"It's mid-January," Dallas Animal Services Commission member Bonnie Matthias said emphatically. "And we're caught with our pants down again."
As usual, there's good news and there's bad news at Dallas Animal Services. This week, shelter manager Jody Jones and head of Code Compliance Jimmy Martin put in two appearances at City Hall: Monday at the city council's Quality of Life Committee meeting, then at yesterday's Animal Shelter Commission get-together, where they were joined by Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata. Both presentations were intended to showcase what's shiny and exciting at DAS these days, both in the shelter and in field operations.
Still. despite progress -- adoption and rescue rates are up, euthanasia rates are slightly down, and absolutely no one is on trial for felony animal cruelty anymore -- the Animal Shelter Commission still had some concerns. Chief among them: Why are there still 30 vacant, need-to-be-filled-right-now kind of jobs, despite the highly publicized recent layoffs of 53 workers, and their subsequent replacement with temporary workers? And why has no progress been made on outsourcing cruelty investigations, despite the fact that only one qualified agency, SPCA of Texas, bid for the job?
The audience found out yesterday that because half of the city's two-person cruelty team is on medical leave, there's currently just one animal cruelty investigator for all of Dallas. Jones also acknowledged that even though animals are currently vaccinated upon intake, the city of Dallas still doesn't provide rabies or tetanus vaccinations for animal services officers working in the field.
The situation with the unfilled jobs led Matthias, the commission member for District 4, to express some frustration. "I'm real concerned about 50-some temps in the shelter, and we've got all these vacancies," she told Zapata. "I just don't like temporary workers in a civil service environment. I think it's dead wrong. ... In my opinion, this has gone on entirely too long."
But first, courtesy of the briefing from Animal Services that was provided to the city council members, let's hang out in Good News Land for a moment longer. Live releases from the shelter are up (although they dropped slightly from last year, and Jones confirmed to us earlier this week that the shelter still has to euthanize nearly 75 percent of the animals who come through its doors).
Animal Services is working hard to fulfill all of the requirements in this voluminous, often-blistering HSUS report from last year, including updating its mission statement and plans to "improve equipment training and maintenance procedures," as Jones told the QOL Committee. The shelter has begun examining and vaccinating all animals upon intake, and they're working on "team-building" at the shelter, Jones said, as well as a series of public service announcements to encourage more people to adopt. The Animal Shelter Commission also gave approval for the Dallas Companion Animal Project task force to move forward with its goal of reducing euthanasia rates for adoptable animals.
"This is one of the first times I've been truly excited" about Animal Services, council member Dwaine Caraway said Monday. (Although he immediately followed up by reminding Jones that there are still packs of stray dogs running loose in his neighborhood, adding, "I know they're all over town.")
But Delia Jasso was more focused on the temporary workers at the shelter. "I really do have a concern about some of the temps," she told Jones on Monday. "I want to talk to you offline about them, and what we can do better." Angela Hunt agreed, telling Jones, "Many of us have gotten complaints about the temporary workers."
Yesterday Zapata reassured the Animal Shelter Commission about the vacant positions, saying they are "our highest priority," but that they wanted to make sure they got the right people in those spots. Those vacancies include a lead veterinarian, 13 animal services officers, nine customer service reps, and two shelter and field assistant managers. "We'll keep moving forward and we'll keep you informed," he told them.
"We've talked in October, November, December and now we're talking in January," said Jonnie England, a commissioner member and the director of animal advocacy and communications over at Metroplex Animal Coalition. "We're very frustrated that it just goes on and on."
"I hear you," Zapata replied. "I share your frustration." He also told the commission not to "confuse the RIFs with the new positions," adding that the people who were laid off during the RIF process "had the opportunity to apply for the vacancies" back in October.
Jones and Zapata also reassured the commission that they were "in discussions" on the outsourcing of cruelty calls (though neither of them wanted to say that it was SPCA of Texas that they're talking to). In the meantime, Jones said the cruelty investigations were still ongoing, with current city staff.
"You have two guys," England said pleasantly enough. "One of them has been on leave for two weeks. How are you possibly handling this?"
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Jones replied that some regular animal services officers are being trained to investigate cruelty cases. "Is it perfect? No. Are we doing the best we can in making sure critical issues don't fall through the cracks? Yes."
England was also concerned about the rate of animals "disappearing from their cages" at the shelter, i.e. being stolen. She asked if the temporary workers had something to do with that. Nope, Jones said, it's everybody else.
"Citizens continue to be our number one challenge," where animal theft is concerned, she told the commission.
The Animal Shelter Commission is due to meet next on February 23. Animal Services will give an update on their response to the HSUS report to the commission in March.