Why DAS should check their mission statement, again.
We’re going to take the long way around to the moral of this story, so stick with us. This morning started with a text from a friend. She spotted a loose dog at Tom Thumb, but it was skittish and she didn’t have time to catch it. Someone else had just spotted it, so she texted me. It had crossed a SIX lane road in rush hour traffic and was now close to my house. She asked me to go “see what I could do”…oh that’s always how it always starts.
Let me asterisk this situation by saying this loose dog is the very type of dog the city will NOT come get. Yes, we still have a city that will NOT COME GET LOOSE DOGS. If you put in a call to 311 and request an Animal Services Officer (ASO) come out, this dog is a garden variety loose dog, no ASO will be dispatched, even though the dog has most likely just crossed a 6 lane road in a SCHOOL ZONE. The dog is not “endangering” anyone in that moment, so they will not come.
Back to the loose dog. Two citizens assessed the dog and decide that a trap was needed. One of the citizens called a third citizen to transport the trap to the location. Blah, blah, blah, purchased a roast chicken, the citizen trapped the dog and transported the dog to DAS. This is where is get surreal. Now remember, several citizens worked together to do the CITY’s JOB by catching this un-spayed dog and transporting the dog to the shelter. Again, taking time from their days to do the city’s job. Don’t forget, in these modern times, in addition to these citizens, an entire neighborhood was watching and helping via social media, so outcomes matter.
Before we get to what happened at the shelter, let’s flash back to the spring of 2015. We were involved in a meeting with the Director of Code Compliance, Kris Sweckard, and Assistant City Manager, Joey Zapata and Mr. Sweckard was asked about intake procedures at DAS. There was much discussion about whether or not DAS REQUIRED citizens to provide their ID, if DAS was REQUIRED to take a picture of the ID, and if there were any written protocols at all. Mr. Sweckard was adamant that DAS was to check the ID only and was very surprised to hear that employees were photographing driver licenses. He told the meeting attendees there was NO intake SOP (standard operating procedure) at that time and that an intake SOP would be would be written. There was much discussion about if the requirement to photograph resident’s drivers licenses might act as a deterrent to people surrendering dogs. Zapata and Sweckard were against photographing licenses as they agreed that it might be a deterrent. Despite the promise for the new SOP to be written and shared with the group when it was ready, we never saw the completed and approved SOP.
In November 2015, as part of the intake procedure, DAS implemented a “Found Pet Release Form”. Citizens were to sign this form when they turned in strays. Many citizens voiced concern that the document was confusing, asked irrelevant questions, and the form was permission to euthanize in a misleading manner. Some citizens refused to sign the form. I personally have been turning in stray dogs and declining to sign the form since the implementation of the form. Let me also place an asterisk here, this is very important, when I do the city’s job and catch a dog in the field, in a trap, and DAS comes out and picks the dog up, no one gives me a form to sign. Whether they pick it up or I drop it off – it’s the same stray dog, why the different process?
So today, I trapped a dog, transported it, and turn it in to the DAS lost and found – all for free. City of Dallas, you’re welcome. DAS then insisted I sign the form, and I declined, as I always do. This particular time, no familiar faces were at the front desk and so the issue escalated. Let me pause here and say that DAS has my name, address, picture of my driver’ license, and phone number on file. They do NOT need my permission or consent to euthanize a stray dog, state law and city ordinances dictate when, where, and how they can do that. If I want to be contacted about the dog, I have them put notes directly in the dog’s file, which is the place someone would look before euthanizing the dog.
Back to the form, I declined to sign the form and gave the intake desk person the option to call Major Hobbs or Ann Barnes to the front desk to discuss. Neither were available, so she called a supervisor, first name, Cissy. Keep in mind that the entire time this conversation was going on, none of the employees actually walked over to each other, or to me, for a spatially appropriate conversation. They were shouting back and forth across the shelter. You know – the shelter, where scared animals are waiting for what is next. So the conversation looked something like this.
Employee, shouting across the room, “Cissy, she won’t sign the form”
Supervisor Cissy, shouting “Then she can’t leave the dog”
Employee, “If you don’t sign, you can’t leave the dog”
Citizen (that’s me), “I’m not signing the form.”
Employee, “Then you can’t leave the dog”
Rinse repeat – rinse repeat
Realizing the conversation wasn’t going anywhere, I walked over to the very patient and kind DAS employee who was holding the dog. He had been slow, quiet, and wonderful with her. I told him how much I appreciated him and how quiet and slow he had been with the dog, and then I smiled at him softly and said, I’m not signing the form, and I’m not taking the dog, thank you for your help today.”
Then I picked up my large dog kennel and started backing out the front door. (no one would get the door for me) And as I was backing out of the door, I could hear supervisor Cissy directing the poor kind intake worker, again, to give me the dog back. Then she waived at him indicating he should follow me out. I could hear her shouting at him to get outside and give me the dog back.
He came out carrying the poor scared dog and again I told him that I was sorry, but he could call the police, he could say the dog was abandoned, he could let the dog go in the parking lot, but I was not going to take the dog back. They were a municipal shelter and their job was to take strays and he couldn’t make me take the dog back.
Eventually, supervisor Cissy called him back into the building. I’m pretty sure she changed her mind about things when she over heard me telling him to call the police. But how ridiculous! How RIDICULOUS!
Now, let’s pretend you are worried about ICE, or your legal status (I have seen DAS threaten to call the police over a family’s grandparents lack of papers), or you don’t want your private information accidentally published on the national PetHarbor portal (this happens more than you think)
There is no city law or ordinance that says you have to sign that document to turn over a dog to the shelter. What on God’s green earth would make a shelter supervisor, who should know better, turn away a citizen who has brought in a stray. Dallas, by the way, encase you havent’ heard, has a crisis level stray issue!
The moral of this story: DAS should create a culture where people feel safe and appreciated for helping solve the city’s crisis level loose dog problem and for helping care for the city’s lost and stray animals.
There is not ONE question on that form that matters for a citizens to legally turn that stray dog over to the shelter. I am not afraid of going to jail over “abandoning” a dog at DAS, come and get me. I am not in jeopardy of being deported, or having my parole revoked, or whatever else other people might worry about when dealing with authority, but that’s not the point. The point is, no one should have to consider any of those things when turning in a dog at DAS. The shelter should be a safe, courteous, place. When it’s not, people dump dogs. Let’s say that again, when DAS is not a safe place to take and surrender dogs, people dump dogs.
Despite a few friendly, knowledgeable faces, the intake side of DAS is generally NOT a welcoming or helpful place. Seeing dog after dog after cat after dog come in through the doors is disheartening for everyone, but allowing DAS to be rude, unhelpful, obstructionist, and to make citizens feels unsafe is NOT the answer to solving dog dumping and dog overpopulation. Get it together Dallas. Intaking dogs at an open admissions municipal shelter is not rocket science. Citizens expect better than to be chased out into the parking lot by employees trying to give them back a stray dog.
I am for DAS, I am a huge fan of Major Hobbs, so far, I’m am even a fan of new city manager T.C. Broadnax, but yesterday, oh yesterday, after giving up my day to catching, transporting, and turning in a stray dog, even I wanted to tell DAS to go f$%K themselves. They treat collaborative citizens like dirty criminals. Yesterday was nothing new or different, but that’s an entirely different blog post. Remembering that despite it all, I am for DAS and their success, imagine how the average person feels when they have to deal with them. It’s heartbreaking. The city must do better for the people, for the animals, and for our communities.
Of course, we will be bringing this issue to Major Hobbs’ attention and we will be cc-ing the new city manager. We will share the response.
Mr. Mayor, when you are serious about solving the city’s animal issues, give us a call.
We wrote this post yesterday and did not distribute it except to email it to Major Hobbs and to cc city manger, T.C. Broadnax this morning. Major Hobbs immediately responded to the email and said that she would look into the matter. By the end of the day, she had indeed responded and let us know that DAS employees have been instructed to request that citizens fill out the form, but that the form is not required if a citizen wants to turn in an animal at the lost and found intake desk; citizens have the option to decline filling out the form. Major Hobbs was thankful for the information about the incident and appreciative of the opportunity to get her staff on the same page and in alignment with the direction DAS is moving towards. She added she would be taking steps to make sure the employees all had the information and understood the policy moving forward. Wow.
Let us stop right here and talk about what a tectonic shift Major Hobbs’ response is from previous DAS leadership and management. Even, might I say, from Major Hobbs’ predecessor, Deputy Chief Sherwin. First, she responded. Don’t laugh, we’re serious. Second, she took it seriously, got both sides of the story, and then addressed the concerns. We can not applaud and embrace her leadership enough.
DAS is still a hot mess and has a LONG, tough road ahead to become a functional department. I am sure there will be many more frustrating days “collaborating” on loose dogs, but with support for Major Hobbs and her transparent, accountability driven leadership style, the city just might get out of the crack they’re in. She might actually be the driving force that gets DAS the long needed bible of standard operating procedures and the training manual to keep the place on track, consistent, and inline with shelter law and city ordinances. We hope the city works extra hard to make sure she doesn’t retire in April.
We hope to start to see days where we just can turn in a stray dog and it’s a normal, uneventful experience. No drama, no inconsistencies, no obstructionists, no mistaken euthanasias, no problems. We know that will take time, but in the meantime, we’re really glad to see that the door at DAS is FINALLY open to real word feedback from tax paying citizens who are ultimately the users of the shelter and animal control system. Thank you Major Hobbs and welcome aboard Mr. Broadnax. I hope and pray the honeymoon lasts, ‘cause the next time a shelter worker chases me out into the parking lot trying to give me back a stray dog, it’s going to get all Jerry Springer up in that parking lot, and trust me, none of us want to see that!