Dallas Animal Services Still Overheated and Understaffed
Good news first: the kittens have their own room now. Bad news: most of those kittens are still going to die.
Every few months, the Animal Shelter Commission gets together for a progress report from shelter manager Jody Jones and director of Code Compliance Jimmy Martin. It's always a mixture of adorable (pictures of kittens) and depressing (more than 70 percent of all the animals who enter the shelter are euthanized due to lack of space, behavioral concerns, or disease).
The meetings are also a reminder of the limitations of the commission itself. As an advisory board, they can't do much except make suggestions. Those suggestions sometimes escalate into exasperated complaints, as the same issues seem to come up at every meeting without resolution: under-staffing, poorly trained temporary employees, and an air-conditioning system that's gone five summers without really working.
Jones did have a few pieces of good news yesterday: the euthanasia rate at the shelter has dropped every year, a trend that's picked up speed the past few years. (In 2002, for example, only 16 percent of all animals made it out of the shelter alive.) And 18 of the more than 30 "urgent" vacancies at the shelter have been filled, including the position of lead veterinarian.They've also reorganized the space where the cats live, keeping kittens with vulnerable immune systems away from sick adult cats and those sick adult cats away from each other, the better to prevent cross-contamination.
In the field division, eight out of the ten vacant animal services officer positions have been filled. But there's still a huge backlog of cases of animal cruelty and neglect: DAS gets around 55,000 calls for service each year, and there are still only 31 animal services officers in the field, down from 55 in September of last year. Until recently, only two of those officers were trained to handle cruelty investigations. Jones said yesterday that "all animal services officers are doing cruelty investigations now," while supervisors handle "escalated" incidents. Those field officers are now also getting rabies vaccinations for the first time (possibly because a representative from the public employee's union demanded to know at the last meeting why they weren't being done already).
Meanwhile, a long-standing proposal to outsource some of those cruelty complaints to the SPCA is still stalled, and it's unclear when or if it will happen. Jones told the commission that animal services officers will "partner with the Dallas Police Department's community outreach officers" to handle some 311 calls relating to stray and dangerous dogs. (But in this morning's Dallas Morning News , Assistant Chief Michael Genovesi said the plan is "on hold.")
Commission members continue to express concerns about two long-standing problems at the shelter: the training of the shelter's temporary employees and the HVAC system, which hasn't worked properly for about five years.
The temporary workers have been at the shelter since October, when a RIF process laid off 53 permanent workers and replaced them with the temps. Commission members and volunteers at the shelter continue to complain that they're seeing incidents of rough handling of the animals by the temps. An audience member said during her volunteer shift recently, she watched a temporary worker drag a terrified dog down a hallway by its leash.
"How much emphasis do you put on training?" she asked Jones. "I've seen several instances of completely inappropriate behavior, and other staffers did nothing."
"Training is not what we want it to be," Jones said apologetically. "Nor will it be" until staffing levels are addressed, she added.
As for the air-conditioning system, "I don't know how many more summers we have to go through this," said commission member Jonnie England. She called temperatures in the building "absolutely unbearable." Temperatures have reached above 80 degrees inside the building. Jones said they've had to move some employees out of their work-spaces when they got too hot.
Martin acknowledged that there were "hot spots" in the building. He said that they would soon be outsourcing the maintenance of the HVAC unit, which he promised would help fix the problem.
England had a different idea. "My solution is to have the city council meet there."