North Texans take pride in being in the top ten when it counts. Why, Dallas alone is the ninth largest city in the U.S., the third largest in Texas, has the tallest cowboy in Texas (52’ Big Tex), the tallest indoor Christmas tree in the U.S. (at the Galleria), the largest urban arts district in the U.S., the largest metropolitan area in the nation not on a navigable body of water and where the first margarita machine was invented.
What some folks don’t know is that Dallas Animal Services (DAS) is also the third largest dog-and-cat intake shelter in the country.
While DAS has had a very rough go in the past, it’s recently been barking up some very positive notices. For years some real horror stories resulted from its hell-hole days in a dilapidated facility in South Dallas where animals were euthanized in a sometimes-it-works-sometimes-it-doesn’t decompression chamber.
Even after the gleaming new facility on Westmoreland was built the stories continued, including one about a supervisor who allowed a cat trapped within the wall for days to starve to death despite complaints by employees.
Outside the shelter it was just as bad, with packs of dogs roaming neighborhoods. But it all came to a head in May 2016, when Antoinette Brown was mauled to death. Big changes were made across the board. One of those immediate changes was tapping Peter Brodsky to head up a coalition to resolve the problem. The group’s goal was pretty mind-boggling — provide 46,000 spay-and-neuter surgeries annually for three years. It got off to a rocky start with only 9,500 surgeries taking place in the program’s first nine months.
In hindsight, Peter admitted , “At the end of the day, nobody cares if we do 46,000 surgeries. The goal isn’t to do 46,000 surgeries. The goal is to reduce the loose-dog population down to zero. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Thanks to support by the Dallas City Council, more money was allotted for staff and resources as well as DAS becoming a stand-alone department with city management. Up to this time it had fallen under Code Compliance.
The nonprofit Friends of the Dallas Animal Services was created to “directly benefit Dallas Animal Services by supporting programs and services that further its vision of providing compassionate care of shelter animals and finding positive outcomes for placeable pets.”
Still another program, Dallas90, was “designed to generate support of and participation in DAS’ effort to find positive outcomes for all healthy and behaviorally sound pets, which we believe exceeds 90% of our shelter population.”
Then there was the hiring of Cleveland’s Chief Animal Control Officer Ed Jamison to head up DAS. He focused not only on capturing loose dogs and encouraging spay-and-neuter, but he also had an impressive goal in mind — to achieve more than a 90% live release rate that would have DAS qualify as a “no-kill” shelter. Dallas90 reported that that goal was achieved in December 2018. But once was not enough. The goal was ramped up to DAS being “the largest shelter in the nation with a sustainable live release rate of above 90%.”
Supporting his efforts were the area’s rescue groups and nonprofits organizations that have become “transfer partners.”
This past January the Dallas City Council praised the efforts to remove loose animals and adopt more out. But that was before the world turned upside down. When DAS had to close to the public in March due to the pandemic, the staff had to rethink their plan to get cats and dogs adopted.
Fast-forward to the present day: Like other nonprofits, DAS adjusted to fit the restrictions with adoptions being available online. But there was an unforeseen development due to COVID-19 restrictions. People were staying at home 24/7 and in need of companionship. DAS proved to the perfect matchmaking service.
The results? Once again the live release rate passed the 90% mark, resulting in a reduced number of animals being euthanized. That’s an impressive 29% improvement from four years ago.
Thanks to people like Peter and Ed, organizations like the Dallas City Council and Friends of Dallas Animal Services and generous individuals and businesses, the country’s third-largest animal shelter has reduced the number of loose dogs, increased the spay-and-neuter surgeries and risen in the ranks of the country’s animal shelters.
So, is it a perfect world regarding the animal problems of Dallas? Not yet, but Dallas is finally on the right track.
* Graphic courtesy of Friends Of Dallas Animal Services