Nearly every day, volunteers visit a wooded area in Southeast Dallas that has become notorious for abandoned dogs. Many of the dogs are dumped in plastic bags, and one was found with rope tied around its hind legs, suggesting that the animals could have been abused before being killed and dumped. Some of the dogs in the woods are still alive, but they're often injured, and the volunteers feed the live dogs they find. The volunteers have long been vocal about what they say is the city's inaction in trying to capture and prosecute potential animal-abusers, though the city did recently arrest one alleged dog-dumper.
But forget about the people who are actually dumping the dogs for a minute. Are volunteers who feed stray dogs committing a crime? Public statements from the city's own animal shelter agency and an officer in the Dallas City Marshal's Office suggest that the volunteer group is breaking the law and possibly harming the animals. "You cannot feed in the city of Dallas," an officer says in a recording taken by volunteers Marina Tarashevska and Leslie Ysuhuayles. He cites an unspecified "ordinance," an ordinance that CBS-11 was unable to find when they followed up with a story on volunteers' encounter with the marshal. Afterward, the city's animal shelter and animal control agency weighed in. Dallas Animal Services posted a "clarification" on its Facebook page, defending the marshal. While there are no ordinances that actually ban people from feeding loose dogs, the shelter acknowledges, the volunteers may be guilty of littering. Dallas Animal Services also says that people who feed loose animals without doing anything else to help are doing more harm than good. "#IfYouFeedItFixIt," the posts ends, implying that the volunteers confronted by the marshal were only "feeding" and not "fixing." The full statement is captured below:
The shelter's implication, that these volunteers only feed and leave, is inaccurate. The volunteers do capture loose dogs and get them adopted. Dallas DogRRR, the nonprofit rescue group that Tarashevska founded, currently lists 15 dogs on its site that they say they have rescued from the woods or nearby sewage drains or gas stations, now declared ready to be adopted. Some of the dogs are already watched over by foster families, the group says, while others are kept in boarding homes.
Dallas Animal Services' Facebook post is more troubling when you consider the shelter's relationship with some outside rescue groups and its reaction to public criticism. In a September cover story, we detailed how the shelter appeared to silence public criticism by suddenly forbidding its Animal Shelter Commission from discussing "operational issues" during public meetings.
The shelter employs a person it describes as a "social media coordinator" named Rebecca Poling, who is sometimes quoted in the news media as the shelter spokesman.
With other rescuers, Poling has taken a hard line against rescuer Tarashevska, who is is a vocal critic of Dallas Animal Services. This past January, Tarashevska called attention to the fact that four dogs rescue groups had taken from a hoarder and brought to a shelter to temporarily stay, with the help of the shelter's own animal cruelty officers, were mistakenly euthanized by a shelter vet two days later. Shelter directors Jody Jones and Cate McManus eventually apologized. But before they did, Poling sent around a petition asking rescue groups to sign a letter of "support" for Dallas Animal Services, suggesting that it was the rescuers, not anyone at the shelter, who had acted improperly. "We, the undersigned, wish to express our support and sympathy for the staff of Dallas Animal Services,” the petition says, “over the loss and recent media coverage concerning four dogs euthanized after being surrendered by their owners under pressure from independent rescuers."
And in a public post on her personal Facebook page, other rescuers have left comments that personally attack the shelter's outspoken critic. In September, Poling shared a screenshot of a post that Tarashevska had written that cites the Observer story and criticizes the way Jones runs Dallas' animal shelter. A group of other rescuers responds with name-calling. Stacy Smith, a co-founder of the Humane Society of Flower Mound, writes of Tarashevska,"#rescuebarbie." Kate Larkin, who operates a rescue group called Rag Tag Rescue in East Texas, follows with the short and simple "#bitch."
Erin Schults, who operates Mazie's Mission animal rescue in Frisco, writes in the thread that Tarashevska will "eventually fade away. When her face is chewed off by a dog she is 'saving.'"
Others pounce on Tarashevska's appearance.
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Poling, for her part, doesn't resort to name-calling, but she doesn't discourage it, either. "Are people still listening to this skank?" Shults writes in another comment in the thread, to which Poling replies, "Unfortunately, yes."
Neither Poling nor city spokesman Jeffrey Clapper have responded to an email requesting an interview about Poling's social media strategy. A woman who answered the phone at Mazie's Mission group sounded incredulous that director Erin Shutls would publicly suggest another rescuer's face would get "chewed off."
Kate Larkin, reached on the phone, stands by "#bitch." Larkin has never met Tarashevska, and met shelter director Jody Jones only once, she says. Nonetheless, Larkin says Tarashevska is wrong to publicly criticize the shelter. "In a nutshell, I think the anger is [at] someone who's making a whole lot of noise, but not really running a responsible rescue," Larkin says on the phone."Dallas Animal Services is one of our greatest resources ... I don't know that the background really exists for her to be calling people out."
Anyway, back to the question we posed at the top of the post: It's probably perfectly legal to feed stray dogs, but you damn well better not criticize Dallas Animal Services if you're worried about getting flamed on social media.