Stray dogs, dog bites and dog bite deaths: There was never an issue in this city better designed for single-member City Council districts to tackle and solve on their own. I think it’s fair to say the problem can only be solved by individual council members seeking solutions from their own constituents.
No, wait, that’s not enough. If single-member district council members can’t solve this one, they can’t solve anything, and we should think about ditching the system.
The single most stunning finding in a consultant’s recently released study of the loose dog problem in Dallas is the night and day difference between southern Dallas and North Dallas. Way more loose dogs and dog bites south of the line. Far fewer north.
And what is that line again? Oh, come on now, we can all hike up our drawers and say it out loud, can we not? The line that divides the southern hemisphere from the northern hemisphere in our city is the color line. Whites north. Non-whites south. The segregation line.
Do we think segregation is a fading anachronism? Well, we can think that if it makes us feel better. But that was not at all the finding in a rigorous study of racial segregation in Dallas carried out four years ago by Andrew A. Beveridge of Queens College, City University of New York, as part of the Lockey and MacKenzie litigation.
The Beveridge study (attached below) found that segregation in Dallas had, indeed, been decreasing naturally between 1980 and 2000 but increased again between 2000 and 2010. Lockey and MacKenzie are two real estate developers suing the city, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) and the U.S. Justice Department. They argue that segregation went back up in Dallas because City Hall wanted it to.
We have talked about them a lot here in the past and will again soon, but this is not about them. On the immediate level, this is about loose dogs and the mauling of human beings by dogs.
On an overarching level, it’s about the concept that sub-communities within our larger segregated community are sometimes better equipped to resolve some problems in their own parts of town than City Hall might be.
The Boston Consulting Group’s recently released study (copy attached below) of the loose dog problem in Dallas left not one scintilla of doubt that this is a southern Dallas problem, not a North Dallas problem.
More than half of the city’s nearly 350,000 canines live north. But nearly 8,700 loose dogs roam the streets of southern Dallas on any given day, while virtually none or close to none are on the streets of North Dallas. Meanwhile 20 percent of the dogs in North Dallas are not neutered while 80 percent of the dogs south of the city’s Mason-Dixon line are intact.
The population of un-neutered dogs in North Dallas is shrinking at 1 percent per year while the population in southern Dallas is increasing at 15 percent a year.
Dog bites citywide are increasing at 15 percent per year. A curious oversight — perhaps a delicacy — in the otherwise thorough BCG study was that it did not provide a geographic breakdown for places where dog-bite incidents have occurred. In the absence of any major counter-intuitive evidence, then, we are left to assume that most dog bites, dog attacks and dog maulings take place in the part of town where the loose dogs live — south.
Of course, the galvanizing incident that focused the city on this problem was the horrific mauling and death of Antoinette Brown, a homeless woman, on a vacant lot in a southern Dallas residential neighborhood last May.
After the killing of Brown, The Dallas Morning News editorial page hailed District 7 (southern Dallas) City Council member Tiffinni Young as the only civic leader on Dallas “stepping up on Dallas’ loose dog crisis” and asked, “Why?”
The editorial quoted Young: “It is beyond comprehension and utterly embarrassing that this world-renowned city is faced with the recent tragedy of a dog-mauling death due to failed enforcement policy. We cannot and will not wait any longer.” The editorial said, “Hurray for Young.”
The other thing the BCG study makes clear but delicately does not say is that loose dogs are a human problem. The study subdivided loose dogs it found roaming southern Dallas streets as “runaway, loose-owned, community or feral.” But I think all of those could be summarized as being either somebody’s dog at some point or the offspring of somebody’s dog. So what we are really talking about here, if we want to drill down to root causes, is the way people own and keep dogs.
The study has not addressed potential solutions yet, although it did do some rough projections on what various solutions might achieve toward reducing the loose dog population. My own proposal — shooting them – was not included, possibly because it was stupid, which I do not deny. I was just very upset about Antoinette Brown.
The problem with picking up dogs and killing them is that the community itself is a loose-dog factory. People will just keep acquiring more dogs, not neutering them and allowing them to run loose and do what dogs do, fueling and refueling the problem faster than dogs can be caught and killed.
Clearly the answer here is human. It’s regional. And it is ethnic.
Yeah, sorry but sometimes we make asses of ourselves stepping around the obvious. This is a southern Dallas problem. Southern Dallas is segregated, not by accident, not by hat size but on purpose and by race and ethnicity. If this is a cultural problem in Dallas — and it is — then it is a problem in the culture of southern Dallas. Even saying it out loud — my saying it, anyway — inevitably and inescapably sounds like white, middle class finger-wagging, because I am white and middle class, and I may seem to be wagging my finger. I don’t think I am.
I am saying that no one is better qualified to address this problem than the elected leaders of the community where the problem is centered. But, more than that, no one else can. Please don’t tell me we’re going to send a bunch of summer interns from Stanford and Yale door-to-door to do the finger-wagging.
This isn’t an issue for finger-wagging. The only solutions that will work here will be those that are inspired and inspirational — inspired from within the community, conveyed by inspirational leadership. This is the problem the single-member council district system has been looking for all these years, the ultimate test, the challenge by which single members districts can prove their mettle or betray their flaws.
None of this is to say that southern Dallas should have to handle this problem all on its lonesome. If the solution that southern Dallas neighborhoods agree on is a program of increased capture and euthanasia, for example, then, of course, City Hall will need to lean in and help get it done. But the city shouldn’t lift a finger until the elected leadership of southern Dallas has gone to its constituencies to learn what people there want done and what they think will work.
This isn’t just a better way to get the problem fixed. It’s the only way. But it does mean the ball is now solidly in the court of Tiffinni Young and other southern Dallas leaders. City Hall must wait patiently to hear what they will have to say.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.