Local animal rights advocates say they have some worries about proposed $380,000 cuts to Dallas Animal Services' budget.
The cuts in the recent draft city budget being worked on by the City Council include $50,000 to DAS's body camera budget, $249,000 in salaries for one vet and one manager III position, as well as a $81,700 reduction for veterinary medical supplies.
Stephanie G. Kunkle-Timko, an animal rights activist, says for the last five years her primary focus has been on what she calls "the rampant animal cruelty in the city of Dallas and the city's persistent neglect of the issue." She started out working at the Dowdy Ferry Animal Commission in Dallas before moving on to outreach in Fair Park and the southern sector in an effort to understand the high level of animal abuse in the city.
Kunkle-Timko says the agency needs to find money in the budget to provide their officers body cameras. She says it's about accountability.
Since DAS Director Ed Jamison took his positon, Kunkle-Timko claims, there have been questionable acts on the part of DAS in its enforcement of the state's dangerous dog statute.
Kunkle-Timko says residents have reported that Animal Control Officers have provided false or misleading information in order to get owners to give up their dogs. Kunkle-Timko says these officers have told residents they can seize their animals without a warrant and advised them to surrender their dogs to avoid criminal penalties, which DAS can't enforce.
"There are reports of threats and coercion to surrender dogs that are pretty consistent among owners of dogs that have been deemed dangerous," Kunkle-Timko says. "Body cameras would go a long way toward validating these allegations."
Lauren Babis, an animal rights advocate, says if DAS needs to, she wouldn't mind them cutting body cam funding for other officers, but not the dangerous dog or sweep teams.
The Texas-based animal rights nonprofit Just Save The Dog has published stories about Dallas residents' encounters with DAS officers. One tells the story of a dog named Lucy who escaped from her yard in March last year and had a scuffle with a nearby dog on a walk.
No one was bitten, but the other dog’s owner filed a complaint with DAS and Lucy was later designated as “dangerous."
Lucy's owners didn't have the money to appeal the decision, but they were able to comply with state-mandated dangerous dog requirements and get her home. But, during one of the DAS field officer's quarterly home inspection, Lucy's owners were told their fence was out of compliance and that they had four days to get it fixed.
According to Just Save The Dog, when the officers returned, they told Lucy's owners that their fence was still out of compliance and that they were at risk of criminal charges. Unsure of what else to do, Lucy's owners ended up giving their dog to DAS.
The next day, thinking Lucy was at the shelter, one of the owners' neighbors offered to adopt their dog and meet all dangerous dog requirements. But, when they called to get this arranged, they found out Lucy had been euthenized just three hours after the field officers checked her into the shelter. The field officer had registered Lucy with DAS as “owner requested euthanasia,” according to Just Save The Dog.
Situations like these are why the body cameras are neccessary, Kunkle-Timko says.
Kunkle-Timko says DAS had the funds for the body cameras in its last budget, but for some reason didn't purchase them. She believes they were never bought because footage would validate these claims.
DAS did not respond to requests for comment. But, in response to a Facebook post about DAS cuts, councilmember Cara Mendelsohn said she spoke with Jamison about the proposed budget. She said the director told her the cuts were mainly removing positions that were already open and that they will not affect service.
Kunkle-Timko says the DAS dangerous dog process is discriminatory toward Dallas' poor and minority neighborhoods. "It pains me to see the outcry against [the Dallas Police Department] — which I believe they have earned, sadly — when there are petty tyrannies and terrors being inflicted upon our poor and minority communities by the city in the form of ordinance 'enforcement' every day."