For the right price, I will get my flute and my jingle-bell shoes and lead The Dallas Morning News' rats to Austin to join Lamb of God, the face-biter.EXPAND
For the right price, I will get my flute and my jingle-bell shoes and lead The Dallas Morning News' rats to Austin to join Lamb of God, the face-biter.
Robert F. Balazik

Rats at the Morning News, Reprieve for the Face-Biting Dog — Dallas in a Nutshell

Two stories in the local news cycle this week are significant for what they have to say about our city: One, the dog that bit a kid in the face won’t be exterminated but will be sent to Austin instead, and two, the new headquarters of The Dallas Morning News, designed to be “digital,” according to a lot of self-generated fanfare, is overrun with rats.

Really, those two stories tell us everything we need to know about our city at this moment in time. We can’t kill a vicious dog, but we can send it to Austin. And what did the News mean, anyway, that the new building was going to be digital? In fact, let’s do the building first because I know as soon as I start talking about the dog, you’ll stop reading and start hammering out digital hate mail for me.

Whenever Robert Wilonsky and Mark Lamster and those other entertainers at the News talked about the paper moving from its sprawling campus at the southwest corner of downtown to much smaller quarters in the former Dallas Public Library at the east end, they consistently insisted the move was to help the paper become “more digital.”

Listen. It’s just embarrassing. It’s like the family selling its mansion in the Park Cities and moving to a trailer park in Euless. They tell you it’s because they are “downsizing.” Some things, you just don’t say in response, especially in front of the kids, like, “Wow, did you lose all your money?”

But the fact is the building the News has moved into is a dump. It has been an open-to-the-weather, homeless-occupied, urine-reeking hell-hole for decades. As for the miraculous and comprehensive restoration carried out before the News moved in, I think the rat infestation tells that story.

I happen to be a veteran occupant of old structures in a part of town known for its antiquated architecture. I can tell you exactly why rats appear after a renovation. It’s the same reason snakes and roaches emerge from the walls and a guy named High-Five crawls out of your crawl space. The so-called redo didn’t redo deep enough.

If I were the News, I would hire lawyers and inspectors and tell them to take a very close look at all the plumbing and wiring that can’t be seen with the naked eye. It’s probably all perfectly fine, new, a king’s ransom in shiny new copper. But especially where high voltage is concerned, it’s always better to be safe than to sue.

There are other cautions to be taken. Some of this is unpleasant, but it needs to be said. Someone needs to bend down and put an ear to the toilets when they're flushed. Yeah, sorry, I know, yuck, but it’s very important. There’s an important difference between a big, healthy, roaring flush and a sound that’s more like an old lady gargling her Listerine.

I never understood the thing about the building being more digital. In the newspaper business, if we’re not out on a story somewhere, we sit at our desks, peck away at computers and talk on the phone. I can do all of that in my pickup. Is there really a building that’s going to help me?

In the effort to rebuild the building, how did the News miss the large rat population? Has anyone located the place deep in the bowels of the new newspaper headquarters where the rats have their own headquarters? Rat City?

In the meantime, while the exterminators try to stanch the flow, the immediate issue for the people who work at the News will be rat poison. They need to ask what type will be employed. Will it be the kind that makes the rats fill up with gas and explode, or will it be the kind that makes them bleed to death from all of their orifices? News employees want to make sure measures are in place to ensure that they will not suffer similar fates, although I know some people at the paper may feel they already have.

Assurances and safeguards should be in place regarding the disposal of large numbers of poison-bearing rat carcasses because dogs eat dead rats, and poisoned rat carcasses kill dogs. It’s interesting how we ignore that side of the animal kingdom when we are putting hats and sunglasses on our dogs and pretending they’re just like us. That, by the way, is what we in the writing business call a segue — my little attempt to slide you gently over into the story about the dog that bit a kid in the face.

Dallas City Attorney Larry Casto, who doesn’t have anything better to do, announced Monday that the city had reached an out-of-court settlement by which a dog that experts deemed irredeemably dangerous — it has bitten three people in recent months, including the facial mauling of a child — will not be killed, as a judge ordered, but will be sent instead to live in Austin.

Austin, this is what Dallas thinks of you.

Dallas rejected earlier proposals to send the vicious beast to live in East Texas. The city said it might be sued for doing something that turned out to be unfair to East Texas. But Austin, oh, sure. It won’t sue. Down there, a dog bites somebody, and people blame themselves for 200 million years of human entitlement.

Important in this photo of Lamb of God, the face-biting dog, are the facial expression of the owner, who uses the dog as a prop for begging, and the position of the owner's hand on the dog's muzzle.EXPAND
Important in this photo of Lamb of God, the face-biting dog, are the facial expression of the owner, who uses the dog as a prop for begging, and the position of the owner's hand on the dog's muzzle.
Gavn Mulloy

Look, this was a big win for the extreme dog lovers. They felt that the dog, a small Lab mix that belonged to a homeless guy who used it as a prop for begging, never had a chance to be normal. I argued here that dogs in general don’t get all that many chances to be normal. Mostly, one. Three bites, including the mauling of a child, the dog is out of chances. Off to doggie death row for that one, in my book.

A number of prominent local attorneys took part in saving the life of this dog. One called me, obviously unaware that I had already written two pieces urging immediate execution. He launched into a long, self-congratulatory narration of his efforts to save the dog’s life, assuming, I assume, that because I’m an aging, ex-hippie numb-nut of reduced mental capacity, my disordered sentiments obviously would flock to his position like iron filings to a magnet.

I never corrected the guy, never told him I had written twice against his position, never said, “Did it not occur to you before calling me at least to Google my name and the name of the dog?” I never say that to anybody because Googling me never does occur to anybody, and suggesting it just makes me sound like an ass.

But now I’m sort of stuck. It may be legal to name and quote the attorney, but I still think it’s kind of a jam-up, especially since I let him ramble and never warned him about my position. So I’ll give you only this unattributed fragment: Part of what he bragged about was that he had talked a judge into issuing an order staying the execution of the dog by telling her, “You do this, and every dog lover in the county will vote for you next time you run.”

Yes, puppies are powerful. In my own business, newspapers, we know that nothing sells a front page like a good puppy picture. Well, there has always been another type of photo that does well, too, but now, in the post-Harvey-Weinstein atmosphere, perhaps I will leave that to your imagination.

Suffice it to say the dog story was, among other things, an advertising bonanza for the lawyers who volunteered their time to save the life of the vicious beast. It’s not every day that a bunch of courthouse hawks get to have their names in the newspaper or their mugs on TV for saving a puppy.

Also, and I mean this sincerely, few other types of highly trained professionals in our society would be so attuned to the rights of a face biter. I have always said it’s easy to put down lawyers, but who else are you going to call for sympathy and advice when it’s you who bit a child in the face?

Now, what did I promise at the top of this thing? Oh, that’s right, I said the dog and the rats were everything we needed to know about the state of our city. So what on earth  did I mean by that?

Dallas is full of promise but beset by important fundamental problems. In half the city, the economy is booming. In the other half, there is no economy. We mean well, but we have a tendency to dive shallow and avoid tough decisions.

The Dallas Morning News has always had that wonderful motto about the beacon, the rock, the truth and the fairways. So why doesn't it just admit the paper moved across town to a smaller joint to save on rent? It doesn’t make them the Joads, yet. Then they can get some guys with jackhammers to find the rats.

And sending the vicious beast to Austin because we couldn’t kill it ourselves? C’mon. If that was really the appropriate outcome, you know what? For the right price, I will get my flute and my jingle-bell shoes and lead all of the News’ rats to Austin, too. Just be sure I get paid, or I’ll call those guys who saved the dog.

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