2010-07-03 / News

Luzio responds to cat claim, defends record

By Scott Rawdon

NEWARK – Licking County Dog Warden Jon Luzio, who is retiring Sept. 30, disagreed with Union Township resident Joan Settina’s comment she made during the Union Township Trustees’ June 21 meeting.

Settina claimed that 80 percent of cats are euthanized at the shelter and their bodies are sold to a research lab for $1.50 each. “It’s like cats don’t count,” she said.

“The Licking County Animal Shelter has a very high adoption rate for our nice, adoptable cats,” said Luzio June 24. He said Licking County’s shelter is one of only two in Ohio that rescues cats. “I don’t know the source of her 80 percent figure for euthanasia,” said Luzio.

Luzio said the Licking County Animal Shelter sells no animals for research purposes. “We do receive unadoptable feral (stray) cats that are brought to us in live traps by the public and public entities like the Buckeye Lake Street Department,” he said, adding that these cats cannot be tamed and rescue groups are not interested in them. “Unfortunately, they must be humanely euthanized,” said Luzio. He said to save the taxpayers the cost of cremating the euthanized cats – he said it takes a considerable amount of natural gas priced at roughly $2 per 10 pounds – the cat bodies are sold for a nominal fee for education purposes for physiology students to autopsy.

“Any reasonable person agrees our medical and veterinarian students must be properly educated, and what better way to put these unwanted animals to use instead of expensively discarding them at a cost to the Licking County taxpayer and the environment,” said Luzio. “If (Settina) or anyone else desires to take these feral animals in and give them a home, please have them contact us right away.”

Luzio announced June 10 that he would retire Sept. 30. Although Luzio met with controversy during his tenure Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb said his retirement is unrelated and definitely earned.

According to a Commissioners’ press release, Luzio will conclude a nearly 37-year career with Licking County. A Newark native, Luzio began as shelter keeper in 1974 and was promoted to deputy dog warden in 1977. He replaced Licking County Dog Warden Lee Riffe in 1981.

“He could’ve retired at 30 years (of service),” or last year, said Bubb, but Luzio stayed on an extra year to hire and train new staff members. “It’s just the right time for him to do it.” Bubb said he appreciated Luzio giving four months notice that he was leaving. “His retirement is earned,” said Bubb. “My hat’s off to him.”

According to the release, the commissioners accepted Luzio’s retirement and congratulated him on his dedicated service to Licking County. Luzio served as the Ohio County Dog Warden’s Association president 2004 to 2005 and is Ohio’s longest serving dog warden.

In the release, Luzio said, “My legacy has been public safety, currently having one of the lowest euthanasia rates in the state and a continued dedication to cat rescue.” He added, “The past several months have been a team effort to bolster the field and kennel staff and work to assure a smooth transition and continuation of service later this year.”

According to the release, the commissioners are discussing methods to replace Luzio, but so far there have been no hiring decisions.

Luzio came under fire from animal rights activists who said the shelter’s use of a gas chamber to euthanize animals is inhumane and they said Luzio is too quick to classify impounded animals as aggressive. Activists asked the county to shut down the gas chamber in favor of lethal injection. While the county didn’t agree to shut down the gas chamber entirely, the commissioners did agree strongly to favor lethal injection over the chamber.

Activist Bonnie Mansfield has definite opinions about the qualities the commissioners should look for when interviewing dog warden candidates. She said dog wardens should understand that impounded animals are frightened and not necessarily inherently aggressive. “An animal that is a wonderful, friendly house pet generally doesn’t show those qualities when they are taken to a dog pound,” said Mansfield. “They are usually frightened and disoriented. Supposedly dogs never exceed the mentality of a two year old (person), so imagine.”

Mansfield said a dog warden should strive to adopt animals out even if the pound has limited kennel space. “Realistically, we all know that you can’t save all the animals and I’ll be the first to agree that some animals are not adoptable and their lives should be ended humanely.” She said maintaining a good working relationship with rescues is necessary for the animals’ sake, and a shelter should always be public friendly, including being open evenings and weekends, and it should treat rescues consistently with policies and standards for everyone to follow. “I shouldn’t have to lick someone’s boots to save the life of an animal,” said Mansfield.

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