We are super excited that our efforts to reform Animal Services field services has resulted in the Oak Cliff Animal Initiative and Animal Town Hall Meeting this coming Saturday. We look forward to seeing everyone at the meeting on Saturday at Kidd Springs Recreation Center. This is our opportunity as neighbors and tax payers to enact change for our neighborhood and for the city. It is also our opportunity to organize and priorities our animal issues and to be heard ahead of the approval of the final city budget.
Gypsy Dog Ops was born out of a need of the neighborhood to resolve loose, feral, dogs packs and because DAS critically injured Tasha the husky with their ineffective and inhumane catch methods. In an effort to educate and work towards solutions, Gypsy Dog Ops put together a presentation to the city. There was a corresponding power point with pictures documenting the dog pack as well. It is a perfect time to revisit these issues as we bring the neighborhood together towards a solution.
We are excited to see that our underground grass roots efforts and meeting is getting some press and attention. There is a rumor that Larry Powell is going to give the event some digital ink and the Dallas Morning News wrote an article on the event. They are both very interested in our journey. Roy Appleton, the DMN writer, has written many articles on Dallas’ animal issues. The article he wrote back in September of 2007 about the sweeps team is a direct reflection on our point about how the city uses a 1950’s dog catcher mentality to deal with the loose, feral, and hard to catch animal population. This approach is very counter productive and we have documented how the approach compounded the problem in our neighborhood.
We have learned much since this initial proposal was written, but the premise and the problems are the same today. We look forward to collaborating with our neighbors and the city to move towards a solution for our neighborhood and for the animals of our city. See you Saturday at 3:30!
Gypsy Dog Ops’ proposal to the city (Spring 2013):
Winnetka Heights Dog Pack Case Study / Large Breed Hard to Catch Dog Initiative
Problem: Current urban feral/hard to catch dogs policies are ineffective, inhumane, behaviorally unsound, poorly coordinated, and a large liability exposure for the city.
Our Goal: Awareness is the first step toward change. We are working under the assumption that leadership at Animal Services, on the Shelter Commission, and the City Council are unaware of these problems or there would be immediate policy change.
Who, what, why are we here? Our three (3) year Winnetka Heights dog pack case study is a perfect storm of the current and recurrent issues with present Animal Services’ policy and practices.
This three (3) year case study documents a neighborhood desperately trying to cooperate and communicate with Dallas Animal Services and with the City of Dallas to help identify and capture the dog pack to an undesired and unacceptable result.
Solution Summary: Following a multifaceted targeted approach to Animal Services, hard to catch dogs can be captured, handled, rehabilitated, and adopted out to meet the long term vision of the Dallas Animal Services and the Dallas Animal Companion Project.
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.
The following areas have been identified as problem areas in need of assessment:
Identified Problem areas:
Communication and coordination: Poor coordination, communication, and record keeping by Animal Services cripple the efforts to trap urban feral dogs.
Live Trapping Large Dogs: “1-72 hours Ma’am”: We could fly to Paris and back twice before your policy dictates that you have to pick up a trapped dog. P.S. It’s against the law.
Darting: City employees inhumanely shot and critically wounded a dog, and they were still unable to capture the dog. That demands policy change.
Liability and Safety: Behaviorally unsound practices put employees, residents, and the city at risk when dealing with urban feral hard to catch dogs.
Behaviorally Sound Approach to meet your Mission and Goals: There are excellent certified behaviorists readily available in the Dallas Area. We can provide recommendations.
Don’t ignore a multiplying problem: Urban feral numbers: why you will never meet your Animal Services goals if you don’t address hard to catch dogs
What’s it all worth? A proposed value proposition study
Winnetka Heights Dog Pack / Large Breed Hard to Catch Dog Initiative
We have a case study that follows an identified problem dog pack for three (3) years. In an effort to control the breeding feral population, Winnetka Heights residents tried to work cooperatively with Animal Services to have the dog pack captured and trapped. This case study reflects a broken system that is not designed to communicate, to cooperate, or to capture feral or hard to catch dogs in an effective or humane manner. The case study documents a neighborhood desperately trying to cooperate and communicate with Animal Services and with the City of Dallas to help identify and capture the dog pack, only to reach an undesired and unacceptable result.
Let us be clear, we operated with the understanding that the dogs would be picked up in a humane manner and possibly euthanized if that was the best available solution. After the dog pack experience culminated in the pack leader being inappropriately and inhumanely darted by Animal Services, critically injured, and still evading capture, we identified a clear need for policy change to align Animal Services with their own mission statement to treat dogs humanely.
To help align Animal Services with their mission statement and with the Dallas Animal Companion Project’s mission, we have identified some problem areas and some recommended best practices. Our recommendations are based on: Animal Services’ mission to treat all dogs compassionately and humanely, leading industry recommendations regarding hard to catch or feral dogs, behaviorally sound principles, community safety, and the impact of ignoring the feral and hard to catch dog population. We hope the commission will consider a multifaceted approach to their Animal Services best practices and mission. We demand that policy change immediately to reflect the cessation of ineffective and inhumane large breed trapping and darting for any reason unless an appropriate policy and staffing can be put in place.
Dallas City Services has certainly made great strides with implementing targeted procedures and programs to address the overwhelming overpopulation issues that plague areas of the city. Educating owners and providing low cost spay and neuter options is certainly the right step to take with handling the ‘previously owned’ population of dogs running the streets. Subsequently, intake and euthanasia numbers are trending in the right direction. It is still important to look closely at the actual ‘feral’ or hard to catch population of dogs that live in the city. Without a multifaceted approach to the animal population, feral dogs will continue to significantly contribute to an unending supply of intake animals.
Understandably, facing the current budget and staffing challenges, there may not be much interest in spending the resources needed to handle the feral dog population. In dealing with stray dogs, you have to ultimately address all significant areas of ‘production’ or the supply of stray dogs will never decrease and you will never address the public safety issues faced by the community.
Again, we acknowledge that the city currently has programs to catch, trap, and address feral/ pack animals. It is our experience that these policies are not only ineffective against the capture of the hard to catch dog population, but they are both inhumane and counterproductive leaving a high concentration of breeding dogs on the street. The ineffective and counterproductive nature of the policies also opens up the city to liability issues.
In addressing these issues, it is also our position that budget and staffing challenges are an unacceptable defense for any action or policy that is misaligned with the Animal Services’ mission statement (more specifically – inhumanely treating animals or disregarding the residents’ safety).
Winnetka Heights Dog Pack: A multifaceted issue with a multiplying problem
The Winnetka Heights dog pack leader was identified and because the city was unable to capture her for THREE (3) years, in this time frame, she was able to produce at least two (2) identifiable litters of dogs, and was actively breeding for her third litter. The pack was reported to have killed numerous neighborhood cats. At one point, the pack had grown to FIFTEEN (15) dogs.
Fifteen(15) dogs were traveling in a fighting, breeding, killing pack. The dogs were traveling around yards, driveways, gardens, sidewalks, all while people were doing mundane things like walking their dogs, playing with their children, mowing their grass. The dogs were reported charging people in their front yards and on their front porches. The pack was also reported in an incident over at Greiner Middle School. When the NY Times called Winnetka Heights a must see neighborhood, this was not the kind of thing they had in mind.
Animal Services’ inability to catch the breeding pack leader, or the pack, left the neighborhood residents in unsafe conditions for three years, which is a significant liability for the city. Animal Services was not only unable to address the problem, but they exacerbated it with their approach. This ineffectiveness not only increases the city’s liability but wastes tax payer dollars.
Over the last two (2) years, 15 (fifteen) dogs associated with this pack dogs have been caught. Unfortunately, the relative success of the capture and trapping efforts relied on citizens’ diligent support of an ineffective process; and more specifically, very heavily on a single citizen’s diligence. That obviously is not a sustainable process that will produce consistent and repeatable results city wide. The responsibility for successful feral pack resolution should never depend so heavily on the diligence of the average citizen. Partnerships are our recommendation, but the control, organization, responsibility, and accountability of this process should always remain with Animal Services if consistent, successful, repeatable results are desired.
Communication and coordination:
Poor coordination, communication, and record keeping by Animal Services crippled the efforts to trap urban feral dogs. It was very difficult over the three (3) year period to communicate well with the city and with Animal Services. Reference numbers, special phone numbers, and priority designation from Scott Griggs’ office were assigned, but no one with the city ever seemed to be able to correlate this information at all. Therefore, each call was like we were starting over.
Once a dog was trapped, the inability to effectively communicate with Animal Services for retrieval of captured or trapped animals during nights and weekend hours also hindered the efforts and the effectiveness of the trapping effort. The special phone numbers given out were not manned nights or weekends, which are the times when they are most likely to be needed. It was very difficult to understand proper protocol with one exception: we were all made very aware that the city had 1-72 hours to respond to just about anything animal related in the field.
Live Trapping Large Dogs:
The current Animal Services trapping policy seems to be reflect this: once they agree to set out a large trap, they instruct people to call 311 when there is a live dog capture and 311 operators inform them that they will pick up the dog within 1-72 hours. No one checks the bait or the trap on a routine basis to reset it if needed, and the public involved is instructed not to reset the traps themselves. They also apparently complain if the citizen assisting with the traps provides any sort of food or lure activity that may keep the animals in the area.
This approach on its surface is ridiculous. First and foremost, if Dallas Animal Services cannot respond to a live trap capture of a medium to large dog within a timeframe that is inline with animal cruelty laws, then in they have no business offering to provide such traps. Small dogs and cats are easily contained in traps, and if necessary can be transported within the trap to Animal Services intake. Medium to large trapped dogs must rely solely on Animal Services officers to handle in the field. To allow a dog to sit caged in unknown ambient weather conditions without reliable access to food and water for UP TO 72 HOURS is asinine at the very best, and grossly inhumane as well as potentially deadly at the very worst; and therefore it is in absolute opposition to animal cruelty laws.
Medium to larger dogs breed dog traps are NOT inexpensive. They cost tax payers anywhere from $300 – $500 each. These traps are nowhere near indestructible or designed to hold dogs for up to 72 hours. In order to make them indestructible to dogs of this size the gauge wire needed would make them next to impossible to freely and easily transport from one area to another.
When larger trapped dogs stop being frightened and start being frantic to escape, they can completely destroy a very expensive cage in a very short period of time. We saw this over and over. We are not even discussing the damage the animals can and will do to themselves when trying to escape. For the life of the equipment and for the health of the dog, there is just absolutely no justification for such extended periods of pick up time for captured animals.
These dogs are least likely to be seen or trapped during day light hours. They are always most active at dusk, night, and pre-dawn hours. If a larger dog is trapped at dusk, and there is no hope of picking up the dog for over 12 hours, then there is little point in leaving baited traps out during night and weekend hours unless the aim is destroyed equipment, wasted resources, injured animals, and endangered sleep deprived residents.
A true pack of stray dogs is a serious issue for any neighborhood for a myriad of health and safety reasons. One of the first steps to removing a stray pack from a neighborhood is to successfully maintain access to the roaming animals as long as possible to increase the chance of capture. You will not ‘starve’ these dogs into a trap. They are successfully feeding themselves already or quite simply they would be dead. You might starve someone’s lost pet into a trap, but it is simply not going to happen with a difficult catch free roaming dog. It is much more useful to institute a program of actually intentionally providing the stray pack access to routine feedings that they can expect and anticipate in a certain location. This was an extremely successful approach to the Winnetka Heights dog pack.
The attraction in trap bait is in it being a higher perceived value than their routine scavenged fair. Simply speaking – meaty canned food, cat food, etc. These successful stray animals have already identified every available routine food source location in their entire daily range. That is why average dry dog food is ignored in a trap and is and not recommended as trap bait. That is also exactly why it does not matter if routine dry dog food feedings are established in the area of the trap to keep the dogs returning to the location.
Regarding trap placement for difficult to catch dogs, that can be an entire discussion in itself. Suffice it to say that deciding to place a trap that is being set out to capture shy/aggressive, un-socialized, known hard catch animals right on a high human traffic sidewalk should be obviously inappropriate. However, that is precisely what was done. Obviously there needs to be training in this area.
Once a trap is in place, then it needs to be checked, rechecked, and reset often. There will be numerous misfires of the trap, and a sprung trap sitting there without bait is certainly a wasted resource. We have watched them go for 2-3 days empty, unset, and without bait. Why bother having the trap out and subject to theft, etc.?
Apparently, there is no consistent training on the issue, nor does there seem to be any proper central supervision of the trapping process, especially not regarding large dogs that have been identified to be difficult catches. If there is truthfully no way that Animal Services can provide a pick up time for a captured animal any quicker than up to 72 hours, then in our opinion they should never provide medium to large dog traps at all; especially if they cannot comply with State animal cruelty laws.
However, we maintain that with reasonable pick up times and training regarding setting and using the traps, an effective medium to large dog trap program can be established in affected neighborhoods. Using behaviorally sound methods, but working with the poor pick up times and extended reset failures, we still managed to capture 9 dogs in 3 weeks. Every time the trap was properly baited and reset, a dog was caught.
Imagine how much more effective a well-coordinated, humane, and behaviorally sound procedure would have been when coupled with the assistance of residents from the affected area.
As it currently is, the larger dog trapping policy is ineffective, inhumane, costly, and obviously lacking any central training and supervision efforts. Again, we have recommendations for behavioral and trapping experts to present best practices if the city is interested.
The citizen in this case informed Animal Services that the truant female Husky was again in heat and that the dog could very likely be partially confined in a fenced backyard area if they wished to try and dart her. There was no response to this, so the assumption was made that they did not wish to try and dart the dog.
In actuality Animal Services did dart the animal. They did so in such a woefully inappropriate manner that we question whether anyone currently being tasked with that project has ever truly been trained in the proper use of a dart gun with small animals. Furthermore they did so while she was not remotely confined. The end result being that this dog was shot with a massive dart at such force that she could easily have been killed. Likewise, any human being in the area could have been seriously injured or killed if the shot had missed the animal. The dart buried into the bone of her shoulder and set up a massive infection which alone was on its way to killing the dog via a slow and agonizing death. Oh yes, and she completely evaded capture yet again.
In this instance, either there was gross ignorance of appropriate darting procedure or there was willful disregard for the animal’s welfare. Our team confirmed proper darting procedures by having our veterinarian, Dr. May, verify best practices and equipment with zoo veterinarians and different tranquilizing gun representatives. Accidents can certainly happen, but if the routine darting attempt goes as it did for this dog, then you are simply dealing with lack of training and poor equipment choices.
Undertaking the effort on a loose animal known to be a hard catch was absurd in the first place. The average anesthetics used do not act quickly enough to insure that a dog cannot outrun any human’s efforts to chase and capture them. Therefore, failing to take advantage of the option to confine the animal greatly increased the risk of failure and the general liability of the procedure.
The front leg or front of any animal is not the correct target area for a tranquilizing dart. The rear leg is always a more appropriate choice because it has the greatest muscle mass covering bone; therefore a misplaced shot is less likely to result in death or injury to the animal.
Finally, the dart used was a large animal dart. It was fully 1.5 inches long, and those darts are designed for heavily muscled, thick hided cattle with weight ranges in excess of 1000 pounds. A dart of that length is grossly inappropriate for an 80 pound dog which also has a much thinner skin than a cow. The correct length of needle is ¾ inch at most.
We cannot comment on the drugs used. Most commonly the older agents are more easily obtainable without involving a veterinarian, and they tend to be iffy at best as to how well you can expect them to knock down an animal versus kill them. They do not have a wide margin of error and so are often under dosed to the point of ineffectiveness. The most commonly recommended drug is Telazol as it has a wide margin of both safety and effectiveness, and is rapid acting. For instance an 80 pound dog can be taken completely down in under two minutes with as little as 0.5 cc, or can safely receive up to 4 cc without harmful effect. Surely no more frequently than darting is used, Telazol could be procured from a local veterinarian on an as needed basis or via the spay neuter service the city currently uses.
The use of a dart gun is not simple. It has to be loaded to shoot with enough force for a certain estimated distance and a certain estimated amount of drug expected to be delivered. The higher the dose to deliver then the stronger the charge needed to fire. Likewise the farther the distance expected, the stronger the charge needed to fire. There is a lot of estimation involved, and a lot of room for error. That is why IF this is going to be used as a capture technique, then every single factor that can be positively controlled should be:
1. Proper equipment is a must. If the gun cannot be alternately loaded for dose and distance, then it is of little use. If there are not proper size darts available for use, then no shot should be taken.
2. Proper training about the mechanical use of the guns is mandatory. The operator must be fully versed in how to choose the charge load that is proper for the distance and the amount of drug to be delivered, as well as how to choose an appropriately sized dart.
3. Proper training and practice in where to aim and shoot is just as essential as learning how to correctly load the gun.
4. Proper anesthetic medications should be obtainable. There is little point in using Sucostrin if a source of Telazol can be obtained easily.
5. The situation must be set up for success, not failure. The procedure by nature is dangerous; therefore, every factor must be skillfully and meticulously controlled. If a hard to catch dog can be maneuvered into an enclosed or a more confined area, then failing to do so is negligent.
If the city of Dallas does not approve of lethally shooting a dog on the street, then by the same token, the city should NOT be OK with inappropriately darting a dog in a potentially fatal and inhumane manner. If Animal Services darting practices cannot be immediately and radically improved, they should be halted. If Animal Services personnel cannot be qualified and maintained as experts, then the procedure should be outsourced to qualified contractors on an as needed basis.
Having city employees run after dogs willy nilly and shoot high impact projectiles at them is obviously not working well, most especially for the dogs. This approach also opens up the city to unimaginable liability.
Can trapping and darting practices be used successfully? Yes, they can, especially in accordance with a more proactive behaviorally sound approach with hard to catch dogs.
Behaviorally Sound Approach to meet your Mission and Goals:
We further present to you that with a more behaviorally sound approach, not only can a higher percentage of these dogs be captured, but the majority of those dogs can be considered adoptable in a remarkably short amount of time (at the end of their hold period). Approaching these dogs differently also increases the safety of both the facility workers and the public and can reduce the city’s liability on several fronts.
It has been our experience working extensively with difficult to handle, poorly socialized dogs that most of the dogs that cannot be safely touched on intake can be quickly socialized and habituated to touch. Within 4-5 days, most of these dogs can be handled and learn to walk on a leash with relative ease. It is only the small few that are either too inherently aggressive or simply too feral to be handled that quickly.
Understanding how to handle and identify dog behaviors, including feral poorly socialized dog behaviors, increases the safety of all employees who interact with all the shelter dogs at any stage of intake, boarding, or the adoption process. More behaviorally sound assessment and approaches create an environment where the shelter’s mission statement can be actualized.
Above all else, more behaviorally sound approaches benefit the dogs.
Ineffective and Undesirable Results:
The first year the dog pack was identified as a problem there were only three dogs in the pack. None of the dogs were picked up and the first litter of puppies was born. As a direct result of Animal Services’ ineffectiveness and inability to catch the pack, by the second year it had grown to fifteen (15) dogs and second litter of dogs had been born on the street. In total over the last two years, we captured and turned in (most likely for euthanasia), thirteen (13) dogs associated with this pack and this pack leader. There are likely other litter and pack mates that we did not see and there are definitely others that we did not catch.
The pack leader was identified as being in heat and breeding again in November of 2012, and somewhere, somehow it was decided to inappropriately dart the dog. The dog was critically injured, not captured, and left to die. This was not the result anyone was looking for.
In summary, because of the inability to catch this individual dog over a three (3) year period, an entire neighborhood was exposed to a growing public safety risk; there were two litters of puppies born on the streets, and subsequent euthanasias with the culmination of efforts being the inhumane and ineffective shooting of the pack leader. Doing nothing starts to look better than doing something when current city policy and procedure is so ill-informed, ineffective, and inhumane; but to do nothing is to be complicit.
A multiplying problem…
Let’s put our breeding pack leader and her case study to some intake averages and give her some additional real life value.
Urban feral dogs are usually larger breeds that are still intact (never spayed or neutered). The dogs that make up the urban feral population may arise from escaped yard pets that were never properly handled, or dumped fighting bait dogs, or pups born to feral mothers on the street. Regardless of their origins, the result is that they will continue the active breeding cycle and add to the stray dog problem.
The Humane Society of North Texas has published an estimate of 512 dogs produced by a single breeding female over a three (3) year period. Doesn’t seem like much until you recall the focus of our discussion is the difficult catch category of dogs.
According to the 2011 intake figures for the Dallas City Shelter, 21,315 total dogs were taken in last year. Assume a mere 2% of the general dog population that Animal Services and the public deal with are difficult catch animals. That would mean that for every 100 dogs Animal Services were called to catch, 2 dogs evade capture. That estimate according to anything we have ever seen here or any other city is VERY low. That means, looking only at intake numbers and no actual biological counts that you could easily assume 426 difficult catch dogs (again these are most often large non-neutered dogs) are left running the street. Assume only half of those are female = 213. Look at the previous reproduction estimates and you find that 213 intact female dogs create 109,056 (512 x 213) dogs in three (3) years.
It is a problem worth everyone’s attention. That’s a lot of dogs to ignore. These dogs all contribute very healthily to the stray population roaming the streets, to the intake rate, and to Dallas city resident and employee safety and liability issues.
Additionally, outside of sheer numbers, difficult to catch dogs deserve the same humane treatment as any other dog. The methods used to deal with difficult dogs must be effectively targeted for handling shy and or un-socialized animals. Trying to approach the dogs over and over like a routine stray socialized pet is generally doomed to repeat failure and to reinforce a learned behavior to avoid humans.
These hard to catch dogs also represent very active cases of quick natural selection. The more successful they are at evading capture, the more intelligent they are and the longer they have to build a toolbox of adaptive behavior to teach their young. This predisposes their puppies to become hard to catch ill socialized dogs as well. Every single failure in capturing these particular types of dogs makes it that much harder to catch them when the next opportunity arises thereby further compounding the problem.
Difficult to catch dogs cannot be approached successfully by routine methods that are designed for capturing the average escaped wandering owned pet that has had an adequate amount of socialization. Current methods which have been used by Animal Services include : limiting general food availability in general areas that packs of these animals have been identified to frequent, providing large live traps with exceptionally long expected pick up times, poor reset and monitoring of large traps once placed, extremely poor trap placement, literally chasing after the dogs either on foot or in the vehicle, and using dart guns. The majority of those efforts are completely useless with difficult catch dogs, counter to any sort of behavioral advice when dealing with un-socialized animals, and in the case of darting procedures – extremely dangerous to both dogs and humans with poorly trained usage.
We recommend the city look to a behaviorist as a consultant for recommended best practice, training, and continuing education for Animal Services employees regarding approaching hard to catch dogs. We have found an excellent team of consultants as we have worked to rehabilitate the feral husky shot by Animal Services. Our experts are ready to present their recommended best practices to the city at your request.
Whether or not you believe those dogs can be rehabilitated, we have given you realistic reproduction numbers that show WHY you should be concerned about being able to catch the hard ones.
What’s it all worth?
We propose a study be done on the value proposition of investing the time and resources to gain a return managing and removing hard to catch dogs from the breeding street population. We feel some very quick math will reveal that an investment upfront will yield long term results and goals that otherwise could not be realistically met. If it is truly the city’s goal to be a leader in Animal Services practices, it is time to put your money where your mouth is.
We propose the Summerlee Foundation would be a good place to look for funding to see the cost benefit of targeting the feral dog population for capture and rehabilitation as part of the Dallas Animal Services’ long term mission and vision. We have a team of experts available to help if the city is interested in pursuing this further.
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. Present City of Dallas Animal Services trapping and darting policies, if there are actually policies, are woefully inappropriate, inhumane, and misaligned with the Animal Services’ mission statement. If they cannot be changed, then those practices should be discontinued entirely.
Budget and staffing limitations challenge any city, but it is unacceptable to defend any action or policy that is misaligned with the Animal Services’ mission statement (inhumanely treating animals or disregarding the residents’ safety) by pointing to budgets cuts or staffing issues. Address the issues.
Following a multifaceted targeted approach to Animal Services, hard to catch dogs can be captured, handled, rehabilitated, and adopted out to meet the long term vision of Dallas Animal Services and the Dallas Animal Companion Project.
We propose through better communication, cooperation, and partnerships with local neighborhood associations, local non-profits, expert trappers, expert behaviorist, veterinarians, and other willing and passionate local resources, Animal Services can become an effective community focus for animal lovers to help forward a feral/ hard to catch dog initiative. The initiative will indirectly, through design, improve the overall results of Animal Services’ collective mission, improve the safety of Animal Services’ employees, and improve the safety of the community.
Change starts by identifying the problem. Change happens with what you do next.