Dallas Animal Services Has a $5k Dog Costume and Too Few Employees

At the Dallas Animal Services' shelter, dogs wait to be adopted.EXPAND
At the Dallas Animal Services' shelter, dogs wait to be adopted.
Amy Silverstein

Dallas Animal Services, the city's animal control agency, is under-funded, its managers and supporters say, and has just over 100 full-time people on staff. Among people who follow such things, the general impression is that 101 people actually work full time for DAS, since the city gave the agency a budget of $8.8 million with the understanding that DAS would employ the equivalent of 101.5  full-time workers. A Facebook page created to support the agency, Heart DAS, recently posted: "Dallas Police (DPD) has a whopping 43 times more full-time employees than DAS at 4,305. DAS has 101 full-time employees. #JustTheFacts." A recent   Dallas Morning News feature about stray dogs puts the number of full-time employees even higher: "There are 103 full-time jobs and a 50-person day labor force," the News reported. "If the next year’s budget is approved, DAS managers plan to hire 15 new employees..."

Well, maybe. What the agency plans to do and what it actually does don't necessarily match up, a Dallas City Council member says and city budget documents suggest. The 2014-15 fiscal year is coming to an end, and a budget review shows Dallas Animal Services employed what amounts to just 83 full-time employees on average during the year. Granted, workers come and go, but the agency's average still falls nearly 20 workers short of the number budgeted for "full-time equivalents," or FTEs. Despite that, Animal Services spent slightly over its budget, most of which comes from the city's general fund. 

"Staffing — yes DAS still has 101 positions — nothing has changed. Not sure where you are getting the 83?" DAS director Jody Jones wrote to the Observer in an email when we asked about the discrepancy.

After being shown the budget sheet in an interview, Jones and DAS' director of operations Catherine McManus described the number of full-time people they employ as a moving target that is difficult to pinpoint. "At anytime you're going to be bringing people into your employment and discharging people from your employment during that fiscal year, and during that time that number moves throughout the year," Jones said. 

Neither Jones nor McManus thought it was dishonest to repeat the 101 figure to the public, because they said they are careful to differentiate between the jobs budgeted vs. the actual number of employees. "When you say dishonest, you're premising that you would be intentionally trying to deceive somebody, and I think that would be a very false statement," Jones said. 

"We don't say we have 101 employees. We are budgeted for 101 employees," McManus added.

But this isn't the first year that DAS' "FTE" number missed that moving target by a long shot while the agency went over budget, City Council member Scott Griggs says. "The same thing happened last year, and they said they were going to get it taken care of,"  Griggs says. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, DAS was budgeted for 91 full-time employees and employed the equivalent of just 73.

DAS has not undergone a revenue audit since 2005, according to the city auditor's office. In addition to explaining the hiring discrepancy, a financial audit may also be useful in explaining other decisions. Through a public records request, Oak Cliff-based animal rescuer Tawana Couch discovered Dallas Animal Services spent $5,400 on a dog mascot suit in 2013. 

Jones and McCanus said the costume was a surprise that the code department (which DAS falls under) introduced at one of the Animal Commission meetings. "The code department and the city were making a concerted effort to have mascots for the departments, so as I said, the director surprised us with a Rudy mascot costume at one of the commission meetings," McManus said. 

"I'm not familiar with what the city's strategic plan was with that," Jones said, adding that the costume was "not necessarily something that I would have spent money on at that particular time. But then again, I think it was a really nice gesture for them to include us in something the city was working on."

Kris Sweckard, the Code Compliance director, says the costume was purchased by his department before he joined. "It's at community events like the national night out," he said. 

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