Dallas Animal Services: Still 'Horribly Understaffed' But Now With More Chairs

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Photo by Mark Graham

As we've mentioned more than once, Dallas Animal Services has been dealing with a few serious unresolved issues, some of them stretching back years: the HVAC system in the shelter doesn't work and apparently never really has, leading to stifling temperatures in the summer months; the shelter and field divisions are still understaffed, after a reduction-in-force process replaced 53 full-time staffers with temporary workers, a move which now appears to be permanent; and until recently, apparently, some of the shelter staff members didn't have chairs.

At each meeting of the Animal Shelter Commission, a few commission members, usually the same ones, express their frustrations with these problems. Sometimes they express their frustrations very loudly, using words like "insane" and "ludicrous". That happened again at yesterday's meeting, when the commission was informed that the HVAC system is still not fixed, and eight animal service officer positions are "frozen" and won't even be advertised until February.

But in the midst of the same nagging problems, shelter manager Jody Jones had a few pieces of very good news. In October of this year, the most recent month for which data is available, the live release rate at the shelter was the highest it has ever been: of the 2,349 animals taken into the shelter that month, 40 percent made it out alive.

Also, they've finally purchased some chairs.

The shouting started early this time, though, when commissioner Bonnie Mathias found out that a citizen who offered to evaluate the shelter's HVAC system for free was never taken up on his offer.

"This is absolutely ludicrous," she told Jimmy Martin, director of Code Compliance (the division Dallas Animal Services is a part of). "We haven't gotten this man in to give us a free look at this system? This is insane."

Martin replied that there's a formal bidding process to go through, for anyone who might like to take a crack at fixing the HVAC system. "He'll have an opportunity to review the system as part of the bids process," he said.

"Jimmy, please, this is insane," Mathias replied. "Who do we need to go through to get this done?"

A few moments later, when Jones presented her manager's report, she was quick to mention some of the better news coming out of the department: DAS has been holding more and more spay/neuter outreach events to help low-income families fix their pets, more than 100 in October alone. Shelter staff, she said, "now have chairs and basic office furniture," and some "additional security factors" have been put into place at the facility, whatever that means. The cold and hot water in the building now run cold and hot when they're supposed to.

In mid-October, the shelter closed the night drop boxes where people used to surrender pets and drop off lost animals after-hours. At the time, we thought that probably wasn't a stellar plan. But Jones said despite some "concerns" about how the system might work, it hasn't led to a drop in numbers at the shelter or an increase in animals being let loose in the surrounding area.

"We've been watching very carefully to see the impact," she said, "We all shared angst about how this would work. But our numbers are same."

In addition, many of the 30 urgent staff vacancies that the department had faced in January have now been filled. But the eight vacant animal services officers positions will probably stay that way for some time. ASOs work in the field, responding to 311 calls from citizens; DAS had to choose between funding those positions and hiring customer service representatives to answer the phones at the shelter. In addition, there are no longer any designated animal cruelty officers in the field, though Jones said the basic ASOs are being trained to handle some cruelty complaints.

Jonnie England, vice-chair of the commission, called the situation "outrageous," and said the department is still "horribly understaffed."

"We've got to make budget," replied Jones. She didn't sound thrilled about it either. "Our budget is what our budget is." Other commissioners pointed out that the increased emphasis on spaying and neutering should eventually lead to fewer animals on the street and less need for animal services officers. Eventually.

"Over the last year, we've seen amazing progress," Jones told the commissioners. "The results are starting to become clear and documented." She clearly cares about that progress: when she spoke about the improved live release rate, she started to choke up.

"This isn't going to happen overnight," Jones told the commissioners. "But it's a labor of love."


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8 comments
jennifer.barnett
jennifer.barnett

okay if you can't leave an animal in a parked car in the middle of summer in 115 degrees what makes it seem okay to leave animal in a ahelter without air okay?  Either way ya look at it it is animal cruelty.  These people need to rethink this before it gets that hot again in the summer.  These poor babies need cool air or foster homes that have air. If i could save them all I would but our house is overrun with our furr baby rescues!!!  I pray this gets fixed soon.  maybe if they would stop worrying about the freaking walking trails and spend some of that money fixing this shelter up that could be a problem solver there.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Thank you. Next time they need some chairs I'm sur they would get plenty if they asked for donations.

Fb2012
Fb2012

Why is it that the city council and mayor continue to put up with under funding and incompetence? The 911 system doesn't work, IT was messed up, animal control is understaffed but the city can afford a big new park and a new golf course. Someone's priorities are messed up. Time for a change at the top 

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

So if I am reading this HVAC business correctly, it hasn't worked in the past, subsequent attempts to repair it have failed, a concerned citizen has offered to look at the system in the hope he can diagnose the problem and offer solutions, but under some sort of rule not subject to waiver the concerned citizen may only inspect the HVAC system as part of a repair bidding process.

If all of the foregoing is substantially correct, then it seems the original HVAC work (or installation, these distinctions are unclear) would have been subject to bid, and presumably the work would have been warranted. The second repair, which should have been either under the original warranty or subject to its own bidding process, did not work. This second repair, even if under the original warranty, should have been subject to its own warranty. So why is there a bidding process for a third attempted repair? Either one of the previous repair firms should fix it under warranty, or if they have demonstrated an inability to fix the problem, and it sure looks like they have, then a more capable and responsive repair service should be engaged, the costs of which to be incurred by the obligor(s) on the prior warranties. Since the county should bear no expense, it has no reason to seek out the lowest price bidder, but to instead find someone who can fix the HVAC.

Am I missing something here?

rtlm
rtlm

Martin replied that there's a formal bidding process to go through, for anyone who might like to take a crack at fixing the HVAC system. "He'll have an opportunity to review the system as part of the bids process," he said.

A.K.A. "We will give the highest bid to our friends."

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@primi_timpano I don't believe there has been an attempt at repairing it. It was put in place about five years ago, and it sounds like it never worked properly. In July, Jimmy Martin said they would soon be outsourcing its maintenance, which he said would fix the problem. Either the outsourcing didn't actually happen, or it just didn't fix the problem. I'll try to see who installed it originally and why those people haven't been responsible for repairing it. 

Here's a writeup from that July meeting: 

http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2012/07/dallas_animal_services_is_stil.php

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