The bucket of seven starving baby kittens fell onto the radar of local animal rescuers by chance. Carla Adkins, a teacher who began volunteering as a rescuer after she kept encountering stray dogs near her home in Oak Cliff, was at the Dallas Animal Services shelter on Tuesday, checking on a few dogs, she says. She noticed a man come in the shelter holding a bucket of newborn kittens, just 8 days old. He told the intake worker behind the counter that he used to feed their mother, but she didn't really belong to him or anyone else. He said the mother gave birth to the kittens and died shortly after. The shelter worker, Adkins says, pressured the man to sign "owner-surrender" paperwork, which would have given the shelter permission to euthanize the kittens immediately. "They tried to shove the owner-surrender form in his face," Adkins says. But the worker balked when the man showed his Wisconsin identification card: Only people with a Dallas address can turn animals in to Dallas Animal Services.
Adkins says she intervened."I told the guy I'm going to go ahead and post this online and see if I can find a nursing mom real quick," Adkins says. The intake worker agreed to let Adkins submit the kittens to Dallas Animals Services under her own name and address. The intake worker, Adkins adds, appeared to understand that she would hunt for a foster home. "He said, 'You're going to try to find a rescue for these cats?' And I said yes," Adkins says. From her car in the parking lot, she wrote a post on a local Facebook group, asking for help connecting the kittens with a "nursing momma" as soon as possible. Over the next few hours, volunteers chimed in with leads. One woman responded that she had a cat that was nursing babies, but the woman couldn't get to the shelter. Another woman said she could drive to the shelter for her and bring the kittens back.
The effort turned out to be a waste. Four hours later, Adkins says, after she believed she had at least one foster lined up, she got the news: The kittens were dead. "The kittens were euthanized because they had a poor prognosis," the shelter's operations manager, Dr. Cate McManus wrote in an email to Adkins. "This heat is deadly to these little guys. They dehydrate so quickly. I am so sorry. If your foster is interested I can divert the next set of healthy neonates to them. We are always looking for nursing moms."
Adkins doesn't dispute that the kittens looked small and underfed. She doubted that all would survive, even with a nursing mother. But she also felt some of the kittens did have a chance to live — and there were volunteers willing to take the kittens off the shelters' hands and give them a chance. "My feeling is they knew that I was looking, they should have called me," Adkins says. "I knew that the prognosis was probably going to be poor, but I feel like they at least deserved a chance."
Dallas Animal Services Director Jody Jones and McManus told the Observer that the intake worker failed to indicate to the vet team that foster arrangements were being made. Jones expressed regret that Adkins didn't receive a phone call before the kittens were killed. "Carla did offer the capacity to network those kittens; she should have gotten that phone call, and we're devastated that we failed her and those animals," Jones said. The intake employee, Jones says, "certainly could have been more proactive in helping us" find a new home for the cats, though the employee blamed Adkins for the misunderstanding.
"He thought Carla was just mentioning she was going to try and network the animals, and left it at that, as opposed to feeling that she was going to find a place for the animals," Jones said. He was a part-time worker making about $11 an hour, she said, employed not by the city but by Lane Staffing, a staffing agency that the city has used since 2011. As a result of his apparent "misunderstanding," he has been discharged from his work at the shelter. (McManus and Jones added that they aren't aware of the employee allegedly shoving owner-surrender paperwork in the original rescuer's face. "That's the first time I heard that statement," McManus said.).
This isn't the only instance in which Dallas' animal shelter has killed animals that rescuers believed were going to be spared. On January 1, the shelter put down four dogs rescuers got from an alleged animal hoarder, just two days after the dogs were brought to the shelter. The rescuers had already found foster homes for the four Australian shepherds and said they weren't warned that the dogs would be killed. In response to the controversy, Animal Services launched an investigation and blamed "staff errors" for the dogs' deaths. McManus and Jones apologized at a news conference at the time and said they would give staff additional training to ensure that animals with foster homes are no longer killed. “In a situation where animals ... had a foster or adoption home in place, that information should be in the computer," McManus told reporters. On the phone Wednesday, McManus said the kitten deaths are the only incident since the Aussies' she's aware of in which animals with fosters were euthanized.
"We dropped the ball on this one ... but on the other hand, it's hard to work the timeline if you will," Jones said. "These poor little guys were dehydrated, and not in good condition. Because the vet team didn't have the accurate information that there was a potential on a live outcome for these babies, they made the tough choice that we often have to make."