By Shelley Davis
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - Videotapes of a Henry County dog pound overseer systematically shooting dogs and tossing them into a pile shocked the public and spurred Kentucky to fast-track legislation that would outlaw the practice.
Now, Ohio is following suit after similar videos emerged from Southeast Ohio's Morgan County.
Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, has introduced legislation that would make it illegal for dog wardens to use guns to kill unwanted dogs.
The bill will apply to kennels and traditional dog pounds, where county dog wardens bring the strays they pick up, Redfern said.
"Let's say the Hamilton County dog warden picks up a dog, a nice little Lab who lost his collar. We're not talking vicious dogs here," Redfern said. "After no one claims him for three days, the warden takes him out back and shoots him.
"I'm not taking away the ability of the warden to protect himself from a vicious dog," he said.
Redfern served on the Ottawa County Humane Society for several years, and said he has a fondness for animals. He saw a report on a Cleveland television station that showed dogs being shot in Morgan County and said it sickened him.
Bullets vs. needles
After the video aired, Morgan County Commissioner Ron Moore said he was deluged with e-mail messages and death threats from around the world, which led him to "cave in" and hire a veterinarian to lethally inject animals.
"If there is an emergency with a dog who is dangerous and is biting someone, or if a dog is hit along the road and is going to die, we have given (the dog warden) permission to put him out of his misery," Moore said.
Using a firearm is just as humane as lethal injection, Moore said. An injection takes a couple of minutes to euthanize the animal, he said, and once he saw a large German shepherd injected four times before it died.
Jeff Driggs, Morgan County dog warden, said he's a dog lover despite the constant e-mails calling him a dog hater. He defends shooting dogs as a humane solution, not just a cheaper one.
"The most humane way to put a dog down, especially the kind of dogs we get, is to shoot them," Driggs said. "These Humane Society people, they've taken their old dog to the vet to get put to sleep. The dog trusts their owner and lays there while the vet puts the needle right in the vein and kills them."
Those aren't the type of dogs that Driggs handles, he says.
"Some of them dogs you cannot hold them still, and you can't get the needle in the vein. Why put that dog through all the stress and scare the hell out of them, when you can do it so much quicker?" he said.
Moore opposes the bullet ban because he thinks dog pounds should be regulated at the county level, not by the state. If Morgan County residents were concerned about using guns to kill unwanted dogs, he would have stopped the practice years ago, but no one complained, Moore said.
As it stands now, the state has no legal authority to arrest dog wardens for using a firearm to euthanize an animal. In fact, no one really supervises what happens in dog pounds, said Harold Dates, general manager of the Hamilton County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
A self-policing Ohio Dog Warden Association often watches over the practices of dog wardens, but Redfern said the association operates at the pleasure of the county commissioners, who have final say on whether dog wardens can use firearms.
"A lot of these dog pounds are pick-up-and-kill operations," said Teresa Turner, director of the Ohio Humane Education Association. "In 2003, it's way past time for these things to change."
A local practice?
Dog wardens in Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren counties said they don't carry firearms. But the bill's supporters insist many Ohio counties still shoot unwanted animals.
Turner's group says it has evidence of several Ohio counties where unwanted dogs are being shot, including a Southwest Ohio county. However, she would not name the counties.
Until 1997, unwanted dogs in Adams County were routinely shot, said chief dog warden Gary Jordan.
"I don't have a problem with shooting a dog. I don't say it's inhumane, it's just unacceptable in this day and age," Jordan said. "After 25 years of experience, I'll say there is no nice way to kill an animal."
But public opinion about using firearms to kill animals changed since Jordan first became a dog warden, and he met with county commissioners six years ago to scrape up the money to buy a professional gas chamber, which Jordan said kills animals quickly and humanely.
Now, Jordan said, the county rarely uses guns.
"We use firearms only in emergencies," Jordan said. "If you have a mean, vicious dog who's into the livestock, sometimes you use it as a means of stopping them."
The bill has been assigned to the House Criminal Justice Committee, but committee chairman Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, said passing the bill won't be easy.
"A lot of smaller counties that couldn't afford another way said, `Well, now what are we supposed to do?' " Latta said.
Redfern said it's irresponsible for a county to use its small economy to justify shooting dogs.
Euthanasia D, one of several accepted euthanasia drugs, costs $26.84 per 100 cc bottle. It takes 1 cc per 10 pounds to euthanize a dog. A syringe costs about 10 cents.
In Kentucky, legislation to ban the use of firearms in euthanizing animals passed the House and is being heard in the Senate.
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