By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
More than 50 people carrying signs and holding leashes marched Friday evening in Bowling Green to profess their love of dogs and protest euthanasia at the Wood County Dog Shelter.
Dwight Stinehart, of Portage, brought his three-legged boxer, Shrek, to the “Every Dog Matters” rally in the Wooster Green. The dog shelter is too quick to euthanize, he said.
“We just want to raise awareness,” Connie Donald, of the Wood County Canine Alliance, said as she held a sign saying “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.”
“Things have been done the same way there for 20 years,” Donald said of the county dog shelter operation.
The primary objection of the Canine Alliance members is that dogs are mislabeled as being aggressive and are needlessly euthanized.
“We don’t think every dog can be saved,” Donald said. But she does think the county can do better.
Last year, 74 dogs were euthanized at the Wood County Dog Shelter. That’s too many, according to members of the Canine Alliance.
But according to statistics from the dog shelter, the percentages of dogs euthanized at the shelter have been dropping over the last decade. More than 40 percent of the dogs brought into the shelter in 2009 were euthanized. When Andrew Snyder took over as chief dog warden in 2001, nearly a quarter of the dogs brought to the shelter were euthanized. The number has been gradually dropping, hitting a low of 9.3 percent so far this year, Snyder said.
Efforts have increased to return the dogs to their owners (47 percent), adopt them out to new homes (25 percent) and transfer them to rescue groups (19 percent).
But Donald questioned those numbers, suggesting that Snyder isn’t counting the dogs declared “unadoptable” in the euthanized tally.
Consequently, the protest signs calling Snyder the “Death Warden,” and stating “Stop killing our dogs,” “Silence = Death” and “Commissioners listen to your voters.”
Members of the Canine Alliance believe that the evaluations conducted on dogs at the shelter are not fair, and do not take into account the stress the dogs are under in the facility. The dogs deserve enrichment, outdoor time and attention.
“They are not meeting the emotional needs,” Donald said. “You can’t just get a dog and expect it to be perfect.”
Karen Ash said shelter workers need more empathy for the dogs. “We want to give all the dogs a chance,” she said.
Ash also said the shelter records should be open to the public. The public deserves to know how dogs are euthanized, and exactly how they are evaluated.
“This is a taxpayer funded facility,” Ash said.
Judging the dogs too harshly is resulting in needless euthanasia, she said.
“It boils down to animal abuse,” Ash said. “It’s a stain on the community.”
Another protester, Lori Hanway, said the dogs need to be given more time to adjust at the shelter before they go through behavioral evaluations.
“I just think the dogs need to be considered more important,” Hanway said.
“We’re animal lovers,” Happy Brooks said. “I think there’s a place for every dog.”
But county officials don’t think the dog shelter can be that place or can find a home for every dog. Last month, Snyder demonstrated to the county commissioners the behavioral evaluations that are done with each dog to determine if they are safe to be adopted out. The vast majority of the dogs are found to be adoptable.
“They don’t euthanize dogs on a whim,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said earlier this week.
“I have every confidence in Andrew Snyder,” Kalmar said. “He cares about the dogs.”
And despite the claims that nothing has changed at the shelter, Kalmar said several improvements have been made since Snyder took over as chief warden.
“He comes to us regularly with ways to improve the shelter,” Kalmar said, noting several new policies at the facility. “He’s the reason we have those.”
Dogs are given blankets and toys in their kennels, high-energy dogs are given puzzle-type toys, music is played in the kennel, a portion of the shelter has been air-conditioned and increased efforts are being made to give the dogs outdoor exercise.
“We want to make sure we get them out more consistently,” Snyder said.
In an effort to find the original or new homes for dogs, Facebook and other social media are used.
Kalmar agreed that the dog shelter is not an ideal environment for dog behavior evaluations.
“Is the ideal thing for the dog to be picked up and put in the shelter – no,” he said. But the county has the responsibility to make sure dogs with bad temperaments are not adopted out.
Snyder agreed the shelter setting can skew the evaluations.
“There’s no question that dogs act differently in a shelter environment,” he said. “We do our best.”
“It’s a tough job. Absolutely, we do have a public safety responsibility,” Snyder said. “We also have a responsibility to the dogs. I think our adoption stats show that.”
Pat Kjoller, the volunteer and rescue coordinator at the shelter, said she feels differently about the facility than the protesters.
“I have witnessed the evaluations” of the dogs, she said. “Frequently a dog comes in and he’s a little grumpy,” so the staff gives him time to adjust before conducting the evaluation. “I’ve witnessed it. I do think it’s fair.”
The changes at the shelter – toys, blankets and radio – make life more pleasant for the dogs, Kjoller said.
“We do the best we can,” so it’s less detrimental for the dogs, she said. “We do the best we can to get them back to their owners.”
Kjoller defended the work by the dog shelter staff.
“All the deputies are very caring,” she said. “They care about the dogs. I’ve never seen any abuse there in five years.”
The shelter could benefit from more volunteers, Kjoller said.
But Donald said she and other volunteers are no longer welcome at the shelter since they have expressed their disagreement with the operation.