By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Overall, Suhm says, the chief goal in animal control is to staff the department so its employees can "get the animals that are on the street off the street." But finding out exactly how much the city plans to spend on that job proved difficult. Officials did not respond to repeated questions about how much Dallas budgets for animal control.
In other words, the city's newly revamped animal control unit will, for now, simply become more effective at collecting and killing unwanted animals. The department's recent improvements are certainly good news for Dallas residents, who have long complained that the city is unresponsive to their requests to corral the stray dogs roaming their neighborhoods, but Trimble says this "catch and kill" policy isn't going to solve the problem in the long run.
"You can bring the National Guard in here if you want to and try to capture cats and dogs, and you can't capture them as fast as they can reproduce. It's impossible," Trimble says. "When you get 'em, you've got to spay and neuter them."
In the meantime, nonprofit organizations will be left with the task of battling animal overpopulation, a problem animal advocates agree is solved only through sterilization programs, especially those geared at low-income residents who are the least likely to take their animals to a private veterinarian.
In its public relations material, the SPCA prides itself on being a leading provider of low-cost spay and neuter services and affordable veterinary care. There is no question that the SPCA's spay/neuter program -- which sterilized just fewer than 10,000 animals in 1998 -- has tremendous value, but the program represents less than a quarter of the agency's program-services spending, according to the SPCA's 1997 IRS records. Last year, the agency reported that it had performed 116,600 low-cost spay and neuter surgeries since it opened its first clinic in 1976.
Some SPCA critics say this is not good enough, given the SPCA's name recognition among the public and its comparatively vast resources. These critics also say the SPCA isn't as committed to serving the indigent as it claims to be.
"They get you in the door, and it's like, yeah, we'll give you this discount, and the next thing you know, they're charging you for everything," says Tawana Jurek, who with Trimble serves as a member of the city's animal-shelter advisory committee. "They make enough money and they do a lot, but they could do a lot more. For as many years as we've been here, I haven't seen a curb in our overpopulation problem [and] our overpopulation is a crisis."
Cox bristles at the suggestion that the agency isn't pulling its weight in the battle against animal overpopulation.
"If all these little groups were so involved, why should they point a finger at the SPCA?" Cox says. "There's nothing stopping any of these groups from becoming as big as the SPCA. There's nothing to stop them from opening a spay/neuter clinic."
But the SPCA isn't the only agency in Dallas that performs low-cost spay and neuter surgeries. And, contrary to Cox's statements, the SPCA has a history of attempting to ward off its competitors.
In 1994, the city of Dallas and the Animal Foundation, a Nevada-based nonprofit organization, entered into unique arrangement in which the city bought a building in Oak Cliff and rented it for free to the foundation, which in turn agreed to provide low-cost spay and neuter services.
When the proposed contract was presented to the city council, some private veterinarians and -- surprisingly -- the SPCA opposed the deal, arguing that the clinic would cut into their profits and, in the SPCA's case, that taxpayer money should be spent on local groups.
"We told [the city], if they were going to do this, why didn't you approach the SPCA?" Cox recalls. "What I didn't want was a duplication of money spent on the same effort."
But that's not exactly the way it happened, says Trimble, who led the effort to open the clinic. Back then, Trimble says, he spent months trying to persuade the SPCA and local veterinarians to open a new clinic geared exclusively at indigent residents, but received no response. "It's not like [they were] saying, 'I won't marry ya,' but when you don't bring the ring out for about 18 months, you kind of get the hint that maybe this guy ain't gonna marry ya," Trimble says.
Invariably, these types of low-cost clinics are lucky if they break even, so many organizations are reluctant to get involved. Trimble says that in response to the opposition to the clinic, the city took the extra step of granting the vets and the SPCA 90 days to match the Animal Foundation's prices before the contract went into effect. "I would have rather had a local organization do it, but it didn't work out that way," Trimble says. "Things are going fine now."
Last year, financial problems prompted the Animal Foundation to pull out of the clinic, but in October, the New York-based Fund for Animals took its place. With an annual budget of $763,000, the clinic is already making a dent in the area's need for low-cost sterilizations.