There has been some interesting reactions today to Sharon Grigsby’s Dallas Morning News article about the “Clear the Shelter Day‘s” practice of offering free dog for adoption all across the Metroplex. Agree or disagree with the price tag, there are some issues with the process that could be improved.
Last year Dallas Animal Service (DAS) adopted several free dogs out to the address of the homeless shelter, The Bridge. People that are in residence there are not allowed to get a dog while they are staying there. (people may come in with an existing dog, but they may not acquire a new dog) Sharon is asking a perfectly legit question asking how potential adopters are being screened to ensure they will be responsible pet owners and properly care for these animals as required by the law. One of her questions was about screening and counseling a potential adopter to make sure they understood the financial obligation required to properly care for a free dog or cat and making sure they understood how to budget for the lifetime commitment of owning the pet. Well, that ignited a fire storm.
I live in South Dallas, part of our ongoing conversation about animal neglect and compliance is ALWAYS about money. This is important to our communities safety and quality of life. Anyone know how to get rid of parvo or distemper from a public park? Look it up…you might be more concern dogs have proper vaccinations. The City does not have the resources to help, the owners don’t have resources for pet care….who is going to pay for these animals to get baseline care and vaccinations? Who is going to pay to spay and neuter them?
Well, for now, it’s you and me. We pay for it all in the taxes that are allocated to DAS, our money is paying for the dollars required to give those animals free spay and neuters, shots, and microchips so they can be eligible for free adoption on Clear the Shelter Day. We pay in the donations and time we give to other rescue groups. And the problems still persist.
Loose and uncompliant animals endanger our southern sector’s communities everyday. Our qualify of life suffers, our behaviors change, and there is no plan in sight to correct this crisis short or long term. So, Sharon’s questions are fair based on the climate and animal crisis facing our City. Her column should be embraced as a way to start a honest and open conversation that pushes innovation and helps forward these issues towards solutions for everyone.
If you have never held a dying parvo puppy, or watched a dog go into heart failure from heartworms in 100 degree heat, if you have never pulled a dog out of the road that has been hit by a car because its people (who loved it) couldn’t afford to fix their fence, fix the dog or be bothered to keep the dog safely confined, if you have never crawled under a house to extract third generation feral puppies, if you have never tried to rehabilitate a bait dog, if you have never watched DAS try to catch and fail to catch loose dangerous dogs and dog packs, if you have never seen a dog suffering tethered on a chain, if you have never been chased or bitten by a loose dog, if you have never watched a neglected dog be euthanized in the lab, you should probably take a step back and realize you are lucky to live in a part of town where your neighbors are responsible pet owners.
I live in a part of town where this is a struggle. I have seen all of this in my daily life with neglected dogs on our residential streets, on our school properties, and at our local businesses. It is not always about income and education, lots of poor or underserved people go to great lengths to care for their animals. Lots of perfectly well to do people let their dogs run loose, lots of perfectly well to do people don’t care for their animals properly. But the difference is, when DAS shows up to enforce the law, cost is not a barrier to compliance for people who can afford a dog. When cost is a barrier to compliance, we have to take time to ask what is the right thing to do for the welfare of the animal and for the safety of our communities.
Let’s address the road block and the issues, let’s help connect people to low cost resources, but recognize, sometimes money is an excuse for neglectful, illegal behavior and it should not be tolerated. All of you people who are reacting and thinking Sharon Grigsby is saying poor people are bad owners, you are not listening – you are reacting.
If we are truly emptying the shelter with animal welfare as the main goal, it is important to understand where these animals are going and if the adopters are prepared and able to live up their forever commitment to these animals.
Currently, that is not done at the Dallas municipal shelter – and that lack of screening and education can lead to a gap in what the law says it is to be a good companion animal owner and what owners actually do. That gap turns into sick infectious dogs spreading parvo and distemper, loose intact dogs running through our street breeding and fighting, people tethering dogs without shelter and water.
The safety and quality of life for other good dog owners (rich or poor) is then affected by these decisions to ignore what the law says you need to do to own a dog. Part of the point Sharon Grigsby’s article is making is in the push to “Clear the Shelter” we should make sure we are looking out for the welfare of the animals first and foremost, not the convenience and the happiness of the humans.
Budget and affordability should be a conversation and a concern. There should be open conversation and education regarding baseline care and its cost. But some of the shelters will say there is not time or resources to do this important work. I fully and strongly disagree. We just don’t want to inconvenience people and ask them to watch a responsible dog ownership video before they are eligible to adopt a free dog. Why not?
There is supporting research and professional advise from industry experts on adopting an animal. It goes further than just talking about can you afford an animal, but that is one of the 10 important questions you should ask before adopting a new pet. Vetstreet consulted three renowned experts — Dr. Ernie Ward, animal trainer Andrea Arden, and Stephanie Shain, chief operating officer at the Washington Humane Society — about the 10 most important questions to ask yourself before you adopt a pet. (Check that important word out BEFORE you adopt.)
Here’s what they came up with (details for each point are in the link below
1. What will your life be like in five or even 10 years?
2. Will you be adopting the pet by yourself or with someone?
3. How much time can you dedicate to your pet each day?
4. Can you afford to own an animal?
5. Do you have support from others if you’re working late or traveling?
6. How much household destruction can you tolerate?
7. If you already have a pet, is that animal likely to accept a new housemate?
8. What do you hope to get out of the relationship?
9. Do you have the time and resources needed for proper training?
10. Do you have small children?
Here is a link to the full explanation and rational behind their questions: There is no reason adoption councilors and volunteers can’t talk potential adopters through these questions and help direct adopters to resources. Lack of resources is not an excuse to not take the time to educate potential owners on what it means to be a responsible pet owner. I can tell you that when I adopted from DAS, I filled out some papers, gave them my money and got no guidance or help and I adopted a heartworm positive shy dog they had deemed un-adoptable.
I think everyone that adopts should get some kind of counseling and a resource list, like what we list below, ahead of adoption. Something like this list (these all have hot links):
Are you ready for a dog?
- Things to consider and ask yourself before getting a new dog
- Budgeting for your dog
- Your Pets Your Responsibilities – animal law
- Things to consider about store bought puppies vs shelter animals. Of course, we vote for shelter animals.
You just adopted a dog, now what?
A great Dogs Out Loud article about how to prepare to bring your new dog home and what to do when they get there. The article covers a lot of concepts that will help your new dog transition successfully..
Here are few more fundamentals everyone should get:
- Dog training
- 15 minutes to a trained dog and a safe family
- Your pets your responsibility
- Low cost pet services
These links could even be given as resources to people who are potentially going to surrender their animals due to cost or training or behavior reasons.
Again, this kind of coaching and counseling currently does not happen at the Dallas Animal Shelter. I can not speak for the other shelters with the exception of the SPCA and they do have adoption councilors. Their adoption councilors are mostly volunteers, so when others say money resources are an issue, it is not completely true, it is more about priorities.
Sharon was not saying do away with Empty the Shelter day, I heard her raising some valid concerns and ask the community and organizers to consider the concerns and potentially look at the event’s best practices to make sure they are serving the dogs and our communities. It was in no way a message about poor people being unfit pet owners and to imply that is reactive and disingenuous. She even gave a link to help foster conversations that are designed to support good decision making and responsible pet ownership – regardless of income.
I can’t really understand why so many people are upset about her asking for thoughtful decision making and responsible pet ownership, except they are not listening, they are reacting and oversimplifying her message to say she doesn’t think poor people should have pets. That’s ridiculous. And if you didn’t click on every link provided here and read every word, hold your opinion until you do.
Caring for companion animals, solving our animal overpopulation issues, and making safe neighborhood is going to require some tough conversations. Let’s try to listen with intent, instead of listening to respond. The animals will be better for it.
Do you have some ideas on what can make “Clear the Shelter Day” better? Send them to us and we’ll get them to the event leadership. We already have ideas to ask NBC to make few video segments about budgeting, animal laws, and animal care. Let’s keep the ideas flowing….
Here’s our most genuine hope that tomorrow’s second annual “Clear the Shelter Day” will be a big success and that people and animals will know nothing but love when they take their pets home to start their forever lives together. And that after the event, we can look honestly at lessons learns and always look for ways to improve and solve our animal issues.
If you need a little inspiration to have the tough conversations, here is a gallery of some of the dogs and cats we found suffering in our front yards.