DAS Progress Report
Remember when you would hide your report card in your locker thinking your mom wouldn’t ask for it? But she would ALWAYS ask for it! And you would tell her they weren’t out yet, even though they were. It’s like that, but the CITY is the teenager and the TAX PAYERS are the MOM!
When we try to take a look at the BCG recommended report card for DAS, five months after the BCG report called for a workshop with stakeholders to establish metrics, goals, and a scorecard, it still doesn’t exist. This past week, we’ll give props to Animal Commission Chairman, Peter Brodsky, for giving the task the o’l college try with his dysfunctional animal commission, but his commission could not bother to prepare for the task or contribute in a meaningful manner. Instead the commission meeting devolved into a Jerry Springer session like no other commission meeting we have ever seen before, and we’ve seen some useless ones. So DAS, DCAP, and the Animal Commission continue to function without any meaningful guidelines, goals, and measures of success, all while claiming great strides and success in their work.
Despite DAS’ best intentions, and contrary to their message house, the citizens and tax payers of south Dallas are feeling no relief and no real changes from DAS’ hard work and efforts. Why the dichotomy of experience? It’s simple. DAS’ strategic plan and goals are still misaligned with the Council and the taxpayers. The city is still not measuring the right metrics for success.
Let’s start by acknowledging that the people have been saying that the Emperor has no clothes for quite some time now, and they were right. The polite thing to do, is for the city to say thank you and to extend a courteous and engaged ear moving forward.
So before you dismiss this whitepaper and move onto something else without reading it in its entirety, let us remind the city that years ago citizens told the city that DAS management was intentionally not picking up loose dogs, that the city had an exploding crisis on their hands, that DAS was in desperate need of SOPs, that DAS employees were being endangered for lack of training, that DAS was hiding headcount, that DAS was dismissing and berating the public, that DAS did not have a MOU with DCAP, that DAS’ drug logs were troublesome, that DAS was inhumanely treating animals, that DAS was illegally altering records, grants were being lost due to poor management, a DAS employee was stealing from PetSmart Charities etc etc etc. But no one would listen. Citizens, and their safety and quality of life, were dismissed. Citizens predicted a citizen would have to die for the matter to get time and attention. Here we are. It has all been proven true via independent consultants, the auditor’s office, and Antoinette Brown’s tragic mauling death. Now, there are rumors of an investigation by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and the DEA. So perhaps, when these same citizens say, the plan is not, and will not, address safety and quality of life, someone should listen. Perhaps when Assistant City manager Joey Zapata says that he didn’t know anything about DCAP issues until the last “several months” someone should ask him to define “several” and hold him accountable for either dismissing the public or living in his own world surrounded by alternative facts.
Let’s set up some quick framework
The shelter and Dallas Animal Control was originally created for animal control purposes.
Animal Control has been charged with preserving public health and safety through rabies control programs, stray animal apprehension, and enforcement of ordinances. They were also tasked with sheltering animals for a short period of time to facilitate what is commonly referred to as return to owner. Dallas Animal Services has evolved to include animal welfare. What’s the difference?
Animal Welfare has been charged with caring for and re-homing unwanted animals and educating the public. However, the line between animal control and animal welfare is no longer clear under the umbrella of animal services.
The bottom line is that the community expects public animal shelters to protect the public with the goal of saving animals’ lives. Read that again and understand the hierarchy in that statement. The community expects public animal shelters to protect the public with the goal of saving animals’ lives.
EXPECTS the shelter to protect the public with the GOAL of saving animal’s lives.
At no point should an animal’s life trump public safety or human life. At its core, the municipal shelter is in place for public safety purposes. So what’s the shelter’s mission?
A new balanced mission statement? Maybe try again.
Let’s re-examine the recently adopted ‘balanced mission statement’ for Dallas Animal Services, the city’s only municipal shelter:
“Helping Dallas be a safe, compassionate, and healthy place for people and animals.”
DAS is a tax payer funded municipal shelter put in place to SERVE and PROTECT the public. DAS is not here to “help”, they are here to “own it”. From a tax payer point of view, DAS is not even “helping”, our neighborhoods are doing all the work where loose dogs are concerned. Something as simple as “protecting public safety with the goal of saving animals’ lives and ending animal homelessness” would be a marked improvement.
Let’s be clear about what is it DAS is supposed to be doing, especially since we are still in an era where the animal commission is in disagreement with the council and the public on DAS’ mission. Let’s be CRYSTAL clear in the mission statement. DAS is here to pick up the loose dogs.
DAS is here to serve the public, not rescue partners, DCAP, or the Animal Commission. So let’s remove the words: kill, no-kill, catch and kill, dog catcher, and sweeps from DAS’ vocabulary. When they are forced to find different words to define their activities and their goals, they will find deeper, more collaborative conversations with the communities they serve. It will also help tamp down the vitriolic conversation coming from the rescue community. Rescue groups should NEVER dictate decisions surrounding citizens’ safety. Rescues have the ability to pull animals from shelters and should not complain about the volume of animals entering the shelter system, except to examine how to pull more animals and to respond with spay/neuter and education resources for communities in need.
Let’s talk about the Triangle of Needs
Maslow’s hierarchy, or triangle, of needs says that you have to have the basics before you can move onto other levels. If time, money, and resources are constraints, in the triangle of needs model, the most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom of the triangle must come first. In a municipal shelter world, animal control and safety and quality of life must come first and are the base of the triangle. This is where DAS has fallen into trouble in the past. Keeping down the euthanasia rate is not a baseline fundamental safety and quality of life need. It is a goal we should strive for, but not at the expense of the citizens’ safety and comfort. If resources will not allow DAS to reach both goals fully and successfully, the private sector must pick up the slack for the welfare needs that fall more towards the top of the triangle. We thought we all agreed on that coming out of the BCG report, but apparently not. Let’s talk about the current climate and metrics.
It’s all about CLEAR, CONCISE, MEASURABLE, SHARED, GOALS.
While we applaud DAS for the increased numbers in field intake, we want to acknowledge a few things.
First, euthanasia rates can very easily be kept artificially low by various methods. One is by keeping field intake down. With lower intake numbers, lower than the loose dog numbers demand, less dogs will be euthanized even while the shelter appears full. Less street dogs picked up, the smaller the population of shelter dogs that require euthanasia due to behavior or medical. It’s easy math, but it’s NOT success based on the mission of the shelter or the safety and quality of life of the citizens and their companion animals. This is how Jody Jones and her team were, in part, able to lower euthanasia rates at DAS. But that is a false and costly number. It is how we arrived at a loose dog crisis and Antoinette Brown’s mauling death. Let’s be very wary of cause and effect when we set our goals and our measures of success.
Second, when you combine too many sets of metrics under one category, you cannot see the big picture. If field intake is way up, to the layman, that’s good. But what we see in that picture is a little unintentional smoke and mirrors. If DAS picks your dog up on the street and gives it back to you in the field – that counts as “field intake” and “return to owner”. So, if the goal is picking up the loose, dangerous, and hard to catch dogs, those stats might look good on the surface, but the return to owner rate is telling us otherwise. The return to owner rate is spiking through the roof which means most of the dogs are being returned in the field. Those numbers are important, and they look good, but they are not solving our loose dog crisis.
Patting the department on the back for doing “better” than a neglectful substandard job might not a solution make. When numbers are 200% over last year, that sounds really good, but what is the goal? There have been no metrics set to help understand how many dogs DAS needs to pick up (and truly impound) over the next one to three years to stem the loose dog problem. Spay and neutering owned dogs is important, but citizens cannot wait around for the current loose dog population to die off as part of the solution. That is not a solution. Citizens have a right to walk safely in their neighborhoods today. These garden variety loose dogs need to be picked up.
Which leads back to the goals conversation. The number one thing the city council, and the mayor, told DAS to do was to pick up the loose dogs. This dates back to at least 2010. There is lots of documentation that shows that previous DAS management simply chose not to comply. Based on that history of dismissive, insubordinate behavior, the people have a right to be distrustful. The people want to see HOW the city is going to pick up the loose dogs. Let’s see a plan to pick up these dogs, the multitude of garden variety loose dogs.
Last year there were approximately 15,000 loose dog calls to 311. We call those garden variety loose dogs calls. These dogs are not aggressive so those calls don’t get dispatched. Those calls become statistics that helps the ACOs know where to deploy resources when they are not busy with priority calls. Eventually, the goal is to be able to get to those calls. Based on the hiring, training, and attrition issues, we would like to see a timeline of when the city thinks they will be able to start to get to those calls on a regular basis. For citizens, things are no different today than they were four years ago except that residents are now putting themselves at risk doing the job of animal control to keep their neighborhoods safe. Until that timeline is available, one might understand why a citizen would think that the goals are still lopsided. Let me explain further.
If a citizen currently calls 311 and says there is a loose dog in their yard, per policy, information is taken and the call is closed without dispatching an officer. If the next day, the dog turns aggressive and bites the citizen, the city may review the incident and decide that they did everything within policy and procedure and then return to business as usual. The citizen would feel like the city failed to protect them. The citizen was bitten and the dog would likely be euthanized. The city would feel like they followed standard procedures – they don’t dispatch for garden variety loose dogs. How is that a positive outcome for anyone? This happens everyday.
Let’s say a healthy adoptable dog gets euthanized for space at the shelter, then DAS management would feel like they failed their mission because they did not get the healthy adoptable dog out alive. Let me repeat that: per management, they would feel like they 100% failed their mission. Not only is that measure unreasonable during a loose animal crisis, it is above the 90% live release rate expected of a no-kill shelter. So the 100% live release rate of healthy, treatable pets during a crisis level loose dog issue seems to put the value of the shelter animals above the value of the humans and their companion animals. Based on current goals, the dogs in the shelter are more important than the citizen walking their child to school or walking their dog to the park.
Let’s go back to the citizen that encounters loose dogs and can’t get help. Has the city failed their mission? As long as the dog is not acting aggressively, according to the mission and metrics, at this time, DAS has not failed their mission. Let me go back to the mandate of the council and of the tax payers, quite simply, pick up the loose dogs.
What about known garden variety loose dogs that have puppies on the street? Has DAS failed them according to their goals? No-kill EU rates cannot be a priority, they must be the product, or the result, of a strong, multifaceted strategy.
Now let’s go back to the triangle of needs: animal control is the base of the triangle. If there are not enough resources to pick up the dogs and get them positive outcomes, pressure the private sector to help figure out how to get the dogs onto successful outcomes. But you can NOT neglect to pick up the dogs any longer. Let’s put some real strategies and metrics on the table. DAS is still failing the citizens of Dallas.
Let’s give DAS some clear objectives to measure
In business 101, you have your team all going in the same direction. Everyone should understand the mission and the standard operating objectives to make the place run smoothly and to reach your goal. In DAS’ case, BCG recommended a full day workshop with stakeholders to get to a mission, objectives, and metrics. Somehow, DAS and the commission skipped that step. We suggest they revisit that roadmap BCG put in front of them. We also suggest that if animal advisory commission members can’t be more productive and get onboard with the mission of the shelter, to include animal control, their city council reps should replace them.
We encourage the new city manager to follow BCG’s recommendation and guide DAS through this step with a professional coach or facilitator and work through a mission statement, a thematic goal, defining objectives, standard operating objectives, and a TRUE weekly scorecard to measure these things by. Let’s put some time and energy into field services and soon!
Just to show how a thematic goal works, we worked one up for an example for the city. We’ve shown this to a few people at the city before. Under this model, EU is still a very important measurable goal under the ongoing priorities of the standard operating objectives. Each one of these boxes has its own set of metrics and goals that are measured weekly in team meetings to make sure progress and accountability remain a priority.
Is a single, qualitative focus that is shared by the entire leadership team – and applies to a specified period of time. What is the most important thing right now? Or in other words, if we do not accomplish this, we have failed.
Temporary, qualitative components that serve to clarify exactly what is meant by the thematic goal
Standard Operating Objectives
These are straightforward metrics of areas of responsibility that must be maintained to keep the organization afloat. These are ongoing priorities
Let’s quit beating around the bush. The private sector is going to take care of outreach and the spay and neuter surge. What’s actually left in the safety and quality of life equation is picking up the loose dogs. Picking up the loose dogs is one of DAS’ core functions. Let’s expect DAS to work owning what they do for a living. DAS is the city’s animal CONTROL arm. Let’s encourage DAS to get set goals and metrics that will allow them to grow to a place where the animals are better off for their intervention and employees can take pride in every aspect of what they do.