The Toledo Free Press (Toledo's alternative weekly newspaper) has a feature article today on former Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon. For decades, Skeldon has been the voice for the kill all pit bull advocates, and I found the article interesting for a variety of reasons I'll get into in a bit.
For those of you who aren't up to speed, Skeldon was the long-time dog warden in Lucas County, OH. Last fall, he resigned under severe public pressure.
Since his resignation, the Toledo Area Humane Society has reversed its long-time policy that prevented them from adopting out 'pit bulls', and the county has formed a Dog Warden Advisory Committee to look at changes to the city's dangerous dog law that will focus on the dog's behavior, not it's breed. The county's current law was found unconstitutional by a district court because it was contradictory to the state law.
The article begins with a story about Skeldon as a young boy learning from his father (who was a director at the Toledo zoo) not to love animals -- because if you love animals, you will be heart broken all the time, and "you won't be able to do the job and make the decisions that are required."
So, if there was any doubt before, there is none now, Skeldon was taught by his father not to love animals - -which is why euthanizing 77% of the animals at the shelter was not a problem for him.
But then, Skeldon goes on, to issue a warning to the city:
"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,” Skeldon said. "Some little kid is going to pay the price. The word is out in the City of Toledo — the dog warden is no longer enforcing the laws and we can do what we want.”
I wrote about this very idea last week -- about the media and politicians (I'd consider Skeldon a politician in this sense) creating fear, and creating panic, in order to suit their agenda. The fear doesn't have to be based on anything real -- it just has to be somewhat believable. And that appears to be exactly what Skeldon has done here -- is try to create a moral panic based on little-to-no information. In fact, the odds of someone dying in Toledo by a pit bull attack rank just more likely than the odds of them dying from an Astroid Impact. Nope, the goal is to create fear - not really work off of facts.
The director of the Toledo Area Humane society noted that the county is still enforcing laws, but instead of focusing on types of dogs, is focusing on owner responsibility -- a method that has worked in numberous other places. It should also noted that Toledo wasn't exactly the safest community from dog bites under Skeldon's watch.
"Many people who have pit bulls view them as renewable resources, throwaway dogs, a means to an ends whether that is protecting my drug house, winning in a dog fight, just having the macho, toughest dog in town or breeding them to sell them to people who want them for those reasons,” Skeldon said.
The nice woman pictured in the story looks like none of those things. Here's the deal, yes, some people do treat them as throwaway dogs, and to guard drug houses, or to fight them -- but the vast majority of owners aren't those people. By focusing resources on the small percentage of people that are causing problems, you would better be able to solve them, rather than having blanket rules that cover thousands of dog owners than are not causing problems - -and whose dogs aren't problems. You're not going to solve a city's drug house problem with a dog law. And its ridiculous to think that you would.
Interestly, Skeldon then tries to back up this statement with statistics that are more damning than anything. Skeldon notes that in his first year of enforcing Toledo's pit bull law, he and his staff seized 350 pit bulls. The next year, 140, then 90, and then 50 in 1993. But then he blames a rise in gang in cocaine activity for this number going up. The number of pit bulls seized by Skeldon and his staff continued to grow for the next 15 years -- with over 1300 pit bulls being seized (and killed) by the Dog Warden's staff in 2007. What about that makes Skeldon think what he was doing was working? For 20 years the county had been seizing and killing pit bulls -- and the only thing Skeldon had to show for it was more dead pit bulls.
Then they interviewed Merritt Clifton for the story - -who praised Skeldon's efforts for decreasing shelter killing (even though the shelter had one of the highest kill rates in the country, and a the highest in the state of Ohio). As bad as Clifton's bite information is, his data manipulation for shelter euthanasia numbers is possibly worse.
The end of the article notes that Skeldon was asked to step down by County Commissioner Pete Gerken - -Gerken was the only politician that publically stood up for Skeldon and even Gerken asked him in private to resign.
Ben Konop, another County Commissioner who publically called for Skeldon to be fired is quoted as noting that things are moving in the right direction under the new shelter leadership.
"We are definitely heading in the right direction. I would say that Ms. Lyle has come into a very difficult, difficult situation and has done a really remarkable job in a short amount of time. Just in a month, the live release rate has gone up from about 39 percent to 54 percent.
“My concern with the dog warden is that too many adoptable dogs were getting killed and the killing of these dogs had no relation to public safety. What Julie has demonstrated in her first month is that reducing the kill rate at the pound and public safety are not mutually exclusive. You can do both.”
Indeed, you can. And Skeldon lost sight of this because he didn't care about animals -- and was so blindly focused on his catch and kill philosophy that he lost sight of the reality that animal control is responsible for not only the safety of the public, but also the safety of animals. Skeldon never did the latter. He also lost sight of the reality that his model wasn't working.
And for that, he was ousted -- setting a precedence that the old catch & kill mentality is no longer what society wants, or needs. And with that, Skeldon has become little more than a fear-mongerer in the media -- trying to scare people based on no accurate information at all.