Friday, June 28th
I have talked about this before, I have rules. I don’t look for dogs to rescue, I don’t chase dogs, the dogs have to come to me. Over the years, dogs, even dog packs, have just shown up in my yard, in my path, at my house. They all seem to know where I live. But this last Friday, as if to say, “you’re not doing what we want”, the universe took it up a notch.
Despite traffic, I was on time for work and I had a block left to get to the office; I arrived an hour late to work. It would seem the universe told the dogs where I work.
As I threw on my hazards and got out of the car with a slip leash and dog treats in hand, the police were pulling up on scene. Two fabulous DPD officers helped get the dog into a pocket park where the injured German shepherd dog laid down safely out of traffic. I can not say enough about these two officers’ concern for the both the public’s safety and for the welfare of the dog. The three of us and another man, calmly worked for 45 minutes to keep that dog in one spot while we waited for Animal Services to arrive on the scene. We were not sitting idle, we were testing the dog the entire time and trying to get close enough to catch it, but we never pushed the dog enough to make the dog leave. It was more important that the dog stay in the safety of the pocket park under Woodall Rodgers.
Let’s talk about where the dog was for a moment. He was downtown in the tourist filled West End, with access to the mix master, surrounded by busy streets and rush hour traffic.
Rumor had it that the dog had been spotted on the highway overnight and Animal Services had been dispatched to catch the dog but they could not find the dog. With that knowledge, everyone worked very hard to keep the dog calm and away from the multiple highway entrance and exit ramps.
For 45 minutes we kept that dog in one spot safely out of traffic. This is an important number. This is not about Animal Service’s response time. 45 minutes is a pretty good response time for Animal Services. This is a compare and contrast number. For 45 minutes, people whose profession is NOT animal capture or animal control, successfully allowed the dog to stop running, to be calm and still, and to stay in one place.
Here’s your contrast: three minutes. Animal Services, our problem solving professional that we have been patiently waiting for, showed up on scene and the dog was gone and running in under three minutes.
It was the usual DAS (Dallas Animal Services) MO: get the DAS van as close as possible – that immediately alerted the dog and made him uncomfortable. The DAS officer approached the dog with a dog food bowl. She then got on her stomach and started crawling towards the dog commando style with the bowl – but head on – looking the dog directly in the face. There was no attempt to give the dog time, space, or room to react. The dog was showing signs of distress and discomfort – the DAS officer reached her hand out toward the dog and the dog jumped up and moved. The minute the dog got up, so did the DAS officer, which caused an even bigger reaction from the dog.
What happen next made me wonder if DAS had ever thought about trying to catch a dog in a downtown environment? Dallas is a pretty big city, I have a dollar that there is NO training or plan for catching or at least directing dogs in a downtown environment. What would have been the best direction to push that dog – into downtown – into uptown? Away from the DART line? Away from highway access? What’s the answer? The DAS officer just started chasing the dog.
From the start, it was doomed. Did they really plan on catching an injured dog in an urban heavy traffic environment with ONE officer?
No attempt was made to communicate with the two DPD officers on scene to help assess the dog’s temperament or injuries, no attempt was made to discuss how the animal had been reacting to approach, no instruction was given to the DPD officers in advance of the dog decided to run,; it was a total sideshow disaster.
There was nothing behaviorally sound about how the dog was approached. It was a total waste of time, money, and resources and it endangered drivers as the dog was now running / being chased through the streets of the West End. As they were chasing the dog passed the Spaghetti Warehouse, I went to move my car and realize I was one minute away from a missing an important meeting. I left the sideshow and drove the half a block to work.
When I went to help the dog, I had left my cell phone in the car. The lack of phone prevented me from calling in late. When I got to work, my co-workers were about to send out a search party for me.
Lucky for DAS I accidentally left my phone in the car – this would have been great to document with photos. I’ll try harder next time to make sure I have my camera. I know one of the DPD officers has a picture or two of his partner and me in the grass with the dog – I will try to get them.
Once back at work, I started obsessing over whether or not they caught the dog. One of my co-workers reported having seen the dog around 7:30 am and she said that a bike officer was yelling at the dog and chasing it. At that time the dog was not injured. I can only hope that the officer was chasing the dog away from something more dangerous.
At lunch I called DAS to find out what had happened to the dog – not helpful. That frustrating communication led to a call to Chris Watts. Chris placed a call to management at DAS. Around 2pm DAS was back out chasing the dog around Hooters for 2 hours. They called off the operation as Friday rush hour traffic was backing up and it was becoming a problem. They said they were going to go out later when it was quieter. You can spit to both the House of Blues and the Perot from Hooters – it was a Friday in a hot tourist destination – who were they kidding?
I offer to call our wild dog behaviorist for help, to email the West End Neighborhood Association and Downtown Dallas Inc (my office is members of both) with instructions about what to do / who to call if the dog was spotted, I made myself and a sweep team available to look for the dog – no word back on any of the offers.
I didn’t hear a word back about the dog Friday night or Saturday. Saturday morning I needed to go north, so I went out of my way and drove around the area I knew the dog had been in. It does go against my rules, but I admitted to being a little obsessive about the dog. It’s hard not to after lying in a fire ant bed and being bitten to bits while trying to remain calm and gain a dog’s trust. Oh yeah, I left that fire ant bit out earlier…
There is a thing about NOT looking a dog in the eye when you are trying to approach them. It’s a good rule of thumb. As I was being casual, and using a behaviorally sound approach to the dog, I was keeping my back to the dog and wasn’t really looking where I was going, it was a big grassy area after all, and I backed myself into a fire ant bed. There was no jumping up and beating them off – I was much too close to the dog to react at all. They ate me alive. Fire ants literally in my pants – really universe?
When a dog relaxes a little and Tasha did this, sometimes they look you in the eye and they will keep eye contact with you as if they are making a deal with you to trust you to help them. That dog made the eyes with me. When they make the eyes, I can’t help it, I’m in.
So as I was telling Dr May that I don’t understand why the universe would put that dog in front of me if I wasn’t supposed to help – it dawned on me what the universes was trying to tell me: Everything about DAS field services is the same – nothing has changed. Tasha is still waiting for her change. Change is what is going to help this dog and all the dogs like him. The Universe put the dog in front of me because progress had stopped – It’s time to stop making excuses for the people on our little task force and demand some accountability.
DAS – here is your report card: you and your new field service manager just flunked your real life field services test. In our original presentation toward policy change, we identified several issues. From our original presentation, the only official change that has been implemented is temporary darting procedures that have been put in in place to prevent the inappropriately, inhumane, darting of a dog. (yes, we know, the internal “investigation” found that DAS did not dart the husky. And OJ didn’t do it either)
Here are the issues we raised – this same list could have been written on Friday after watching the downtown dog.
Animal Services’ Field Services (hard to catch and feral dog) Polices are:
- Ineffective practices are endangering the public
- Ineffective practices are perpetuating the hard to catch dog problem
- Behaviorally unsound approach to dogs perpetuated the problem
- Tax payer dollars are being wasted due to ineffective practices
- Behaviorally unsound
- The majority of Animal Services hard to catch efforts and approaches are:
- Ineffective with difficult catch dogs
- Compounding the learned behaviors of hard to catch dogs
- Counter to any expert behavioral advice when dealing with un-socialized animals
- The majority of Animal Services hard to catch efforts and approaches are:
- Efforts are Poorly Coordinated- no communication between 311 and DAS
From our last meeting, none of our goals or deadlines have been met. There has been no reply to request for promised 311 meeting notes, the survey monkey progress, or the request to schedule the next meeting date.
DAS and DCAP have a track record of not replying to emails or request for meetings unless the request comes directly from Scott Griggs’ office. There is a lack of basic professionalism when communicating that is completely unaccountable, uncooperative, and unacceptable.
We are all over scheduled, understaffed, and overwhelmed in our lives, jobs and commitments, but a simple reply setting or resetting an expectation is nothing else if a common courtesy that acknowledges a collaborative spirit. Radio silence is just unprofessional from the head of a department that darted a dog with a cattle dart and critically injured it and left it to suffer. If you have a preferred method of communication because of some fear of the opens record act – express yourself.
Tasha the husky has not forgotten how badly DAS field policies are misaligned with their mission. Tasha the husky takes risk and transforms everyday as she rehabilitates towards domestication and she deserves change and progress from Animal Services.
DAS, you can now add the “downtown shepherd dog” the list of dogs and citizens that “deserve better” than what you are currently capable of under the umbrella of field services.
The downtown dog was most likely an owned dog. Somewhere, his owner is devastated and looking for him.
I was sad and depressed all weekend. The Universe was nagging at me. Knowing the injured dog was somewhere downtown trying to avoiding tourist hurt my heart. I had driven through the area twice on Saturday, there was no word from DAS or DCAP, I prayed for guidance, I started this blog post, and I struggled more and more in my mind as the weekend progressed.
Sunday afternoon I went out for a scheduled lunch. I was a mental mess and it was a great distraction. As I was asked to explain where all the festering ant bites came from, I told the downtown dog story. Everyone was shocked. Eventually the bloody Mary allowed me to relax and have a good time with my supportive and wonderful friends.
As we cruised back down I-35s towards the neighborhood, we were laughing and carrying on exchanging stories. Then suddenly something caught my eye out of the window. I blurted out, “that wasn’t what I think it was, was it?” there was a dramatic silence. “It was a dog, right” In unison the car answered with a hushed, but deafening yes.
I already knew. Suddenly, my ant bites didn’t itch, and I couldn’t hear the conversation. I knew in my heart it was him. He was at the merge of the entrance ramp from the West End where I-35s and I-30 split; just blocks from where DAS had chased him on Friday.
My friends dropped me off and said their good byes. Within minutes I was back on the highway driving back to the spot. It was him.
This was the moment I have always dreaded; this is reason I stop for stray dogs. I have always said that I could not imagine what it would feel like if I didn’t try to help a dog and I came back later and saw the dog dead in the road. I always imagined that moment as unbearable. It is.
DAS, what will it take for you to address your field policies? What will it take for you to adapt behaviorally sound policies? Animals cannot continue to be worse off for your interaction. I certainly cannot bear to watch you “service” one more dog.
Capturing well socialized pets is easy, BUT THOSE ARE NOT THE ANIMALS MOST LIKELY TO BE REPRODUCING MORE AND MORE. THE POORLY SOICALIZED ANIMALS ARE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO ALSO BE UN-NEUTERED AND SO MUCH MORE LIKELY TO ACTIVELY CONTRIBUTE TO THE PET OVERPOPULATION PROBLEM. THERE NEEDS TO BE VIABLE TRAINING IN HOW TO APPROACH AND HANDLE THE POORLY SOCIALIZED DOGS.
The example of the DAS downtown dog is one of many interactions that can be held up as an example of ineffective policy and wasted resources. Two weeks later, in half the amount of time it took DAS to chase the dog around downtown (with the unacceptable result of the dog dying an inhumane death by car on the highway), citizens were able to humanly catch a hard to catch, disease ridden, intact dog, and take him off the streets.
By using behaviorally sound approach and simple collaboration with the neighborhood, the citizens were able to put the upfront investment of time to catch the dog. About and hour and half was spent locating and then successfully capturing the dog. DAS spent equal, if not more time chasing around the shepherd only to fail. In this case failure meant the dog was left to a violent inhumane death by car. It just as easily could have meant he managed to produce a few litters of unwanted puppies before suffering some equally awful end.
DAS – stop hiding behind the shield of “a lack of resources”. Yes, DAS is underfunded and understaffed – but the field services staff that you have, whether well intentioned or not, are inept. They have been trained using out of date, ineffective techniques. DAS – you are compounding the loose, aggressive, overpopulation dog problems in Dallas. Animal Services should be accountable for their actions, regardless of the status of a dog. All dogs, including hard to catch dogs, deserve humane treatment. Until DAS updates their policies, they will never meet their goals and mission or serve the citizens in an effective, efficient manner.
Gypsy Dog Ops will be putting together a petition for concerned animal lovers to sign and send to their councilmembers, the city manager, and the Mayor. We will outline suggestion for policy change and present some innovative ways for DAS to collaborate with neighborhood resources. Look for our petition soon.