ASHLAND, Ohio (WJW) — Ashland County officials are trying to reassure animal lovers that online claims about the county’s plans to euthanize completely healthy dogs are not true.
To spur new adoptions, county commissioners on Thursday decided to waive adoption fees this month for the shelter dogs most in need of a forever home.
The controversy was sparked when Ashland County commissioners adopted rules for the county’s new dog shelter, which opened in October 2023. A major portion of the shelter’s $3 million price tag was funded by donations from dog lovers, and many of them were angered when they saw posts on social media about the shelter rules approved by commissioners.
The new regulations included the unfortunate and misleading language saying, “Dogs that have been at the shelter for more than one year will be euthanized.”
“That’s the wrong terminology. That was not the terminology that we wanted to have in there, and I’ll take the blame for that because I didn’t see it being that hardcore, I didn’t think they would take that as, ‘Well if its been here a year, they’re gone.’ That’s not a fact,” President of Ashland County Commissioners Denny Bittle said.
Animal rights activists, angered by what they viewed as the inhumane tone of the rules approved by commissioners, stoked the controversy by claiming that a dog named Luna would be euthanized because she’s been held at the shelter for more than a year.
County commissioners during a Thursday meeting confirmed they received threats over the policy. But they said Luna’s story is not true.
“Not one of these people that put all of this propaganda out there contacted me and I did not get one phone call, asking, ‘Hey, are you guys really doing that?’” Bittle said.
County commissioners will now change the language in the rules at the shelter to reflect the fact that no dog will be euthanized based solely on how long they have been held at the shelter.
The commissioners point out that some dogs will eventually need to be put down for a variety of reasons, including their health or behavior, but in the cases of healthy animals like Luna, the dog warden will first explore all options to find them a loving home.
There were 35 dogs in the shelter as of Thursday. Four of them have been there more than two years and seven have been there more than a year, according to commissioners.
“Euthanization is never taken lightly. I mean, it is a horrible decision to have to make, it really is,” Bittle said. “You know, we have to do a better job adopting. If we had that dog here for a year, that is on us. We’re not going to euthanize it here, it’s not going to happen.”
To help boost adoption rates, commissioners on Thursday agreed to waive the shelter’s $175 adoption fee through January for dogs that have been at the shelter for at least 11 months. For all other dogs, the fee will be $50.
That’s not including the annual $18 fee for licensing, which must be completed before the dog can go home.
Ashland County commissioners’ hearing room was packed for a Thursday morning meeting, where residents spoke up on shelter operations.
Groups proposed a program to rehome dogs with behavioral issues that are hindering their chances for adoption. Others proposed crossing out the language on animal euthanasia altogether.
“As passionate as you folks are, there have been dogs that were in the kennel for three years. Those were vicious dogs that have not been euthanized,” Bittle said. “We cannot be ‘no euthanization.’ That’s an impossible thing to do in a dog shelter.”
Of the 211 dogs brought into the shelter in 2023, five were euthanized — three because they were deemed dangerous and two because of medical issues — commissioners reported Thursday.
Another 107 dogs were reunited with their owners and 67 dogs were adopted out.