Caged and confused

While critics howl, the SPCA of Texas dreams of opening a rural animal utopia. Meanwhile, Dallas kills hundreds of pets every day.

Located just off of Interstate 35W on Village Fair drive in Oak Cliff, the clinic performs between 30 and 40 surgeries a day, a figure that is expected to increase to 100 once it is fully staffed. The clinic provides free surgeries to all Dallas residents receiving government assistance. For everyone else, the fund charges $15 for male cats, $25 for female cats and male dogs, and $30 for female dogs. In addition, the clinic runs monthly specials. In July, for example, customers could sterilize two cats for the price of one.

Although the SPCA's spay and neuter fees are similar (though Cox says he is contemplating increasing them because of a lack of donations), the agency can't match the free services the fund offers. Where the SPCA provided reduced-cost surgeries to 1,247 people receiving government services in 1998, the fund nearly doubled that amount in its first nine months of operation. If the fund can overcome its operating losses and expand as it plans to, it could match the number of surgeries the SPCA clinics have performed in their 20-year history within the next five years.

"We're the best-kept secret in Dallas," says Joanne Jackson, the clinic's manager. The fund, which operates successful clinics in Houston and San Antonio, is trying to generate publicity about its new clinic, but Jackson says the task is turning out to be a challenge.

SPCA of Texas Executive Director Warren Cox is fending off critics, while his dream of building an animal shelter in Collin County is slowly slipping away.
SPCA of Texas Executive Director Warren Cox is fending off critics, while his dream of building an animal shelter in Collin County is slowly slipping away.
Evidence is growing that the SPCA is troubled by mismanagement. Earlier this year, one dog was stolen while another was sexually abused inside the agency's downtown shelter.
Evidence is growing that the SPCA is troubled by mismanagement. Earlier this year, one dog was stolen while another was sexually abused inside the agency's downtown shelter.

"We've struggled to get any coverage in the newspapers," says Jackson, who in the process has observed that the SPCA is "well established" with the local media. "We find every time we try to do some media stuff, the SPCA is in the picture."

Indeed, the one thing the SPCA does better than any other similar local agency is promote itself. Last year, the SPCA managed to get its name mentioned on 441 television broadcasts and in 279 newspaper articles, helping the SPCA maintain its reputation in the general public as the region's biggest and best-known animal lover.


But even frequent publicity has not allowed the SPCA to make its dream of a Collin County campus a reality.

The would-be campus lies on 29 acres at the intersection of Farm Road 720 and Custer Road in Collin County, just north of a sea of new residential development. There is nothing to indicate the future home of the Russell H. Perry Animal Care & Education Campus, save a tiny sign posted at the northern edge of the increasingly valuable farmland. (Since the SPCA acquired the land, its appraised value has risen from $350,000 in 1997 to just under $1 million today, according to county records.) For now, the SPCA would like its potential donors to believe that work on the campus is continuing at a feverish pace.

"To date the land has been cleared, nature trails are being designed, appropriate fencing has been installed, and 75...trees have been planted," states one update published in the SPCA's 1998 annual report. "A paddock area is finished and a barn is under construction."

The report, which asked readers for donations to the project, also promised that the Dealey Life Care Cottage for surviving pets would open in the spring of '99. The SPCA's calculations were off by months.

On a recent July afternoon, two workers were painting the cottage's exterior brick walls white. The "cottage" is an old, one-story brick house, and its interior was still in need of basic improvements, including plumbing. Contrary to the information published in the annual report, the house is the only building on the property. Several large piles of wood chips suggest that some trees were cleared, and a fence ran along the back of the property, but no barn was under construction, and the land appeared to be otherwise untouched.

During an interview last month, Cox quietly conceded that he had recently decided to temporarily halt the campus fund-raising campaign because his two-year effort netted less than half of $4 million originally estimated for the project's completion. Cox's comments evidently mark the first time he has publicly admitted that the project has come to a standstill.

"We put the campaign on hold. We've made a lot of progress, but it's not exactly what we wanted," Cox says with a sigh. Clearly the decision wasn't easy, and it is one he would rather the public didn't know much about -- except to the extent that he believes their lack of charity is the biggest explanation for the project's failure.

"The only thing that has hindered us is monetary support," he says. "We overestimated what we thought we could bring in in contributions, and it just didn't come in. I'm kind of glad we didn't raise all of the money for the barn, because if we had the barn up there, I'm not sure we would have had the money to maintain it."

Lisa Jones, the SPCA's director of development and marketing, says a number of factors have contributed to the project's indefinite delay; chief among them is the targeted donors' inability to grasp the concept behind the campus. Besides reinventing the skid-row image of its downtown shelter, Jones says, the SPCA wanted to build so far north because it was hoping to head off the human and, therefore, animal growth occurring there.

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