"Urgent" Vacancies at Dallas Animal Services Still Vacant, But More Pets Are Finding Homes
Just last month, we learned that Dallas Animal Services had around 30 vacancies in shelter and field operations that urgently needed to be filled -- this, despite a RIF process in October that saw 53 people laid off and replaced with temporary workers. At Thursday afternoon's Animal Shelter Commission meeting, we learned that those vacancies are almost ready to be advertised. The civil service hiring process is apparently not something you should do while holding your breath.
Basically, as head of Code Compliance Jimmy Martin and shelter manager Jody Jones explained to the commission, for every vacancy, the department legally has to evaluate qualified "internal" candidates first, before they post the job anywhere the outside world can see it. The 13 animal services officer positions that are vacant will be advertised first, starting on February 26 and running through March 10. Other positions, like those for assistant shelter and field managers, are "ready to post," but haven't been yet, and coordinators for the rescue and lost-and-found programs are still "pending civil service," Martin said.
Martin and Jones both assured the commission that "any position which involves touching an animal" will be more widely advertised, and that someone who works for the city but has not demonstrated interest in working with the furry will not be considered.
New co-chair of the commission Johnnie England (she and Mary Spencer have taken over from longtime chair Skip Trimble) didn't seem impressed with some of the red tape involved in the hiring process. "That means months more of delay?" she asked Martin.
"Yes," he replied.
There's a similar holdup with the department's plan to outsource animal cruelty investigations to the SPCA, the only agency who bid for that role -- especially urgent since DAS itself still has only two designated animal cruelty investigators. The concern, Martin said, is that because the SPCA would be an outside agency working for the city, it's not clear if the Dallas County District Attorney's office would actually accept cases from them. So Dallas County or another government agency may have to "commission" the cases from the SPCA in order for them to make it into the DA's office. There's "still no time frame" for when those negotiations will be completed, Martin said.
In the meantime, Jones said, the department is training regular animal services officers on how to present animal cruelty cases in court. She said so far three officers have successfully presented cases, meaning they were able to argue them convincingly and have temporary custody of the allegedly mistreated animals awarded to DAS.
There is some good news coming out of the department too: Euthanasia rates between January 2011 and 2012 are down by 11 percent, Jones said, while placements are up 40 percent. "We're going in the right direction there," she said. The department has also put out a bid for someone to provide rabies shots to field officers (no, they didn't do those before), and Martin said they should find out today who the lowest bidder was.
Initially, it would appear that calls for service from the public, and subsequent citations are also encouragingly down. In January, DAS received 412 calls for service and 33 citations, down 111 from the same time last year. But, as England asked, "Is that because you don't have officers?"
Jones acknowledged that yes, "there has been a huge decline in the number of officers in the field," which might account for the lowered citation numbers. There's a corresponding decline in the number of cruelty allegations -- 279 calls, with three citations. But, Jones said, in the department's stats, cruelty and neglect are grouped together. It's possible, she said, that some of the calls were neglect situations, where someone "could be educated and brought into compliance," rather than being cited.
But one issue still seems to be bothering the commission with no end in sight: the temporary workers who are currently taking the places of the RIFed employees. Commissioners and city council members have both expressed concerns multiple times that the temp workers aren't well-trained and in some cases simply don't work well with animals. But with the department facing an 11-percent budget cut next fiscal year, it doesn't look as though there are any concrete plans to replace the temps.
"I started off as advocating for contract labor," outgoing chair Skip Trimble said. "But I don't know if it's working or not."
England was more blunt. "It's not working the way it is," she said. "I just can't envision an 11-percent cut to the budget. It's not working. That's the bottom line."
We've got the full Dallas Animal Services report below, as well as the most recent department fact sheet, since we know how much you guys love that kind of thing.ASC Report Feb 2012 (2)Dallas Animal Shelter stats, January 2012