While October marked the five year anniversary of the arrival of Mommas, or as most of you know her, Tasha the husky, and her pack, Sunday, November 13 marked the four year anniversary of the inception of Gypsy Dog Ops and the capture of Tasha. On the day we caught her, as she was laying on the surgery table under anesthesia, dying from an infection caused by being inappropriately, and ineptly, shot, with malice, by DAS, with a cattle tranquilizer dart, a dart that was so deeply embedded in her shoulder bone that it took surgery and a strong man to pull it out, I made her a promise. I promised Tasha that I would not stop until Dallas Animal Services (DAS) policy and procedures were changed to the point that the multi year, inhumane, incompetent, side show that led to Tasha’s injury and the multiple generations of her pack, could never happen again.
As I stared at the unconscious suffering dog and the life threatening injury and seething infection in her shoulder, I wondered how the city declined so far to a substandard place where not only was a dog NOT better off for the city’s animal control’s intervention, but much worse off. How could a city’s animal control department treat an animal so inhumanly and fail so miserably? Four years later, I can answer that question definitively and many other mind bending questions about DAS. Unfortunately, I cannot, despite best efforts all this time, tell Tasha that things are any better yet.
Before we talk about our journey with DAS, let’s talk for a minute about our journey with Tasha. On this bitter sweet anniversary, we are ready to announce that Tasha has found her forever home. She will join Chankla as part of the permanent house pack. This seems like something to celebrate, but before you jump to a happy, fluffy, feel good conclusions about how “it is destiny” and how “she belongs here” and how “it is meant to be”, understand that we love her, but we are the only option for Tasha. The city’s chronic unhealthy and inhumane treatment of this dog has damaged this dog’s psyche and changed her physiology to the point that to ask her to make any kind of environmental move, now or in the future, would take her back to zero and cause her emotional distress that could cause her physical harm. After four years of rehabilitation, we are not willing to take that peace, safety, and stability from her. She can stay here with us and live out her life comfortably, safely, and with love. She is home and we can now add dog sanctuary to the resume.
Sometime in the future, we’ll discuss her journey and her rehabilitation as she is a fascinating creature and there is much to be learned from her journey, but today we are looking at the promise I made Tasha and the progress at Dallas Animal Services and in our fine City.
It is important to understand what citizens and loose animals, like Tasha, have been through over the past five years and it is just as important to understand our needs moving forward. We’ve already written the war and peace of animal issues and several reader’s digests along this journey, one at the very beginning, and one very recently and a few in between. Sadly, they all look very similar. As there is now “new management” temporarily in place at Dallas Animal Services, we’re going to get straight to where we are today to avoid beating a dead horse, but we don’t want to leave out important history, because as the old saying goes, “’Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, so we’ll give a highlight reel of our journey towards the end of our review and we’ll revisit “needs” of the community as needed.
Let’s go back to the very beginning. Why does Gypsy Dog Ops and the Oak Cliff Animal Initiative exist? At the crux of it all, our neighborhood had a loose dog problem. We would call 311 and report a loose dog and nothing would happen. We would report large dog packs and nothing would happen. The packs would remain, breed, fight, and grow. Our neighborhoods and our neighbors were not safe. From a city service standpoint, is that any different today? No. Is that any different under “new management” at DAS? Sadly, no.
Here is the current management’s statement on loose dogs, “With the resources DAS has and the concentration on picking up loose animals and answering important calls, we have to triage calls for service. Loose roaming dogs that do not display aggressive behavior will not be dispatched and 311 should be telling callers that DAS Animal Services Officers (ASO’s) will not be responding to that call. The loose dog calls are used to map for deployment by DAS Field Services.”
Last year 311 received approximately 15,000 loose dog calls that went un-dispatched. So if Tasha was hypothetically called in today as a loose dog, nothing would be done. She is a loose dog. Just like last year, and all those years ago, DAS is taking monthly 311 call maps and doing “sweeps”. Right, right, right. We won’t get into that DAS wasn’t doing them at all before….but OK. And those work how? And the success of those sweeps against the 311 calls is being measured how? Where are all the metrics we were promised after the BCG report? If the city is not going to take “loose dog calls” only “aggressive loose dog calls” due to lack of resources (despite two years of massive budget increases) tell me again how they are going to meet the needs of the citizens? How would this new system prevent Tasha and her pack and keep the neighborhood safe? It flat out wouldn’t. It is a reactive system, waiting for someone to get hurt or injured or waiting for a pack to form, a pack the city most likely cannot capture.
While we understand the complexity of the challenges facing DAS more completely than most, 5 years later, for the citizens of Dallas living amongst the loose dog crisis, it’s basically #SameShitDifferentDay with no meaningful relief or plan in sight. Again.
We’re not just being ugly, here are some case study that have happened under “new management”.
– A neighbor regularly lets his large dog off leash. It charged a neighbor walking their large leashed dog. Another neighbor witnessed the incident and called 911. The 911 operator said an officer would come out. The police officer called back and said that they were not coming (even though the dog was still loose in the owner’s yard) and said to file with DAS and to call back when the dog was attacking someone. The resident expressed concern that the next person with a smaller pet or small child would be in great danger – imminent danger. Officer again says, call back when the dog is attacking someone. Yes, the officer really said that twice, actually, three times!
– A known in-heat stray female took up residence in someone’s yard. Service
requests were made. DAS would not come because the dog was not aggressive. The dog was (and still is) there for weeks. A loose male dog joined the female. Now you have a breeding pack. DAS would not come, they were not aggressive, yet. C’mon seriously? More male dogs are about to join the party and things are about to get aggressive. Does DAS know the story of Princess? She is on the coloring sheet they hand out to kids about spay and neuter – DAS should be able to see the return on investment, it’s simple math, for picking up a dog before it gets pregnant. Notice, the service request is closed, but the dog is still at large.
– How about the recent response to an aggressive dog pack? It made the news. DAS sent ONE officer to catch THREE loose aggressive dogs that were attacking a cat on a resident’s porch. It took over an hour for DAS to respond. One of the FB comments sums it up best. The commenter first quotes Deputy Chief Sherwin from the DMN article, “We’re prioritizing calls and still learning how to do that” and then the commenter goes onto say, “Really? Been doing it 50 years & still learning? Must be one hell of a learning curve that would allow a person to work (time wise conceivably) their entire career & still not know how to how to do their job… Wouldn’t that be like walking into a Mc Donald’s, ordering a Cheesburger only to have them tell you they don’t know how to make cheeseburgers?”
– How about the known aggressive Pleasant Grove pack that was left for weeks next to two schools, and a park. They were chasing residents, bikers, and kids alike endangering all. DAS did not capture the dogs despite a personal call from the president of a well known rescue partner to Dr McMannus, the shelter manager. Who caught the dogs? Private citizens. Citizens sent emails to city leaders asking for a response to the city’s failure. Did any city leader respond to this email? Nope.
– How about this doozey where the long standing confusion about reporting through the 311 app is still a problem. A resident made a 311 app report for a loose aggressive dog. DAS told her they closed the report because she put the word “aggressive” in the report. They did not proactively explain the issue or open a new service request # for her via 311 — they just closed the request and left the aggressive dog in place. The resident takeaway: never say “aggressive” or DAS won’t come – which is the opposite of reality! If you don’t report a dog as aggressive, they are probably not coming. Confused yet?
Let’s not forget about the botched dog dumping investigation in Elmwood where the City accidentally took the evidence to the landfill and the failed cruelty investigation of a long time chronically loose intact male dog. The dog owner was able to renew the dog’s intact license after three separate impoundments of the intact dog. It was also known by DAS that the dog was a trained protection, or attack dog. The dog was allowed to live in deplorable conditions and wander the neighborhood without any serious repercussions for at least a year and a half. Even after a citizen turned the medically neglected dog in directly to Deputy Chief Sherwin at the shelter, the owner was allowed to renew the neglected dog’s intact license and take the dog home without getting it medical attention or without neutering the dog. #SameShitDifferentDay
So, citizens still can’t get the garden variety loose dog picked up, they can’t get chronic offenders taken care of, and they can’t get any traction with abuse and neglect cases – which means the City still doesn’t understand the problem and the goal. Citizens are not any safer and things don’t look any better on the street in most areas. We have to tell you, we can no longer be bothered to call 311 or advocate for others to call. This is one of those moments when the consistent lack of results, disappointment, and abject failure of the system has drained every bit of give a shit from our being and the defeatist “what’s the point” compassion fatigue has taken over. It took 5 years, but it finally happened. If 311 call volume goes down in different areas, take note that a unique form of compassion fatigue is the likely reason rather than effectiveness of DAS policies.
Where are all the metrics we were promised? Where was the one day summit BCG recommended? Who is measuring anything meaningful? There seems to be a lot of waiting around for the next guy to take over. YOU, Deputy Chief Sherwin, ARE IN CHARGE OF FIXING IT for the citizens RIGHT NOW! Not holding it down until the next guy decides what to do. Where is the 30/ 60/ 90 day plan? Where is the plan to implement ALL of BCG’s recommendations (except the one the next city manager needs to do)?
Sure there is a little more transparency…but what’s the goal? Has anyone really gotten to that? Really? It’s not my safety and quality of life that’s the goal if the system is going to respond with “call us back when someone is being attacked or bitten.” #AntoinetteBrownsLifeMatteredAndSoDoesMine
So here’s the next big disappointment, the shelter talk. How many times can the city and the managers focus on “fixing things at the shelter first” at the expense of what is happening on the streets or at the expense of real, modern, behaviorally sound training for the ACOs and staff? We love Sharon Grigbsy, no journalist has done more, along with the DMN staff, to put light on DAS’ issues than Sharon, but how disappointing and premature to read the article about how amazing things are now at the shelter. Now, we agree with her, the vibe at the shelter is VERY different, which is GOOD, but come on –it’s still a hot mess! And just to clarify, the danger to the citizens is on the streets, in the field, not at the shelter. We do not want to discount that things were terrible at the shelter and that they need to be addressed and we are very glad to see improvements at the shelter happening, but let’s temper that celebration and balance that with talk about what’s being done in the field as well. Let’s talk about the system as a whole and how it is serving its mission and the citizens. Success will come from a balanced multifaceted approach – let’s keep the conversation score card on the multi-facatated part.
Here is why it is irksome when people talk about “the shelter” instead of the system, the department, or the multifaceted approach. Everything written to date by all newspapers included how awesome Jody Jones was at fixing the shelter after the “cat in the wall era” and getting things in line there. That is how euthanasia rates became king at the expense of the safety of the citizens. That success was always a crock based on inflated, artificial numbers. That place was a cesspool! It was an infectious, mismanaged hole that let animals sit inhumanely without care, that lost pets, illegally altered records, illegally euthanized animals, regularly lost grant money due to poor management, and cooked the euthanasia book numbers to make themselves look good. DAS consistently dismissed the needs of citizens while berating and slandering the public, they harassed, bullied, ran off and/or fired good employees, bullied ex employees at their new workplaces, and helped covered up illegal theft activities of an employee, all adding to epic employee retention problems. And let’s not forget that DAS brought in animals from outside of the city limits to win adoption contest all while euthanizing the city’s animals and allowing street dogs to sit on the street via orders of the management which lead to many unnecessary dog attacks, bites, and ultimately, to the MAULING death of a citizen. So let’s stop the glowing talk about what Ms. Jones and Dr. McMannus “fixed” at the shelter and how they improved the EU and adoption rates. At what cost? They were a fraud and a failure. DAS is a system, it’s an entire department, but no journalist or city representative ever wanted to dispute Ms. Jones and her supporters’ accolades for the shelter improvements. The proof was always there and no one, even the City, ever wanted to listen to the people who knew the truth and had credible evidence. The people who tried to quietly and professionally speak up were discredited and dismissed; today is no different.
New management has not invited these people in for feedback or to hear their information, and so the ridiculous illegal record altering continues. The ridiculous competition to keep adoption numbers up above all else continues to hurt the animals and the relationships with the rescues. The ridiculous system of residents reporting loose dogs to 311 and being told no one is coming continues. There has been no outreach to the communities to understand the needs of the residents; there has actually been a resistance and a dismissal of the communities’ offer to help.
Five years after Tasha’s pack took up residence in Winnetka Heights, four years after Tasha’s capture, three years after Mayor Rawling declared animal issues to be blocking Grow South Development and we still have no significant changes. Fifteen months after Scott Griggs triggered the DAS budget briefing and the city declared animal issues “a priority one crisis level issue” endangering the safety and quality of life of citizens and the council chastised DAS for having no meaningful plan – we still have no significant change. After millions of dollars have been added to DAS’ budget over the last two years (in the ballpark of 4.2 million), and three months after the major assessment by consultant BCG was released – we still have no significant change (remember BCG said the first 90 days would be critical). Six months after the DPD/ DAS collaboration, where DPD was embedded at DAS in response to the mauling death of a citizen, was started and two months after Deputy Chief of Police, who answers directly to the City Manager was put in charge, we still have no significant change. Please, government officials, DAS, and the media – please stop telling everyone things are “better” – that distorted reality is a big reason we find ourselves here in the first place. For years, everyone said things were fine and “being handled by the professionals”. This was said over and over and over until someone was mauled to death by a pack of dogs. And even then, management wrongheadedly stood on the opinion that everything was fine. Today, we still have crisis level animal issues. Let’s stop patting ourselves on the back long enough to be clear about the massive amount of work and change ahead to get to the goal. What is the goal again?
After the comprehensive analysis from BCG, how can DAS still be missing the mark? There continues to be a false ideal that the “experts” are in the building. Paid professionals are in the building, but they are by no means all “experts” nor are they fully educated in “best practices” or they would have long since left DAS…so perhaps management could slow down long enough to understand that to succeed is to create systemic change and that will need some very slow, deep, discussions and education (from outside sources) in theory, best practices, cost, and return on investment – across the board.
For instance, old and new management were not interested in getting the ASOs behaviorally sound training. They thought them competent professionals and management didn’t hold still long enough to listen with intent to understand the value. Eventually, new DAS management will start to understand that their spiking return to owner ratio is coming from several places including greater enforcement and microchips, but what it is also telling them is that DAS is not picking up the dogs they need to be targeting. Another way to see that is that DAS doesn’t have the skill set to catch the street dogs. Time travel back 4 years ago, what did we tell the city? Will they listen now? Probably not. #SameShitDifferentDay
Add in this next disappointing component and we’re really not optimistic that the City truly understands or is motivated to solve the crisis level animal issues. Remember, BCG talked about the loose dog issue being a flow of water with many faucets and that you have to turn off all the faucets to stop the flow? With 45,000 intact dogs in poverty in south Dallas, the City needs to get serious about FREE spay and neuter services. BCG recommended “low cost” surgeries and recommended that DAS concentrate ONLY on spay/ neuter for adoptions and return to owner surgeries. We have repeatedly asked the city for spay neuter surgery capacity stats, which have not been provided, and the city has just given the Spay Neuter Network a $2 million 3 year contract to help the city with this capacity. Now, if you remember, the Spay Neuter Network is one of only a handful of vendors that BCG was counting on to collaborate to do 45,000 low cost spay/ neuter surgeries in the coming year in south Dallas. Say good bye to their capacity thanks to that short sighted city contract. That contract COULD have been divided up and given out to multiple vendors leaving the Spay Neuter Network the capacity to help with the 45k surgeries. We have requested the original RFP from the city…no response.
Let’s talk about the spay/ neuter faucet. This is a HUGE piece of the puzzle. Is there a timeline or a goal for when the $7.5 million in funding, per year, for the next three years, that Chairman Brodsky is pursing is going to be in place for the spay/neuter collaboration? 45,000 surgeries in a year is REALLY ambitious. If that is going to happen, the funding must get into place quickly. Is the capacity there with existing vendors? If the recommended 5 new mobile units are purchased, what is the ramp up time and who will run them? And is a collaboration really feasible? Who will be in charge of leading the collaboration? The vendors all have different business models, missions, and visions. The founder of Spay Neuter Network is on Facebook and various sights regularly talking about how “those people” in underserved communities don’t care and won’t spay/neuter their pets. Additionally, the founder, along with one of her lead vets, openly questions the SPCA’s judgment and leadership. Many of the current Animal Advisory Commission members also are often quite vocal about the underserved communities, and how “those people” just don’t care about their pets. Members of DCAP also remain out of touch with the realities of South Dallas and also often speak ill of the population that are meant to serve. Both DCAP members and Animal Advisory Commission members openly voice their objections to the city’s mission to pick up loose dogs and they regularly attack citizens who ask the city to do so.
Is the City going to wash their hands of any responsibility to this portion of BCG’s recommendation and blame the overall failure to turn off the “faucet of supply” on the non-profits’ failure to collaborate and fundraise? Additionally, it looks as thought the City is going to punt neglect and abuse investigation for the entire City of Dallas to the SPCA – to fund and investigate. It would appear on the surface that the safety and quality of life of citizens of the southern sector lies in the hands of non- profits. How can that be? Do the non-profits know that?
The City needs to get real and put their back and their heart into this – there are many groups, political relationships, and collaborations that can help move this ball along and solve the city’s crisis level animal issues. Let’s quit pretending this is a priority and make it a priority. Let’s get serious about this – let’s stop pissing away money on archaic practices, lack of accountability, and lack of leadership. And by leadership – we mean take the BCG findings, make a work plan, publish it, and get ‘er done!
We don’t know what is next, who will be the City Manager, will Jody Jones still work at DAS, will DAS be its own department, and on and on and so what? Citizens have been in “patiently waiting” mode while the city has been “handling it” and denying that anything is wrong for 4 years. Tax payer’s money and time is being drained away and wasted everyday. Let’s make the most of this moment when the city council is focused and aligned on what should be done. We’re for Peter Brodsky, we’re for Deputy Chief Sherwin – but let’s get some traction on ALL the BCG recommendations.
Let’s beef up the commission like BCG recommended. Let’s have that recommeded all day retreat and come up with a score card and a thematic goal. Let’s see a 30, 60, and 90 day plan. Let’s see a timeline of when the city is going to recommend ordinance changes to help with compliance. Let’s stop blocking the open record requests. Let’s have community meetings – like the city does for community parks and pools. Let’s share the plan out to the citizens and get feedback, and let’s do the hard work to get this party started for real. Let’s not wait until after the new City Manager is in place and ready to address this issue behind all the other City priorities. Then and only then, maybe next year, 6 years after we let the city know they had a huge problem, we’ll have meaningful change.
We owe it to Tasha and to Antoinette Brown’s family to continue to demand accountability and to stop accepting costly #SameShitDifferentDay from DAS and our City. Let’s do something today that will help give citizens relief on their streets tomorrow; let’s get to work on a pilot area for testing a Neighborhood Animal Services Officer program to show that the city is serious about getting out into our communities and both making a difference for the safety and quality of life of our neighborhood and for the outcomes of our companion animals.
After years of living in fear of loose aggressive dogs on our neighborhood streets, after years of catching and rehabbing loose dogs and dog packs, we are ready to retire our catch pole and let the city step up and do their job. Let’s get this done, for Tasha, for all the residents of Dallas, and so we can finally remove the catch pole and catch kit from the car and from our daily lives.