Friday, May 28, 2010

Ohio: Show us your balls

I scored this souvenir - a folder from the Ohio County Dog Warden Association - at an auction held at the recent NACA Conference we attended in Columbus, Ohio last week. Besides its practical function (it's filled with pages of notes now from our visit), it represents a piece of pit bull history to me - not the best history. But history nonetheless. How you feel about this item will probably depend on what you know about the pit bull situation in this state...

Background in case this is new for you: Since 1987, Ohio has been one of the worst places in the country for dogs that look like pit bulls or for the people who love them. State law defines "dogs commonly known as pit bulls" as "dangerous and vicious," based on nothing more than appearance - so they're basically SOL the minute they're born. Most of the shelter directors, dog wardens and their commissioners are quick to blame this law as the key reason they destroy thousands of adoptable dogs across their 88 counties each year. They aren't required by law to ban adoptions, but it tends to be the way most operate. It's easier and no one complains much. It's a situation that makes backyard breeders very happy; pit bull popularity hasn't waned one bit despite attempts to disappear the dogs, and without neutered shelter dogs to supply demand, backyard breeders own the market. As expected, this dysfunction has been solving none of the problems that crop up whenever high numbers of dogs are marginalized, exploited and victimized.

Some smaller glimmers of hope in Ohio: Despite the difficulty of finding homes for dogs that are forced to wear scarlet letters, a few brave shelters do march to the beat of their own drummer and make them available for adoption. We were honored to meet a few of these people at the conference. (See list at bottom of this post)

Even the darkest corners of Ohio have seen some light. One of the most notorious of dog wardens - Tom Skeldon from Lucas County - recently resigned after a long career that included collecting bounty dollars on the backs of doomed pit bulls as part of his infamous legacy. His departure was fueled by public outcry and is opening the door to healthier discussions and hopefully, more humane practices in that county.

Because a select handful of movers and shakers have been starting to rattle the status quo in Ohio, we were anxious to see what we could learn from our visit. We paid our six hundred bucks to set up our booth with our materials and posters and ears wide open, ready to chat, listen and learn. Our laptop flashed images of our dogs and programs to anyone who walked by, on their way to shopping catch poles, shelter software or cremation ovens. National Canine Research Council's booth was right next to us, so there was a lot of lively gab in our corner of the exhibit hall.

We're NACA members and looked forward to greeting old friends. Although, despite the warm welcome we received from so many, we knew it would be hard to avoid some degree of the leprocy factor at this location. I mean, we're a pit bull advocacy group and all, waving our flag in the middle of Ohio ... we weren't exactly expecting group hugs. Some of the Ohio dog wardens either nodded politely from a distance or steered a wide berth around us ... depending on who might be watching. Ohio shelter directors seemed to be split on whether to come in for a detailed chat about pit bull issues, or duck their heads and walk faster ... a few of them believing that the word "liability" ended any conversation before it started. (We disagreed of course, and were grateful for NCRC's hand-out to help us explain why)

Animal Control Officers and kennel workers brought the most love to the topic of pit bulls at this event. Many BEAMED while pulling out cell phones with proud mom photos of pit bulls scooped up in the line of duty. These were rare survivors that they brought home for keeps after refusing to destroy them at work. Dog bless those brave hearts. Their stories were compelling, although we noticed that some whispered as if they had to stay secret. One described the post traumatic stress she still suffers from years of putting trusting pit bulls to sleep. She teared up while she talked about it and compared her experience to the Vietnam war. She agreed with another officer, who only stays at her job because she can't bear the thought of who might take her place. We met two different people who were just sick about having delivered dogs to this hell-hole hoarding situation in Trumbull County, unaware of the nightmare that was going on just beyond the gate.

All weekend long, the first question out of most people's mouths was, "Can you tell us which rescues we can send our pit bulls to?" We heard it over and over. And our response: "Your rescues are too full. The entire animal welfare culture in Ohio needs to change in order to help these dogs."

That's where the conversation usually went sideways. Except for two young women who were heeding the call of the compassionate activist, fingers pointed in all different directions when talk turned to "who?" was responsible for helping the dogs. We searched the room for the magic invisible person that everyone was searching for, but they all looked just like the people we were talking to. Which leads me to the bigger news of the day. A bill now waiting to be reviewed by Ohio's Senate - HB 79 - hoped to forever remove the dangerous/vicious label from pit bulls in state law. No more scarlet letter. Sounds great, but we have some worries...

None of the dog wardens we talked with are willing to publicly support this effort, and according to the Toledo Blade, Tom Skeldon - who is still a member of the Ohio Dog County Dog Warden's Assoc. - was asked to testify in April "on behalf of the association because of his knowledge on the issue, said the current president, Erie County Dog Warden Barb Knapp."

As you can guess, he spoke in opposition of the bill, stating, "The job of dog warden is to protect the public from dogs...I would plead with you, please do not take the only tool that now exists for your police officers, sheriff's deputies, and dog wardens to protect the public from vicious dogs away from us." The House did not heed his request and voted in favor of the bill, moving it onto the Senate for a vote. Despite that encouraging news, there's no room to celebrate and get distracted. There are just so many people in powerful positions that really want this bill to fail.

One of them was a notable speaker at the NACA Conference. An attendee reported that Judge Harland Hale - who presides over all the animal cruelty cases in Franklin County, OH - denounced the bill and echoed Skeldon's same sentiments to a roomful of people who'd gathered to hear him outline ways to build cruelty/abuse cases. And here's where the real problem lies. Forget the speaker ... Did ANYone in the room speak up when Judge Hale promoted killing the bill? Nope. Not one person.

Why? ... Fear of offending? Too shy? Afraid to be the odd man out?

There's a quote in the movie A Prairie Home Companion about midwestern complacency that popped in my head after hearing the report on this workshop's disappointment. "In the midwest, people believe that bad news will go away if no one talks about it." Rocking the boat is considered a faux pas in this part of the country. Don't complain; add a little mayonaisse and even the things that leave a poor taste in your mouth will be easier to swallow. And I'm not beating up on the midwest ...I'm from the midwest. But god help us people, can you find your balls please? The dogs are depending on it.

HB 79 is expected to be shelved while the Senate breaks for summer vacation, which leaves the door wide open for changes, re-writes and backroom lobbying that could render it unrecognizable or worse. Nature loves to remind us that bigger shifts in weather patterns come along with raging, pissed off storms and while we might want change in Ohio, there are many who are threatened by the shift they see happening and are willing to derail it. And if you live in Ohio, please seize the opportunity to help push this boulder up the hill in all your conversations, your blogs, your letters to the editors, phone calls to your Senate members, your actions. Remind everyone that a safe community is a humane community, and that the current breed specific law has been wasting your tax dollars and paralyzing Ohio's ability to deal with reckless dog owners for over twenty years.

Ohioans. Find your Senate members HERE and make sure they know you're counting on them to bump breed discrimination in your state.

In the meantime, I confess, I'm gonna practice some voodoo with my Ohio County Dog Warden Association folder - casting a spell over it, "You will remember the muscley little dog that you hated having to kill, and you will stick your neck out for him now. Yes you will, good person. Because you do have balls and the time to use them is now."

BELOW A list of shelters and counties that do stick their necks out for the dogs. Send them your donations, your good vibes. Please add to this list if you have more.

1. Stark County According to their website, "Stark County Dog Warden, Evert Gibson, has given permission for Pit Bull dogs to be adopted from the Stark County Dog Pound."

2. Capital Area Humane offers a limited number of pit bulls for adoption and supports pit bull advocate Amanda Spires with her tireless work rescuing the breed and helping pit bull owners with training.

3. The Humane Society of Greater Akron has some beautiful pit bull type dogs on their adoptable page.

4. The Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County put their ethics to the test recently and have been working for weeks to save every dog from a hoarding case, breed type be damned. They put so many to shame with their relentless commitment to right action.

5. From a reader: "I was raised in Southeastern Ohio, but live elsewhere now with my pitty puppy. I know for a fact that the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley offers "pit bull" dogs for adoption. They have at least 3 right now on their website listed as such. I'm not sure as to the specific adoption policy regarding pits, but I think it is important to recognize them as well & to encourage them in their efforts through emails, letters of support/education, and donations." AGREED!


Kristina said...

Thanks for giving a shout-out to the Humane Society of Greater Akron. I've been working at HSGA for three years, and we LOVE our pitties. Our staff works hard to educate the public on how amazing they are. It's wonderful to have adopters come in saying "I don't want one of those pit bulls!", and seeing them walk out the door with one, totally smitten. Getting to see our wonderful pits go into loving homes makes our difficult days worthwhile...

Sharon said...

Thanks so much for this blog. It is very much needed in this state. I am a victim of Judge Hale. He murdered 5 beautiful and loving pit bull mix dogs under my care. I spent 33 days in jail because I refused to murder dogs who never harmed anyone and were loyal, trusting, and enjoyable companions to myself and my son.

He will have to face his maker someday and it warms my heart to know he will spend all of eternity doomed to suffer the same fate as he wished upon the thousands of dogs who have been unfortunate enough to pass through his courtroom.

How can such a biased judge remain on the bench? Judges are supposed to be "impartial observers". Someone needs to buy this man a clue.

I have posted this on my facebook page, sent it to my attorney, and sent it to Brian Wagner, Mr. Hale's probation control officer. Maybe someone will be awakened after reading this.

EntropicUtopia said...

I was born in eastern Ohio, but have refused to go back for a visit since adopting my APBT mix from the city shelter here in NYC. Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania (where I lived for several years) have such terrible levels of bias against the breed, I believe his safety would be at risk by returning to the areas, even for a visit.

I hope one day those who slander the breed realize the only "dangerous dog" is one handled by an irresponsible owner. And irresponsible ownership is by no means isolated to one breed. I've met some more "dangerous" Golden Retrievers than I have APBTs.

The Foster Lady said...

So sorry for all the bullies in Ohio. And even though it's not state law in PA, I happen to know shelters, Conshy SPCA, for instance, that will not adopt out pitbulls and any that walk through the door, have a death sentence, except my Kiera, who I had the owner go back in, pull her out, and release her to me.

Donna, you said: "add a little mayonaisse and even the things that leave a poor taste in your mouth will be easier to swallow"

and my answer is: Unless the mayo has been in the sun too long, another admonition that Garrison Keillor frequently makes. The mayo in Ohio, and PA, is way past its shelf life.

Unknown said...

I am sickened by this. People need to open their mouths and start acting. It's not going to go away if you ignore it. I advocate everyday for my pittie. Everyday I face another person who has no education on how wonderful my dog is. I have just attained his certification as a therapy dog. I will never own any other breed. Please Ohioans show your love for your animals and speak out to have this horrible law overturned!! Show off your pitties with pride, I do everyday because he is part of my family and my family comes first NO MATTER WHAT!

Cristin in Florida
Proud Pitbull Mom

Rebecca & The Meatheads Down Under said...


As someone who's stuck Down Under, watching an Ohio-like scenario play out here, is there anything that people can do if they're outside of Ohio ?

There's so much complacency here and fiction parading around as fact, I feel like I have to do SOMETHING, SOMEWHERE even if it's not in my own backyard.


-Andy- said...

I just love your blog, your writing and the way it sheds light on these important issues. Thanks again for you thoughtful (and enjoyable!) insight.

-Andy- said...

this blog reminds me of a quote I came across recently, "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Way to may them uncomfortable! Discomfort makes people think!

Dianne said...

Thanks for the report. I think it is so cool you were next the NCRC. I am looking forward to seeing them again this summer at the No kill conference here in DC. Welcome back, I missed you!

Michelle said...

I am a former Lucas County resident, and proud mom of 2 pit bulls. For Skelton the killing didn't stop at pit bulls, it continued to other mixes like GSD, rotties ect. He was out of control! The Toledo Blade had numerous stories about him giving dogs 24 hours before being put down. It was basically murder.

I'm glad that even though I live in MO now, people continue to take a stand for the breed that we know and love.

Anonymous said...

Any dog, regardless of breed, can be dangerous. I have a mighty aggressive teacup chihuahua rescue that with nip the heck out of the heels of your shoes. My pit mix fosters hang back and laugh at him. I've fostered about 15 - 20 pit mixes and only one became agressive after Hurricane Katrina. We evacuated with her and returned safely but she became enraged at loud noises. We could find no medical reason for it. We tried caution and retraining after she bit one of my 3 squealing little girls in the head and shoulder. The second time it was a neighbor. With that bite we had to euthanize. It was sad but it can happen in any breed.

lyondoglvr said...

Yeah Akron... was raised there, happy to see you all support these dogs. Now a Proud Texan,and an owner of 2 rescued pits, and grandmother of 2 rescued pits, I have never had a seen any aggression from these pets, who have welcomed kids, other dogs,and strangers into out homes. My Chihuahua would bite before my pits! God bless you for helping Ohio see this breed as it really is, sweet, devoted, and loving.

Jenny said...

Minnesota's story ended, thankfully, very differently from Ohio's a few years ago. We have the same dedicated activists and concerned citizens as Ohio, but what we have that they don't is an animal control community who understand that such laws erode any attempt at a humane mission. The head of MN's MACA at the time deserves a shout out here but I don't remember his name, even after hours of his testimony at the legislature. Bill Stephenson, director of St. Paul Animal Control, deserves it too. Not a day goes by that I don't feel deeply grateful to these gentlemen.
Animal control organizations, even contractors, are usually directly accountable to the city and county administrators who hire them, and those folks are either elected or hired by elected officials. Changing the political climate in regard to these dogs can change these organizations. Once the change is deep enough in the animal control community, it can inoculate animal control officials against the inevitable future political swings.

Anonymous said...

OHIO pit bull lovers: you CAN change bad laws. They were written by people and if they are flawed, it's up to people to make them right. It isn't easy, it takes time and effort, and often seems impossible.
Regardless of where anyone is from, how can anyone be complacent when dogs are being destroyed because of their looks????
Engage your balls your hearts and your brains. It's not up to someone else to do - it's up to YOU!


Donna said...

thanks to everyone for reading this long-ish blog post.

andy -- the quote you found made me laugh. thanks for sharing that here.

rebecca -- I honestly don't know what we outsiders can do about ohio besides use our voices and our sphere of influence to keep this issue front and center and support the people that are getting it right. ohio's been getting away with discrimination for so long, it's become a way of life for them. it'll take a lot of voices to move this in a better direction.

Mike Sweeney said...

Donna ... Thanks again for writing the article. It's good to know there is representation at these conventions that there is a alternative to what doesn't work. clearly your presence might have made some uncomfortable but it will encourage some to act differently than the "Midwest nice" and speak up and take action.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Bad RAP for trying to help OHIO and get this out is so important. I want HB 79 to pass and plan to keep the pressure on senators and also animal control. Keep educating!

PoochesForPeace said...

yea....our state's a mess on this issue. Do you know when that bill will be coming up to be voted on??

Anonymous said...

Pointing out the raucous elephant in the room is the quickest way to get uninvited to the dinner party. Yet, when the elephant is causing fundamental harm, how can we not say something.

I'd rather be dis-invited for speaking my mind that sit quietly allowing the world to compound existing problems.

Great Job Donna and Team. You didn't know you were Elephant Handlers did you?

Richmond, VA

Anonymous said...

I was raised in Southeastern Ohio, but live elsewhere now with my pitty puppy. I know for a fact that the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley ( offers "pit bull" dogs for adoption. They have at least 3 right now on their website listed as such. I'm not sure as to the specific adoption policy regarding pits, but I think it is important to recognize them as well & to encourage them in their efforts through emails, letters of support/education, and donations. THANK YOU!

Donna said...

Agreed Anon 10:32. And, done.

Joel said...

With all of these laws, you would think that Ohio must surely be the safest place in the world from a dog bite perspective. I bet Ohioans can even let their children outside once in awhile.

Of course, you would also think that a (former) warden who says "the job of dog warden is to protect the public from dogs" would not spend most of his career focusing on tactics that have not had any demonstrated effect on protecting the public from dogs.

I do not currently reside in Ohio but have lived the vast majority of my life in the state. I will be pressing my dog-loving friends back in Ohio to contact their state senators in support of HB79.

Kelly McCafferty said...

Here are some other County shelters that are pit friendly, pit rescue friendly and downright hostile:

Jackson County- the dog warden Roy and his assistant Elza are very pro-pit bull. Roy owns a pit bull himself. They allow them to be rescued or adopted. The problem here is that there are zero funds and there is no mandatory spay/neuter happening. If Roy thinks the individual wanting to adopt a pit is unsavory he will refuse to allow them to adopt.

Gallia County- they are banned in the city of Galipolis now but the warden Jean tries desperately to get them out of the shelter. She pays out of pocket for shots for them so rescues will help.

Richland County- the are banned in Mansfield, but they allow them to go to rescues.

Mahoning County- they are banned in Youngstown but they allow them to go to rescue. They have sponsorship that covers all vetting for pit bulls that go to rescue.

Trumbull County- pit bulls were available to rescue only, but I believe now the public can adopt them now. No mandatory spay/neuter though.

Muskingum County- they will actually adopt them out to the public, BUT the wardens will not post them on their petfinder page for fear of retaliation from other wardens. So, adopters and rescues don't even know they exist except for when a pound volunteer sends out a plea, usually when there is only 24 hours left to get them out though.

Ottawa County- Mike the warden lets them go to rescue and went above and beyond to get Princess out who was at his shelter.

Seneca County- the dog warden Kelly allows them to go to rescue, she is not allowed to let them be adopted.

Madison County- they allow them to be adopted by the public.

Brown County- they allow them to be adopted by the public.

Mercer County- they will allow them to go to rescue with proof of insurance. I am not sure if this is the policy for the public.

Carroll County- getting a pit bull out of here is ridiculous, but it does happen. They require proof of insurance in order to get them out, public or rescue. They require this even if the person is out of state and not bound by Ohio law. It's absurd. The warden here will not allow them to be published on petfinder.

Columbiana County- the warden Dawn Croft is awesome. She can't and won't let them be adopted out, but she makes every effort to hang on to them and get them into rescues. She holds them way past their time in order to try and save them.

The Humane Society of Greater Akron- they are banned in Akron but they will adopt them out to people outside of the city. The Humane Officer there named Shannon does everything she possibly can to get the dogs out of there. They send them fully vetted at no charge to reputable rescues.

Worst Counties to be a Pit Bull:
Fulton County. Tom Skeldon's brother Pete is the warden there.

Licking County-I know firsthand the warden took every opportunity he had to gas pit bulls and refused to allow them to go rescue. Because of the public outcry going on there the past few months I heard that he is now allowing them to go to rescues. Not sure though, I certainly haven't seen any posts for pits from the shelter.

Lucas County- even though Skeldon is gone there is so much red tape for their new warden Julie to get them out it's not a good place to be a pit bull right now.

Rescues that accept Pit Bulls:
Measles Animal Haven, Columbus
PetPromise, Inc., Columbus
Pets Without Parents, Columbus
Bark Ark, near Cincinnati
Luvabulls, near Dayton
Sacred Hearts Animal Sanctuary, Adams County
For The Love of Pits, Cleveland

All of these rescues are in constant, desperate need of responsible foster homes and adopters. You cannot even imagine the number of pit bulls I am asked to take EVERY DAY. It's heartbreaking, exhausting, and overwhelming most days.

~Kelly McCafferty, RVT
PetPromise, Inc.

Donna said...

Thanks for this excellent list, Kelly.

This kills me: "... BUT the wardens will not post them on their petfinder page for fear of retaliation from other wardens."

What kind of retaliation are you talking about?

Sending you strength and best wishes from 'the bubble' of the bay area.

Unknown said...

Donna do you have an update on what is going on with this? And I have another shelter that was somehow missed. Morrow County OH dog shelter:

The dog warden is a pitbull lover! They adopt out pitbulls with a caution about the strict Ohio laws. Once the warden even drove to another county to claim a pitt that was originally from Morrow county just so the dog would have a better chance. This shelter also keeps dogs as long as they have space (which can be for months as long as people keep adopting and rescues keep rescuing).

Jane said...

Thank you to all the shelters & organisations that do help pitties, & thank you even more to the people who adopt them. No breed deserves terrible stereotyping like this.

Anonymous said...
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