Study compares “live release,” bites, spay/neuter
DALLAS, Texas––De-emphasizing impoundments of dogs running at large has helped to double the Dallas, Texas animal shelter “live release rate,” but the 4% annual reduction in dogs impounded has come at cost of a 15%-per-year increase in reported bites.
The bites, including a recent human death inflicted by pit bulls repeatedly running at large, have mostly afflicted black and Latino lower-income neighborhoods on the south side of Dallas.
Findings have global import
These and other findings from an investigation of Dallas Animal Services done by the Boston Consulting Group, a leading research-and-advice contractor serving U.S. municipal governments, have meaning for animal care and control agencies worldwide.
The Dallas report is perhaps the first thorough, systematic look by an uninvolved party in any U.S. city at how free-roaming dog populations, dog impound rates, spay/neuter rates, “live release rates,” and animal control strategies influence public safety.
8,700 dogs at large in south Dallas
Doing four days of early-morning line transects that covered 176 linear miles of southern Dallas, the Boston Consulting Group team found and photographed 135 free-roaming dogs.
Projecting the data to the whole of southern Dallas indicates that there may be as many as 8,700 dogs at large in that area, accounting for about 60% of all the reported bites in the city.
Only one dog found in north Dallas
The same Boston Consulting Group team, using the same line transect method, “found so few dogs in northern Dallas,” the much more affluent and mostly Caucasian side of the city, “that they could not accurately predict how many wander the streets there,” summarized Dallas News breaking news enterprise reporter Sarah Mervosh.
“They found just one dog in the 59 linear miles of northern Dallas covered by the same census,” continued Mervosh.
How much s/n to fix the problem?
The Boston Consulting Group estimated that eliminating the free-roaming dog population of south Dallas will require doing about 46,000 low-cost spay/neuter surgeries per year every year for three years.
“Peter Brodsky, who is head of the Dallas Animal Commission and who raised the money to hire Boston Consulting Group, lauded the company for providing crucial data that did not previously exist,” wrote Mervosh.
Perhaps the most important finding by the Boston Consulting Group, Mervosh indicated, is that “In the north, 80% of dogs are spayed or neutered, compared with 15% in the south.”
Only three vets in south Dallas
This is in part because there are just three veterinarians in all of southern Dallas, Brodsky told Mervosh.
“Brodsky said this is the first time the city has had a specific target for the number of surgeries needed to make a dent in the loose-dog problem,” Mervosh reported. He plans to help raise money to fund the effort.”
Dallas already “does a free spay-and-neuter program in hot spot ZIP codes,” Dallas News city hall blogger Tristan Hallman mentioned in May 2016, “but experts say that’s not enough.”
Would cost $1 million a year
Hallman offered a projection that Dallas could increase the dog spay/neuter rate to the needed level by reaching “an annual threshold of five to 10 spay-and-neuter surgeries for low-income pet owners for every 1,000 residents. Dallas could do that for about $1 million a year,” Hallman said.
This “would increase Dallas Animal Services’ budget by more than 9% in a city that’s trying to find areas to cut,” Hallman wrote. But Dallas SPCA president James Bias told Hallman that, “His organization could absorb doing the surgeries if the city provided the funding.”
Trying to increase the volume of low-cost dog and cat sterilizations done in Dallas has been a perennial goal of local humane organizations. The Fund for Animals and organizations called SNAP and SNIP, among others, have operated low-cost sterilization clinics in Dallas for several years each during the past three decades, but have mostly served the north side of the city.
Lost PetSmart funding
Dallas animal control director Jody Jones in October 2015 told Elizabeth Findell of the Dallas News that “A spay/neuter program called ‘Big Fix for Big D’ achieved some success. But it was halted,” Findell wrote, “when PetSmart, its biggest donor, pulled its financial support because,” according to Jones, “the city couldn’t produce sufficient data to show that the program was working.”
The Boston Consulting Group report, presented to the Dallas City Council in early August 2016, follows frequent and thorough repudiations of Jones’ animal control philosophy by the Dallas News editorial board.
Previous animal control chief was indicted for cruelty
Jones arrived at Dallas Animal Services in 2011, Dallas News staff writers Scott Farwell and Gromer Jeffers recounted in August 2015.
“The shelter’s low point in public opinion came in May 2010,” Farwell and Jeffers recalled, “when a manager allowed a cat trapped in a wall to starve to death.”
The manager, Tyrone McGill, 61, “was indicted on felony animal cruelty charges,” Farwell and Gromer continued, “but a jury later found him not guilty. McGill still works for the city as a manager in the Code Compliance Department. He makes $83,479, according to online public records.”
Recruited from Richmond, Virginia
Jones was recruited from the animal care and control department in Richmond, Virginia, with a specific mandate to increase the Dallas Animal Services “live release rate.”
Nothing much was said, or at least reported at the time, about maintaining public safety.
The Richmond shelters, led by Robin Starr, heading the Richmond SPCA since 1997, have been longtime national leaders in reducing the community rate of shelter killing. This was achieved primarily by the Richmond SPCA returning the animal control housing contract to the city of Richmond in 1999, so that the SPCA could emphasize spay/neuter and adoption efforts, and encouraging neuter/return feral cat population control.
Richmond success was pre-pit bull surge
Richmond has not had an outsized free-roaming dog problem at any point during Starr’s tenure, however.
All Richmond animal shelters combined impounded barely 2,500 dogs running at large in 2004 and barely 1,500 in 2015, compared to current Dallas dog intake of circa 13,000 per year.
Further, the Richmond success was accomplished almost entirely before the nationwide pit bull population explosion––and explosion in numbers of pit bull attacks––following the April 2007 arrest of football player Michael Vick on dogfighting charges in Surrey County, Virginia.
“Thinking began to shift”
Wrote Farwell and Jeffers, under Jones, “The thinking in animal control began to shift. Instead of capturing dogs en masse and being punitive with pet owners by issuing tickets or seizing mistreated dogs, advocates decided to try a softer approach. Building trust and getting to know people in poor communities, they reasoned, would provide fertile soil to plant ideas about responsible pet ownership and animal welfare laws. And if people couldn’t afford to buy a doghouse, repair a hole in their fence, or to spay and neuter their animals, they would be guided toward nonprofits and other groups that could help.
“In time, animal advocates believed, there would be fewer dogs on the street or tethered in yards.”
Same problem in Dayton
Beginning a few years earlier, Montgomery County Animal Services director Mark Kumpf imported the same philosophy from Virginia to Dayton, Ohio.
The fatal flaw in Kumpf’s reasoning, and that of Jones, was that while the “soft” approach recognized that most problems associated with dogs running at large and attacking people and other animals occur in lower income neighborhoods, most of the victims are in the same neighborhoods, and are not protected or served in any manner by allowing dogs to continue to run at large while animal control officers try to educate the owners.
Pit bulls amplify risk
The risks are amplified more than tenfold above the risks associated with the average dog running at large when the dogs running loose are pit bulls.
Emulating the Richmond example, Jones doubled the Dallas “live release rate” from circa 30% to about 60%, but at catastrophic cost.
45% more officers but 20% fewer impounds
“While the dog population swells,” the Dallas News summarized of the Boston Consulting Group findings, “Dallas Animal Services is taking fewer dogs off the streets. Even though Dallas has 45% more animal control officers per capita than peer cities, those officers take in 20% fewer animals. It’s possible that DAS’s emphasis on citing and educating owners, rather than confiscating dogs, contributes to this.”
Housing about 650 animals at a time, responding to about 250 calls per day, the Dallas Animal Services budget has increased since 2006 from $4.4 million to $8.6 million.
The staff includes 103 full-time positions plus 50 day laborers, but has significant turnover, with reportedly more than a dozen positions at a time unfilled in recent years.
“Time for Jody Jones to go”
In advance of the release of the Boston Consulting Group report, the Dallas News had already editorialized, on May 17, 2016, that “It’s time for Dallas Animal Services chief Jody Jones to go. She has consistently shortchanged taxpayers,” the Dallas News charged, “especially those suffering due to the loose dog chaos in southern Dallas. Most recently,” after three loose pit bulls fatally mauled South Dallas resident Antoinette Brown, 52, on May 2, 2016, “this newspaper talked to dozens of other residents who lived to tell of their own chilling encounters with loose and stray animals.”
Dallas Animal Services had 12 times in two years visited the home where the pit bulls who killed Brown lived, issuing warning after warning to the owner and at least temporarily impounding 10 dogs. But that accomplished little. After Brown’s death, Dallas Animal Services impounded seven dogs at the scene and issued 16 citations to the dogs’ owner, who was not named.
Dallas Animal Services also arrested at least 40 other people on some 160 animal-related warrants, reported David Warren of Associated Press.
“Heartless & wrong-headed”
But the Dallas News was not impressed.
“Since the deadly May 2 attack,” the Dallas News said, “communication from Jones and Dallas Animal Services has been heartless and wrongheaded. Jones indicated that despite Antoinette Brown’s death, she believes her strategy for loose dogs is on the right path and no changes are necessary.”
Said Jones, “I hate to say it, but people die in traffic fatalities every day. I wish we could be everywhere to everyone, but that just isn’t reality.”
“Exclusion of common sense”
Charged the Dallas News, “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. 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,” the Dallas News editorial board continued. “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.”
“Education alone is not helping”
Agreed Dallas News columnist Sharon Grigsby, “Counting on education alone is not helping those many street dogs — or the residents of the communities the street dogs inhabit. Yes, ‘putting dogs down’ to control their numbers is awful,” Grigsby said, describing how she herself felt haunted by the eyes of a dog she saw being euthanized at Dallas Animal Services.
“But the fact is,” Grigsby concluded, “more dogs will have to be euthanized if we are to bring this problem under control. We can’t think we are succeeding just because our Dallas Animal Services ‘live release rates’ are low. We will be succeeding when we don’t have an abandoned dog crisis.”
Predicted op-ed columnist Deborah Rodriguez, “It is just a matter of time before we have another Antoinette Brown. What do Dallas residents want? A dystopia where we have 70%, 80% , 90% live-release rates and more people dying like Brown? Or a city where we take a more holistic approach to our animal issues so that children can safely walk to school?”
Dallas needs “empowered department head”
The Boston Consulting Group recommended that Dallas Animal Services should become a free-standing agency, “with an empowered department head who would earn more and have greater accountability,” the Dallas News summarized. “Currently, Dallas Animal Services is housed within Code Compliance.”
The Boston Consulting Group further recommended that Dallas Animal Services could keep a high “live release rate” if it could “Partner with a major nonprofit rescue organization to help free kennel space and expand budget. DAS works with many smaller organizations,” the Dallas News noted, “but has no formal partnership with a big-time nonprofit, such as the SPCA of Texas.
Dallas rescues pull 2%
The top three rescue organizations in Dallas currently pull just 2% of their animals from Dallas Animal Services, turning instead to other cities when looking for animals to save.”
But that recommendation is naïve. Observed Jack Douglas of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as far back as October 2007, “Up to 75 percent of the 25,000 dogs impounded each year by Dallas Animal Services are pit bulls or pit bull mixes, many bearing fight scars,” according to then-operations manager Paul Curington.
Inasmuch as only 4.9% of the dogs acquired by people buying or adopting a dog in 2016 will be pit bulls, the adoption prospects for most of the pit bulls impounded by Dallas Animal Services would be slim for any organization trying to accomplish responsible placements.