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Dallas' proposed 2014 budget short on problem solving and saving lives

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It’s budget crunch time for the City of Dallas. The town hall meetings have come and gone and a City Council vote to accept the proposed budget could be held as early as next week. It’s almost over. Almost. Just a few weeks ago, the City Hall budget team realized there could be nearly a million dollars in additional revenue they didn’t expect. At a recent briefing, they told the City Council how they thought the million should be spent: about half to extend operating hours for the City’s recreation centers, $300,000 for new bike lanes, $100,000 for additional cultural programming, and $100,000 for spay/neuter.

What’s wrong with this picture? The high temperature tomorrow is expected to be 99 degrees. How many people do you think are actually going to ditch the air-conditioned comfort of their car and 70+ mph speed limits in favor of pedaling along the side of the road? Trails abound in our City for recreational biking, but do we really need to spend another $300,000 on bike lanes for our streets? They’re not crowded enough already?

Biking as a primary method of transportation simply isn’t feasible here, and bike lanes are not the best use of our tax dollars – not when there are real solutions available for one of Dallas’ oldest and most pressing problems – our pet problems.

Dallas Animal Services is setting new records – in adoptions and live release rates, and a new PetSmart adoption center opening next month is estimated to save an additional 2,500 animals/year. Over the last two years, Animal Services has been recognized repeatedly by City managers for their accomplishments. They didn’t do it overnight and they didn’t do it without cost, but they did it. So why was there no increase in funding for Animal Services for 2013-2014, even though continuing and expanding the programs that have led to the turnaround is critical to increasing live release rates? There wasn’t any money in the budget for it.

Nor was there any additional funding to address the growing problems in our Southern Sector neighborhoods where loose dogs, and the issues they create, are rampant. Some City Council members blame the problem on the dogs because they multiply, fight, dig through trash, and generally cause a nuisance. But if the animals are to blame, why are significant stray dog problems only an issue in certain areas? In 2012, 24 dogs were picked up by DAS’ Animal Services Officers from the 75248 zip code in North Dallas. 1,189 dog were picked up from 75217 in South Dallas.

At least one council member thinks sweeps are the answer. During sweeps, Animal Services Officers are pulled from their regular duties to concentrate on a single neighborhood, rounding up every loose dog they see (sometimes thousands over a period of weeks), and taking them to the shelter where most end up humanely euthanized because all the kennels are already full. The City has been doing sweeps for nearly a decade now and they have resulted in no measurable, long-lasting success. Sweeps are expensive, they take manpower away from critical calls like aggressive dogs and cruelty and rabies investigations, they result in the unnecessary euthanasia of hundreds of animals, and most importantly – they are only a very short-term solution – a solution that has to be repeated over and over and over, at taxpayer expense.

Dallas Animal Services’ Division Manager Jody Jones and her staff recently spent a day canvassing one Southeast Dallas neighborhood where residents had been complaining there were too many stray dogs causing problems and they wanted Animal Services deal with them. But what they found was that only about 20% of the loose dogs the Dallas Animal Services team encountered were actually strays. Most were owned animals – well fed, friendly, and healthy, but unaltered, un-vaccinated and unregistered – dogs whose owners allowed them to roam the neighborhood at will. No, this isn’t a pet problem, it’s a people problem. The sweeps are rounding up owned animals, not strays, and they are doing nothing to change minds and behaviors.

The people problem is, at least in part, a poverty problem as well. Pet owners who lose their dogs in sweeps don’t reclaim them from the shelter. The cost of fees to retrieve them, and to bring them into compliance with the law – which means spay/neuter or an intact animal permit, vaccinations, and possible fines – is too expensive for many. Many of these pet owners truly care about their pets and would like to be able to do better by them. They simply can’t afford to. They can’t afford to vaccinate or spay or neuter their pet, to fix the gate or fence to properly confine the dog, or to reclaim them once they are rounded up in a sweep. Instead they eventually end up getting a new dog from a friend or relative for free, and the cycle starts all over again.

Private organizations like Dallas Companion Animal Project, whose free spay/neuter and low-cost vaccination programs are directed specifically at residents in under-served areas, say there are many residents who want to do the right thing but can’t afford it. Data from the Pets For Life program, an HSUS model for community outreach nationwide, supports that concept as well, and community outreach programs that help change minds and behaviors by increasing availability of resources and decreasing the cost of pet care are already working in Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia. But it takes money – and not just $ 100,000. It will take more than that.

If you live, shop, or work in Dallas, you pay taxes – property taxes, sales tax, franchise fees – and you have elected officials that want to know what you want your tax money used for – and what you don’t. It’s up to you to tell them. You can call or email them. Just let them know that you’re concerned that we’ve done the same thing over and over in Dallas for decades and it’s not working. It’s time to change the way we handle our pet problems. Sweeps are costly and ineffective. Making resources affordable to a community that needs and wants them is the way to solve the problem. If we want to save lives and solve problems, we don’t build more bike lanes – we need to invest in spay/neuter and community outreach as a long term solution to the animal related issues plaguing our City.

For more information:

This map can help you identify which City Council District you live in.

You can find your Dallas City Council representative’s phone # on the City Hall website here.

You can find your Dallas City Council representative’s email address on the City Hall website here.

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