City Hall

First Thing, After Death of Antoinette Brown, Fire the Top Dog Catcher

Oh no you don’t, City Hall. Don’t think for a minute that the May 2 dog mauling and death of Antoinette Brown is somehow going to die down or fade away and then you’ll be cool.

This woman, this citizen, this human being was ripped apart by dogs while neighbors, huddled in their houses, heard her screams but were afraid to go outside to her rescue. That does not fade away.

And what on earth do you mean, you can’t decide whether to fire Jody Jones, the city’s head dog-catcher? Why not start by giving us a full briefing on why you haven’t already fired her?

Stubbornly married to a policy that was a wrong-headed and disastrous failure and in the face of the Brown's death, Jones told an interviewer: “I hate to say it, but people die in traffic fatalities every day. I wish we could be everywhere to everyone, but that just isn’t reality.”

No one ever asked Jones to be everywhere to everyone. Her job was to be there — right there — for Antoinette Brown. She failed. That’s enough. For the city’s top dog-catcher, a dog mauling death should be one strike and she’s out.

Since taking over Dallas Animal Services in 2011, Jones has pursued a strategy that clearly placed the welfare of dogs above the welfare of human beings. Her great brag has been that adoptions of orphaned animals have skyrocketed under her leadership, from 2,816 in 2010 to 8,438 last year, as the Observer's Eric Nicholson reported a month ago.
Meanwhile the number of animals put to death fell from 21,763 to 11,354 in the same period.

But the increase in adoptions and decrease in killings was accomplished in significant part by a de-emphasis on dog-catching. The catching of stray animals by Dallas Animal Services fell by 25 percent between 2008 and 2015.

Meanwhile, the failure of the city to clear neighborhoods of savage stray dogs has been a factor in the day-to-day lives of the human beings who live in those neighborhoods. On the street where Brown was pulled apart by dogs, families teach their children to carry clubs and knives to protect themselves from stray dogs. 

Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that picture alone enough to show that the approach of Jones and her superiors up to and including the city manager has been an abject failure? Children carrying clubs and knives to protect themselves from marauding dogs, citizens listening to Brown’s screams and pleas for help but afraid to go to her rescue: What else do we have to know?

I wrote before that the police should be authorized to shoot stray dogs if that’s the quickest most effective way to get them off the streets. I still believe that, but I would add poisoning as another solution to consider. Whatever it takes.

I wish dogs could be seized from people who do a bad job taking care of them. If caught dogs could all be adopted, obviously that outcome that would make us all feel better.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Let’s say we get rid of Jones and everybody else above her who needs to go, and by so doing we are able to get rid of the slow-catch/no-catch regime. The city is going to start catching more dogs again, and not all of the new number will be adopted. They’ll have to be killed.

This is not morally complicated. We kill dogs so that dogs will not kill human beings.

Of course we don’t want to kill dogs. Of course we love dogs. Of course we should do everything we can with education and tough fines to encourage people to be better stewards and protectors of their pets.

But at the limit of those measures, when the sheer number of loose dogs overruns the capacities of outreach, animal rescue and adoption services to do anything about it, then dogs will have to be killed. At some point we must kill dogs to protect people.

As for Jones, the animal services director, this is not personal. There are certain levels of mistake in certain kinds of job that simply are not survivable, no matter who occupies the post. The captain of a Coast Guard ship only rams the pier one time — one time — and then looks for a career in the civilian world.

The death of Brown was Jones’ collision with the pier. It wasn’t forgettable. It isn’t forgivable. If a department head at City Hall can survive that kind of mistake, then there is no mistake too heinous or grave for a city employee to survive.

The fact that she’s still in place is evidence that somebody at City Hall thinks this mistake can be faded. Somebody thinks people will forget about it and everything at City Hall will go back to normal.

You know what’s normal in that view of the world? Brown getting mauled to death by dogs is normal in that view. It's the view that sees a parallel between traffic fatalities and a woman being torn apart by dogs in the heart of a major U.S. city in 2016.

We need change the basic grasp of reality here. The city’s top dog-catcher is absolutely expected and required to be right there for the next Antoinette Brown, right there to protect her. That’s Job One. Rescuing dogs is also the list, but it’s way down the list from Brown.

The point is not to punish Jones personally. Getting rid of her is the only effective way for the city to send a signal, to put up a flag marking Brown’s grave and say, “This is where the job begins and ends.”

Leaving Jones in her post or giving her a lateral slide to another city post sends a signal, too. That signal says, “You should forget about Antoinette Brown, because we already have.”

No damn way.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze