’t reduce high euthanasia rates with a few adoption events and programs. It is important that any replacement of Skeldon operate a professional, animal friendly and publicly accessible shelter. Free or low cost spay neuter programs must be implemented.
To ensure public safety and improve the relationship between the dog warden and the public – and dogs, Lucas County should consider:
1. Educational programs to teach dog owners responsible dog ownership. Promotion of socialization and training with community-wide programs to reward responsible dog owners and encourage socialization and training as part of basic and common canine care practices.
2. Increased access to off-leash parks for proper socialization of dogs.
3. Support changes to Ohio’s dangerous dog law to allow a dangerous dog law that recognizes that any dog, regardless of breed, is potentially dangerous or considered dangerous if the dog has demonstrated aggressive behavior. The dangerous dog law should allow for different levels of aggressive behavior. The point is to protect the public by encouraging owners to take action to control and manage their dogs – through spay/neuter, training and pet owner responsibility classes – before their dogs’ behavior causes them to be classified at a higher level of aggression.
4. Strictly enforced leash or dog-at-large laws that require spay/neuter after the second violation. 82% of dog bites are by dogs running loose. (JAVMA, September 15, 2000) After passing a leash law, the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, reported a 35% drop in dog bites.
5. Restrictions on the tethering, chaining and penning or caging of dogs. Dogs that are chained are 2.8 times more likely to be aggressive. The American Veterinary Medical Association has stated: "Confine your dog in a fenced yard or dog run when it is not in the house. Never tether or chain your dog because this can contribute to aggressive behavior." (May 15, 2003). Lawrence County, Kansas, adopted an anti-tethering ordinance. From 2005 to 2006, the number of calls concerning cruelty and dog fighting dropped from 800 to 260. Officials attribute the decline in large part to the anti-tethering law.
6. Free or low cost spay/neuter. 90% of fatal dog attacks are by dogs that are not spayed or neutered. Research cited in a 2000 Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association study indicated unsterilized dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite. (Delise, National Canine Research Council) 80% of dogs seen by veterinary behaviorists for dominance aggression were not spayed/neutered. (JAVMA, Vol. 218, No. 11, June 1, 2001) More than 81% of dogs involved in bites or attacks were found in one survey not to have been spayed/neutered. (Texas 2002 Severe Animal Attack and Bite Surveillance Summary) The key to encouraging spay/neuter is education and also the availability of a subsidized, low cost spay neuter program. Also, mandate spay/neuter for potentially dangerous dogs, dogs adopted out by shelters or rescues or sold by breeders or pet stores, and dogs impounded more than once or found at large.
7. Stop blaming the dogs and encourage responsible dog ownership, including socialization at an early age and training. Dogs should be part of the family. 81% of fatal dog attacks are by dogs that were isolated or not included in the family’s activities. Strengthen dog-fighting laws and ban training of dogs for aggression. Make animal neglect and cruelty laws more specific and easier to enforce, with tougher penalties. Breeders should be registered or licensed and subject to inspections and sales of their dogs tracked. Sales of dogs along roads, in flea markets and other public places should be banned. (Go here for information about a grass roots effort to ban Ohio dog auctions.) Stop felons from owning dangerous dogs. 61% of fatal dog attacks are by dogs that were not humanely controlled, or had been abused or neglected.