The number of dog bites and euthanasia in shelters is increasing in Dallas, but here’s the rest of the story

Dallas Animal Services Director MeLissa Webber, promoted to the top job 10 months ago, has a difficult and uncertain task ahead of her.

It seems like only yesterday our city’s shelter operation was the most successful in the country, as it effectively combated the off-leash dog crisis while closing in on the coveted 90% release rate. live that gives it “no-kill” status.

But emerging from the pandemic, Dallas Animal Services has been overwhelmed with new challenges to both its rescue and public safety goals. Now the bad numbers – euthanasia and dog bites – are rising.

It’s a precarious time at the shelter, and these next six months will reveal much about Webber’s leadership, especially his ability to rebuild key parts of the operation that failed during COVID and its aftermath.

The coming weeks will also say a lot about the rest of us – because without Dallas residents resuming our strong support at the shelter, it’s a no-win fight.

If you want to see fewer dogs and cats euthanized, here’s how you can help: Adopt a pet. Adopt one. Volunteer at the shelter. Support a local rescue with time and money.

Most importantly, spread the word: Dallas Animal Services is a great place to get an awesome pet and they need our help now more than ever.

No matter how many times I’ve been inside the shelter – walking as I did on Wednesday beside those hundreds of kennels full of dogs begging to be brought home – I’m overwhelmed by the number of unwanted animals that end up here.

I also never fail to marvel at the members of staff who work so hard to care for every dog ​​and cat – and who persevere in their ‘can do’ attitude even as the animal welfare situation s nationwide.

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Dogs play outside during a behavioral assessment session at Dallas Animal Services on Wednesday.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

The Utah-based nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society calls it a crisis: Shelters across the United States with no space for the growing number of dogs and cats in their care and facing unprecedented challenges finding them homes.

Dallas Animal Services has been hit by the nationwide staffing shortage and lack of interest in medium and large dogs, many of whom previously found safe havens through transportation to areas where adoptable pets were scarce.

While the puppies and fluffy little dogs at the Dallas shelter are adopted as soon as they enter a kennel, the larger dogs — available in all shapes, colors, and personality types — sit and wait.

Too often, no potential adopter ever says yes to them.

Dallas’ live release rate is still a respectable 80%, meaning the shelter rescued nearly 17,000 dogs and cats in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

But this is almost 10% less than when the “Be Dallas 90” non-elimination campaign firing at full speed, both inside and outside the shelter.

With distemper having taken a heavy toll on operations earlier this year, with rescue partners unable to remove as many dogs and fewer people interested in fostering, more dogs and cats had to be euthanized.

In the field, employee shortages led to public safety outages. By one point in August, a roster that should have numbered more than 30 was down to just eight.

A litter of kittens at the Dallas Animal Services nursery on Wednesday.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

Admission to the field of loose dogs for exercise was 7,900, the lowest number in five years. For comparison, the city welcomed 20,300 dogs in 2019.

Dog bites are at the highest level the city has seen in five years, with 805 incidents in fiscal year 2022. In recent years, that stat had never topped 620.

Webber expects a big improvement in the numbers on the pitch after shuffling through a maze of pay and reorganization issues. The previous City Hall structure, put in place during the pandemic, had made Dallas Animal Services jobs less competitive with others in the municipal ranks.

The department is close to filling its last openings in the field and correcting other wage disparities.

Webber emphasized during our interview that the department is unwavering in its commitment to saving lives and ensuring public safety.

While the number of rescues and foster families has plummeted this year, she noted that adoptions increased 17% when the shelter reopened.

“We want to be a valued partner and asset to the City of Dallas,” she said. “We need everyone to be part of it.”

A dog available for adoption, named Brian by staff, during mealtime at Dallas Animal...
A dog available for adoption, named Brian by staff, during mealtime at Dallas Animal Services on Wednesday.
(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

Former director Ed Jamison hired Webber from Los Angeles Animal Services, one of the few shelters in the country to host more than Dallas, as No. 2 in February 2020. Prior to her time in Los Angeles, she had worked in animal welfare. At New York.

When Jamison left to become CEO of the Carrollton-based nonprofit Operation Kindness in March 2021, Webber became acting Dallas manager and was officially named boss in January.

Even the hint of backsliding at Dallas Animal Services sets off alarm bells for those of us familiar with its many past failures. My reporting on the department dates back to 2014 when I began documenting the problem of loose and dangerous dogs in the southern part of the city.

It wasn’t until South Dallas resident Antoinette Brown was fatally mutilated by a pack of dogs in May 2016 that City Hall finally stopped dragging its feet on overhauling the department.

These changes eventually led to the hiring of Jamison and the department’s first long string of hits on behalf of the four-legged and two-legged Dallas residents.

When Jamison left I wrote that it would be naive for any of us to assume that everything would be fine at Dallas Animal Services without him at the helm. Even he acknowledged that the work of the shelter was far from over.

“We’ve been able to start to get into our stride, but there’s still a long way to go,” he said at the time.

Webber must now build his own team and relaunch the “Be Dallas 90” crusade, which references both the DAS goal of a 90% live stream rate and his desire for everyone in Dallas to participate. to animal welfare efforts.

Jazzy looks through her kennel in one of the adoption aisles as another dog is fed Wednesday...
Jazzy looks through her kennel in one of the adoption aisles as another dog is fed Wednesday at Dallas Animal Services.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

She’s smart about animal welfare details and, judging by our conversation, has a million strategies and initiatives going through her head.

My suggestion is that she didn’t spread too thin or the department didn’t spread too thin.

The post-pandemic animal welfare world is uncharted territory, especially when it comes to figuring out how to get different stakeholders to re-engage.

If I were running Dallas Animal Services, I would focus all of my energy on what’s most important: providing top-notch customer service at the shelter, answering priority calls from dogs on the loose, and reconnecting with rescue groups.

I would focus on leading the team to do A+ work on those elements and let the others go – at least for now – rather than doing “barely passing” work on all of it.

Being the best boss is quite an adjustment from #2. Working for Jamison, Webber was instrumental in getting much of the work done while delivering the messages that inspired both the staff and the audience.

The new director has a lot to prove. What she has going for her is the will to speak out when she’s wrong and to speak the truth relentlessly, even if it means talking about her own mistakes.

While Webber figures things out, the rest of us need to do our part. No matter who the director of Dallas Animal Services is, nothing will change for the better unless the whole community is on board.

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