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.

Jones later confirmed there are more than 78 animals enrolled in the pet survivor program and, as Cox said, the owners are still alive. When they die, Jones she says, the animals will be housed either at the life care cottage, which she hopes will be completed sometime this summer, or on one of several ranches willed to the SPCA.

Jones won't say where those properties are located, but she says they are part of a statewide effort to get Texans to donate their property to the SPCA. Jones concedes that the program may seem a bit disorganized now, but she assures donors they have nothing to worry about.

"We've been very honest and up-front with people," Jones says. "If you leave us the home, we're gonna sell it. And the people understand that we're gonna sell the home, take the money, and care for the animal."

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.

For now, Jones says the SPCA is confident that it will have the employees in place to manage the cottage and the donated properties before any of its donors die.


Being the biggest dog on the block comes with its own set of problems, especially in the tiny world of animal-rights advocates in Dallas. In this arena, which consists of dozens of fractured groups all competing for limited dollars, the SPCA's size makes it an easy target for criticism.

In July, Cox acknowledged that the SPCA has recently experienced a high rate of turnover, and he suspects that the former employees and volunteers are squawking to reporters in the hopes of generating negative publicity about the SPCA.

"Why aren't they doing more to find homes for these animals instead of pointing a finger at the SPCA?" says Cox, whose face flushes when the subject of his critics is raised. "We need to stop this infighting. We're splitting the limited amount of resources."

Contrary to Cox's belief, the former SPCA faithful are extremely reluctant to criticize the SPCA publicly (in fact, none of the people interviewed for this story, including former volunteers, approached the newspaper with any complaints). While these critics are more than eager to lambaste Cox and the SPCA privately, they say they do not want to speak publicly for fear that their complaints will sour potential donors on all animal causes, including the SPCA.

"A lot of people are afraid if they speak out against the SPCA, the public wouldn't support it. They're afraid the money will dry up even worse and it would hurt the animals," Mary, the former volunteer, says.

Although some of the quietly expressed complaints have merit, the critics' unwillingness to step into the open diminishes their chances of effecting any real change at the SPCA. In the meantime, the Summerlee Foundation's Lambert says this festering dispute is itself the best explanation for why animal causes remain confined in the city's social doghouse.

"I have seen more backbiting and fighting in this community than I have in any other community across the United States," Lambert says. "It's very difficult to get these coalitions to work together because of the hatred they have for each other."

Especially galling to Lambert are complaints that the SPCA is too focused on fund-raising. It's true that charitable dollars are limited for animal causes, but Lambert says that very few of the local groups that are so desperate for money bother to apply for Summerlee Foundation grants they may be eligible to receive. While the SPCA's $4 million budget may look big to some, it's not very much in the bigger world of nonprofits.

For her part, Lambert can't help but see irony in the simmering feud. "The animals don't seem to have a problem," she says, "but the humans certainly do."

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