Let’s talk about safety and quality of life. Despite that the City is claiming that the crisis level animal issues are getting better, dog bite reports are trending up in a big way. The City of Dallas is #9 in population nationally, but we are now #3 in the United States Postal Services rankings for dog bites against postal workers. That’s saying a lot about the scope and scale of the dangerous dog issue plaguing our City.
For the last few months we have been analyzing dog bite reports and so has the Dallas Morning News. The numbers are frightening. Dog bites are up 30% last year and 60% this year. If you live in District 1, you live in an area where, on average, there are 15 dogs bites per square mile. Think about that. Ever walk or ride your bike that far? Hang out in your front yard with your kids? Fifteen (15) dog bites per square mile. (based on DPD dog bite records from 2009-April 2016)
Additionally, District 1 is ranked #2 out of 14 districts for dog bites per square mile. Our District has been reporting and asking for help with animal issues for the last three-four years and we have been ignored and told by Dallas Animal Services (DAS) to leave the issues to the experts. Well, the “experts” just don’t get it. They refuse to see the urgency of this issue, they refuse to look at the data, and they discount the pleas of the citizens.
This week’s Dallas Morning News interactive news article and research aligns with our research and they have found that “nothing City Hall has done over the last eight years has reduced the number of 311 bite calls; that number has hovered between about 1,500 and 1,750 annually”, BUT the numbers have “trended upward in the last three years” under Jody Jones’ leadership.
This trend is an important point as our neighborhoods have been telling Jones directly, in person, for three years that the loose dogs are a dangerous quality of life issue here in Oak Cliff. We have been asking for help, letting her know our citizens are being bitten at alarming rates, and we have been told that our requests to have loose dogs picked up are unreasonable.
In the meantime, over the last several years, DAS management has changed several policies about picking up loose dogs. This has resulted in 15,000 loose dog calls to 311 going undispatched last year. You know the drill, you call to report a loose dog and 311 will tell you that no one is coming. The animals will be left to roam free until they attack or injure a person, are injured themselves, or a citizen captures them. Then and only then will DAS come out to help, maybe. Where is the animal control in that equation?
DAS tells the public they do “smart sweeps” once a month to address those loose dogs. We have several kinds of data to back up that DAS does not do them in any kind of meaningful way. We have seen several generations of street puppies born from the dogs that are supposedly addressed through sweeps. Multiple generations of pack dog in urban neighborhoods would indicate that “smart sweeps” are not working or effective. We also have the month to month 311 call data analysis the sweeps are based on, the dogs are not being picked up.
The shelter stopped picking up the garden variety loose dogs according to Jody Jones because, “it was not worth the return on investment”. They wanted to spend time addressing loose owned dogs, a dog where they had a known address to talk to the owners about getting into compliance. DAS claims that most of the 311 calls are about loose owned dogs, but the 311 data provided by the City does not support that claim. According to data, most 311 calls are about garden variety loose dogs. Via their policy, the City is just leaving those dogs on the street to continue to roam and breed.
With this policy change, more unaddressed loose dogs are on the street than ever. Those loose dogs continue to breed at alarming rates (see # 6 in the DMN article). Jones supporter and Animal Advisory Commissioner, Judy Burnett, in a recent commission meeting adamantly stated that dog issues are not worse now than before. “It’s not that we have a bunch of feral dogs out there”. Apparently, she does not look at data, listen to the City Council, visit Paul Quinn College, the VA hospital, or our southern neighborhoods.
Over Jones’ tenure at DAS, this breeding explosion has resulted in safety and quality of life issues for tax paying citizens. We acknowledge, loose dog issues are documented as far back as the 1800s, but never have they been at this level. In modern times, no citizen was mauled to death and eaten alive by a pack of dogs until now. This tragic event happened under Jones’ leadership.
Jones’ disconnected leadership has repeatedly dismissed the public and their needs, dismissed request of Council, and ignored the exploding street dog population. Jones will argue the merits of categorizing a loose dogs as “owned” or “stray” and then argue the merit of leaving the stray on the street to focus on education initiatives.
I’m not sure any of us care if the 6-7 loose dogs that mauled Antoinette Brown were “loose owned” or just “loose”. But it is worth nothing that if anyone made a 311 call about those dogs ahead of Ms Brown death and didn’t know if the dogs were owned, the City had 30 days to think about doing sweep if they did one at all. Based on information shared in a public meeting by a DAS employee, DAS was not doing sweeps at all earlier this year during the TAI. No surprise to us, we have additional data to back that up as well.
Last year the Mayor called animal issues a “priority one crisis level issue” and he has been heard more than once saying that animal issues are blocking his Grow South development. During this ongoing “priority one crisis”, the direction from City Council was to pick up the loose dogs, but DAS has stopped picking up loose dogs at a meaningful level and as a result the shelter intake has dropped while the live release rate has risen. From the Dallas Morning News, “Jody Jones, the Animal Services manager, does not believe a drop in shelter intake has led to more dogs on the streets.” Say what?
During a recent Animal Advisory meeting, a Jones supporter and Animal Advisory Commissioner, JP Bonnelly, went on a tirade about how picking up loose dogs solves nothing. Tell that to Antoinette Brown’s family and the 14 people that have been bitten within 2 miles of my house since October.
This single minded focus on raising the live release rate creates an obvious barrier to pick up loose dogs. Hearing this message house over and over while people are suffering and afraid to walk their kids to school, when people are calling for relief and for solutions, it makes sense that citizens in southern Dallas do not have confidence in DAS leadership and the current Animal Advisory Commission to fix the problems at hand.
If the management can’t align with the needs of the citizens, it makes sense that they would ask for new leadership. It is not personal against the leaders, but it is personal for the citizens: it is their personal safety and quality of life that hangs in the balance. No one leader is worth putting Dallas’ citizens at risk on a daily basis.
The media agrees. When the city acknowledged it missed an opportunity to “identify a pattern of behavior” with the owners of the dogs that mauled Antoinette Brown, who kept bringing in new animals when theirs were taken away, Channel 8 questioned the eleven (11) times DAS had been called out to the property and responded with: “ Eleven times? That’s not missed opportunity. That is straight-up neglect of responsibility. It’s neglect that cost Antoinette Brown, a military veteran, her life.”
The Dallas Morning News editorial board called for the removal of Jody Jones from DAS management. They sighted 5 main reasons, all of which we agree with.
From the Dallas Morning News Editorial:
She has stubbornly maintained faith in community outreach as the solution to the loose dog problem. Only under intense pressure did she sign on to a strategy late last year that modestly increased enforcement. Even last month’s expansion of that plan emphasized educational efforts far more than a commitment to pick up dogs and ticket irresponsible owners.
Since the deadly May 2 attack, communication from Jones and Dallas Animal Services has been heartless and wrongheaded.
In an interview Thursday, Jones indicated that, despite Antoinette Brown’s death in South Dallas, she believes her strategy for loose dogs is on the right path and no changes are necessary.
“I hate to say it, but people die in traffic fatalities every day, Jones said. “I wish we could be everywhere to everyone, but that just isn’t reality.”
City Manager A.C. Gonzalez walked that statement back the next day and announced that Deputy Police Chief Rob Sherwin will now help lead the troubled animal operation.
So how did Dallas Animal Services respond? With a chirpy email blast and social media message that read: “Exciting news!!! The City Manager, DPD and PAS partner together on a new venture to strengthen services and communication.”
No, it’s not exciting news. It’s news that Dallas Animal Services can’t do its job.
Jones and her department rely too much on deflection and excuse-making.
As we wrote in December, City Hall tends to defer to Jones as the shelter and field expert, and her views rule. In turn, Jones invariably responds to questions and criticisms about her strategy with “hey, I’m nowhere near the top of this chain of command.”
Jones has focused on the shelter’s live release rate — that is, the number of dogs that make it out alive — to the exclusion of common sense.
We appreciate that the city hired Jones in 2011 with the goal of significantly reducing euthanasia rates. However, the angst — fed by Jones and some of her supporters — over what picking up loose dogs may do to the live release rate drowns out these two messages:
- Most important is the safety and quality of life for southern Dallas residents. Additionally, many street dogs are dying slowly of malnutrition, disease and injury. Euthanasia is a far more humane end.
- Looking only at live release rates doesn’t tell the entire story. Say, for example, the shelter takes in 2,000 more dogs in a month, but only an additional 300 get out alive versus a year prior. Yes, the live release rate, as expressed by a percentage, goes down. But 300 more dogs were saved. There’s success in that equation.
At day’s end, Jody Jones is the leader whose responsibility is getting animal services right. She’s gotten the loose dog issue wrong.
The view of the Dallas Morning News’ editorial department is this, “The system is broken. It’s been broken for years. It took a woman’s death to get anyone at City Hall to acknowledge what many of us have been saying and writing for a long time. Does anyone really believe that the same people who have swatted our criticisms away are the leaders to fix this sorry mess?” We can confidently answer that with a resounding helz no.
The Animal Advisory Commission Chair, Peter Brodsky, has facilitated an outside consultant BCG to come in and work with the City, DAS, citizens, and animal activist to come up with a strategic plan and road map for DAS. While we are ecstatic to see the involvement of this high caliber firm to help craft this plan, nothing will be ready before September. How many more people will be bitten, mauled, or killed between now and then? It is not enough. Something additional needs to be done today to protect our neighborhoods and our citizens and their companion animals.
As we move forward, Jones’ proponents threaten that DAS would fall apart without her. No one organization should bet their success on one person. People get sick, get married and move away, retire, get recruited away, etc. A strong organization with a good strategic plan and strong policies and procedures will not only stay strong, but potentially thrive with new blood and new innovative ideas as they stretch towards future possibilities.
Jones supporter use fear mongering to threaten that without Jones, the shelter will go back to the “cat in the wall days”. We have some pretty upsetting documentation about what has been allowed to go on at the shelter under current leadership without any significant recourse NOR any meaningful change in policies that allowed these things to occur. The shelter is not all sunshine and roses, it is as broken and as dysfunctional as the field services arm of DAS. Fear of losing a leader because we asked for accountability is nothing to be afraid of. Good leaders are not frightened of being held accountable nor are their followers. Fear should never stop us from objecting to substandard services or stop us from expecting accountability. We owe it to our neighbors, to ourselves, and to the companion animals we humans domesticated to ask what can be done to solve this issue; if replacing leadership is part of the answer, we should not be afraid to do so.
For today, please email your Councilperson and ask for these five (5) things. You may use this sample letter as is, amend it, or make your own. But please, contact your councilperson before someone else is mauled or killed by loose dogs.
Don’t know who your council person is or how to contact them? Click here for a map of council districts and click here for a list of Councilpersons and their contact info.
Feel free to cc us on the email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Councilperson xxxxx
Thank you for working with the citizens of our District to represent the needs of our communities. I appreciate your hard work and dedication to the tax paying residents of our District and of this City. I am contacting you today because I am extremely concerned that the City’s crisis level animal issues are not being proactively addressed and monitored by Council. In light of all the rising number of local animal attacks against our neighbors and Antoinette Brown’s death, please consider:
What additional emergency measures need to happen to keep the citizens safe from loose dogs between now and September when the strategic plan will be ready. The Care Plan is not enough.
Please consider addressing the ongoing dysfunction of the Animal Advisory Commission by removing Commission members who refuse to align with picking up loose animals and who continue to openly disrespect and bully the tax paying residents they represent. As individuals or as a collective, they are not contributing productively to the conversation. If they can not act ethically and professionally and contribute in a meaningful solutions based manner, they should be removed to allow other productive voices to help advise the Council with strategic, innovative planning for short and long term solutions.
As we moved towards the start of the work with the consultant BCG, please consider the desired outcome of all that collaborative work. Additionally, please remember that immediate action must still be taken to protect the citizens while we wait for the strategic plan analysis. As you move to consider these needs, please contemplate which scenario might better serve the citizens of Dallas:
To examine and craft DAS’ strategic vision with new proactive management that brings innovative best practices, high level problem solving skills, and aligns with Council and the tax payers’ vision for the safety and quality of life of the residents and their companion animals
to examine and craft DAS’ strategic vision with an obstructive, excuse driven management team that constantly argues against action items requested by Council and against policy that would improve public safety and quality of life.
Please require DAS to use dog bite statistics from both 311 and 911 as part of their shelter reports metrics as well as part of using these statistics for setting their measureable goals for the Care Program.
Please explain who is responsible to and accountable for seeing this crisis level issue addressed? What is your role in solving this issue and what will you specifically be doing to help solve this issue moving forward?
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Lastly, let’s remember that a Dallas citizens and Army veteran was killed, mauled by a pack of dogs on our city streets. Please join us for a candlelight memorial for Antoinette Brown on Memorial Day. Let’s show the City and her family that her life mattered.
Monday, May 30th
Continental Pedestrian Bridge
See you there.