Dog Days: Insight into the Portage County Dog Warden’s Office

When David McIntyre started at the Portage County Dog Warden’s Office in 2008, the department was bringing in about 1,000 dogs a year. 

Those numbers have dropped significantly in a decade: In 2017, his office brought in about 500 dogs. He estimates that 45 percent of the dogs coming in are going back to their owners, and another 35-40 percent are getting adopted. 

The sounds of dogs barking in the background.

What you’re hearing is the collective barking of all the dogs in the Kennels at the Portage County Dog Warden’s office.

The sound of an old dog barking in the background.

That’s an old puggle. Her eyes were cloudy. I’m not sure she recognized there was a person on the other side of the chain-link fence until I got face-to-snout with her.

She barked when I came into focus. She was straining. I could tell she was trying. She wagged her tail, excited for attention. I wanted to reach through the fence to pet her, but the warden told me not to put my fingers into the cage.

Some of these dogs will be here a few days. Some a few weeks. Others might see a stay that stretches beyond a few months or even a year. Either way, the dog warden is dedicated to sheltering these dogs until they go home with a human to start their new life.

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Ohio Dog Wardens enforce section 955 of the Ohio Revised Code. What that says is that dog wardens license dogs, enforce licensing, pick up strays, and handle dog bites.

David McIntyre is the chief dog warden. He walked us to the on-site clinic for our interview. Behind him sat a dog cone on an examination table. Chew-toys littered the room. I could hear dogs barking from where Mr. McIntyre and I spoke.

“We go on several thousand calls, several thousands of calls every year: neighborhood disputes, dog barking, dog being aggressive, dog loose,” he said.

The three deputies on his payroll handle those calls. 

“I’ve got five full-time staff, two facility keepers and I’ve got 3 deputies that go on the road. Each deputy is, ya know, on a normal day, we split the county up and do a third, a third, a third,” Mr. McIntyre said.

He also employs Rita Shaffer, who helps keep the facility clean.

Ms. Shaffer previously volunteered with the office during canvassing hours.

“Well I clean the kennels, take care of all the dogs, feed water, you know, clean, take them for walks, I play with them, socialize them. Try to get them adopted to a great home, that’s my goal,” she said. 

Volunteers canvass neighborhoods to make sure dogs have licenses that are up to date. Licenses cost $15 every year, $45 for a three-year license, or $150 for a permanent license.

So how many taxpayer dollars go toward their budget?

“Zero,” Mr. McIntyre said.

No taxpayer money goes toward the dog warden’s budget. As an enterprise fund, any money the office spends is money they’ve raised themselves. Their budget comes from those licensing and adoption fees, alongside grants and donations.

Dogs in portage county are required to be licensed, and licensed dogs get a collar tag identifying them with their owner. That means if a pooch wanders away and gets scooped up by the dog warden, they can come home in short order. Licensed dogs can also be identified using an online database by anybody on the street. The dog warden holds pups for three days before they consider them “theirs” and take ownership of the dogs, and dogs the office brings in are also microchipped for identification.

Unless a dog is sick or vicious, the dog warden does not put them down — even for space.

“I think one of the best stories that I had is that when I first come in, we had this dog that was about 14 years old. It was blind and deaf. To a lot of extent, could have been considered as a dog that was sick enough to be put down. It didn’t really fit my definition of being sick just because it was blind or deaf. You know, we threw it on the website, Petfinder and other places, and this dog — we ended up getting a call from Indianapolis.

The average number of dogs varies: it gets a little crazier in the summertime, but they can also send dogs to other county dog wardens that may have more space such as  Cuyahoga or Erie county; an agreement that’s reciprocated.

So, for Mr. McIntyre, the bottom line is this:

“It don’t matter if it’s deaf blind or 15 years old, somebody still wants that dog.”