Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Dallas officials combat growing animal overpopulation
Councilmember Delia Jasso is planning to launch a “Dallas Loves Animals” campaign with local advocacy groups in order to educate the public about ongoing animal issues.
Jonnie England was driving home one recent afternoon when she saw a German Shepherd chasing after a car down Saner Street in Oak Cliff. She watched the dog desperately follow the car for two miles, until the driver accelerated onto the freeway. Exhausted, the dog collapsed in a nearby yard. England said it was clear that the passengers in the car were the owners of the dog who had just been dropped off at Keist Park. For England, this incident didn’t come as a surprise.
As a long-time animal advocate and shelter volunteer, England estimates that she rescues about 35 lost, hurt, or loose animals each year in her Oak Cliff neighborhood.
Dallas Animal Services, the City of Dallas, and advocacy groups are working together to reduce the overpopulation of stray animals. City officials say that some lower income areas, especially in South Dallas and parts of Oak Cliff, have been harder to manage. Residents in these areas have a tendency to not spay and neuter their animals because of expenses and limited education about the available resources.
Last year, DAS impounded 30,855 dogs and cats, of which 2,316 dogs were adopted, 1,484 were given to local rescue groups, and 1,625 were redeemed by their owners. The remaining 16,393 dogs underwent euthanasia at the shelter for various types of medical, age, or space reasons, said city officials.
Joey Zapata, Dallas’ director of Code Compliance, believes education, legislation, and enforcement are the key solutions for decreasing the number of stray animals in the city.
“The goal isn’t about the animals, it’s with the people,” Zapata said.
According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, only 10 percent of animals brought into shelters have been spayed or neutered.
An unaltered animal reproduces more frequently, increasing the number of animals that are euthanized each year due to limited shelter space and low adoption rates. Loose animals have a tendency to carry more diseases, such as rabies, which can be hazardous to the health of residents. Some also have aggressive behaviors, which can create a dangerous environment for residents who spend their time outside.
As the former executive director of the advocacy group and no-kill shelter in Carrollton, Operation Kindness, England keeps the necessary equipment, such as leashes, food, gloves, water containers, and crates, which allow her to rescue an animal at any moment.
On a windy Sunday in October, she spots a flattened cardboard box in the middle of the road and immediately brakes to check if the brown material may be an animal. England is always aware of her surroundings and, while she is driving, catches herself looking for strays in nearby bushes as the stoplight turns red.
“Sometimes I envy the people who can drive down the street and never see a stray animal,” England said.
With an excess amount of animals and holding spaces, the city has been working to keep up with the demand and operations of the newly built DAS facility.
Three years ago, Dallas invested in a new state-of-the-art, eco-friendly shelter that doubled the capacity of their previous shelters. The air in the shelter re-circulates every 8 to 12 minutes and more than 90 percent of natural daylight serves as an energy source throughout the shelter.
Currently, the shelter holds up to 1,000 kennels and receives about 300 to 500 animals per week. While the Dallas County district attorney’s office continues investigating recent allegations of animal cruelty at DAS, the city has hired Dallas police Lieutenant Scott Walton to be the shelter’s interim division manger. Walton said he feels compelled to maintain a high standard of care at the shelter and has made it his mission to give every animal a second chance.
“I think where Dallas should be encouraged is if you really look at the number of rescue groups and the number of advocacy groups that really are working to get that message out,” Walton said.
Delia Jasso, District 1 Councilmember for the City of Dallas, which covers the Northern Oak Cliff neighborhood, has great compassion for Lt. Walton.
“He is very open and very aggressively wants to change the perception of the animal shelter,” Jasso said.
In December, Jasso is planning to launch a “Dallas Loves Animals” campaign with local advocacy groups in order to educate the public about ongoing animal issues. Jasso would also like to offer discounted adoption fees to encourage the community to come out to the shelter and adopt an animal.
While at times the challenges seem daunting, Zapata said that there are resources available. He sees a need to create more public awareness of the resources like spay and neuter programs.
On Oct. 25, 2008, Dallas added a new amendment to the city’s Chapter 7 Animal Ordinance, which said that all dogs and cats must either be spayed or neutered, with limited exceptions. If an animal does not get altered, the owner will be required to pay a yearly license fee and take an education class on responsible pet ownership. While many owners do alter their pets, the majority of stray animals in Oak Cliff have not been spayed or neutered, officials said.
Both Zapata and Dallas assistant city manager Forest Turner understand the importance of enforcing the ordinance. They are currently working with animal advocacy groups such as Operation Kindness and Paws in the City to inform people about pet ownership responsibilities.
“People need to consider how to care, feed, pay for vet bills and have their children understand,” Turner said.
Rebecca Poling, founder of Companions for Life and an animal rights advocate, works with the Metroplex Animal Coalition to help provide free spay and neuters for citizens. If an owner resides within a certain zip code and earns less than $35,000 per year, their pet will qualify for free spay or neutering services. Dallas also provides free spay and neuter options for citizens on public assistance.
The SPCA of Texas also offers low-cost spay and neuter options through subsidies at the Martin Clinic at Village Fair in Oak Cliff. Last year, more than 17,000 animals received spay and neuter treatments from the clinic’s board certified veterinarians.
Poling believes that Oak Cliff residents may be working longer hours and do not have the funding, time, or transportation to take advantage of these programs. Therefore, many stray dogs and cats roaming the streets are unneutered and producing litters that contribute to the overpopulation.
“There is nobody out there that isn’t contributing,” Poling said. “Everybody has a role and there is so much to be done.”
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