Texas Drops the Gravel on Pet Abuse

September 28, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Tia Gannon
tgannon@smu.edu

Domestic violence not only affects the people in a household. Often the four-legged members are victims of abuse and neglect as well. Now, furry family companions are covered under Texas’ new pet protective order law.

Pets, companion animals and assistance animals are protected along with their owners under protective orders. They may not be removed, harmed or threatened by an abuser. Violators of a protection order involving an animal will receive a misdemeanor for a first offense and felony for two or more violations.

The new law went into effect on September 1, 2011, making Texas the 23rd jurisdiction in the United States able to legally include pets as a member of the family.

About 70 percent of domestic violence victims who seek shelter report abuse inflicted on their animals as well, according to Domanick Munoz, supervisor of Dallas Animal Services, who specializes in animal cruelty. Munoz believes this law is long overdue.

A Dallas man recently tossed his girlfriend’s dog out of a 19th floor apartment window following a heated argument. A security guard reported seeing the women with a bruised face and bloody lip. The dog was found the following morning on the apartment pool deck 11 floors below.

Local Animal Rights attorney Yolanda Eisenstein has encountered numerous cases of animals being abused in a home where domestic violence is occurring. She recalls a story a few years ago when a Dallas man tossed his girlfriend’s dog off of an overpass onto a busy highway below.

Eisenstein hopes the new law will result in increased awareness and education so that people can protect their animals as well as themselves and their children in abusive situations. Family lawyers need to be educated on this law so that they can enforce it when necessary, she said.

One of the leaders in getting the law passed was Robert “Skip” Trimble, treasurer of the Texas Humane Legislation Network. The organization lobbies on behalf of animals.

The network looks to the “boots on ground,” Trimble said. They are the first responders who let them know what is going on with the animals in the community. Many times a family pet is used as a lever by an abuser to gain dominance over their victims.

“We hear of all sorts of horrific things happening to animals that it is hard to even believe,” said Trimble.

The Family Place is Dallas’ largest family violence help program, offering a wide range of services to both victims and perpetrators of family violence. The organization provides emergency shelters, counseling and other educational programs to adults and children.

Executive Director Paige Flink hopes that the new law will give people peace of mind that their pet will be protected if they need to leave an abusive situation.

Pet abuse is one of the primary red flags of an abusive situation. Flink explains that counselors at The Family Place often see a correlation between abusing animals and being abusive to family members or people they are dating. Perpetrators see abusing pets as a way to get back at the victim.

Although some victims’ shelters in the United States allow pets, many do not. According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, only one in eight domestic violence shelters allow pets. Rebecca Poling is the President and Founder of Companions for Life in Dallas, a non-profit organization formed to promote the welfare of animals through education and shelter outreach programs.

“Until domestic violence shelters start including animals I don’t see a long term solution. But this is a start,” said Poling.

There is a temporary boarding program called PetSafe in Houston. The program provides shelter, medical care and food for animals of families going into a shelter in order to escape an abusive situation. The Family Place is hoping to work with animal rights groups in creating a program where people can place their animals temporarily when leaving an abusive situation.

Dallas Working to Combat Growing Animal Overpopulation

November 4, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

By Lauren Michaels
lmichaels@smu.edu

Jonnie England was driving home one recent afternoon when she saw a German Shepherd chasing after a car down Saner Street in Oak Cliff. She watched the dog desperately follow the car for two miles, until the driver accelerated onto the freeway. Exhausted, the dog collapsed in a nearby yard. England said it was clear that the passengers in the car were the owners of the dog who had just been dropped off at Keist Park. For England, this incident didn’t come as a surprise.

As a long-time animal advocate and shelter volunteer, England estimates that she rescues about 35 lost, hurt or loose animals each year in her Oak Cliff neighborhood.

Dallas Animal Services, the City of Dallas and advocacy groups are working together to reduce the overpopulation of stray animals. City officials say that some lower income areas, especially in South Dallas and parts of Oak Cliff, have been harder to manage. Residents in these areas have a tendency to not spay and neuter their animals because of expenses and limited education about the available resources.

Last year, DAS impounded 30,855 dogs and cats, of which 2,316 dogs were adopted, 1,484 were given to local rescue groups and 1,625 redeemed by their owners. The remaining 16,393 dogs underwent euthanasia at the shelter for various types of medical, age or space reasons, said city officials.

Joey Zapata, Dallas’ director of Code Compliance, believes education, legislation and enforcement are the key solutions for decreasing the number of stray animals in the city.

“The goal isn’t about the animals, it’s with the people,” Zapata said.

A stray, pregnant dog roams around a park in Oak Cliff. (PHOTO COURTESY JONNIE ENGLAND)

According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, only ten percent of animals brought into shelters have been spayed or neutered.

An unaltered animal reproduces more frequently, increasing the number of animals that are euthanized each year due to limited shelter space and low adoption rates. Loose animals have a tendency to carry more diseases, such as rabies, which can be hazardous to the health of residents. Some also have aggressive behaviors, which can create a dangerous environment for residents who spend their time outside.

As the former executive director of the advocacy group and no-kill shelter in Carrollton, Operation Kindness, England keeps the necessary equipment, such as leashes, food, gloves, water containers and crates, which allow her to rescue an animal at any moment.

On a windy Sunday in October, she spots a flattened cardboard box in the middle of the road and immediately brakes to check if the brown material may be an animal. England is always aware of her surroundings and, while she is driving, catches herself looking for strays in nearby bushes, as the stoplight turns red.

“Sometimes I envy the people who can drive down the street and never see a stray animal,” England said.

With an excess amount of animals and holding spaces, the city has been working to keep up with the demand and operations of the newly built DAS facility.

Three years ago, Dallas invested in a new state-of-the-art, eco-friendly shelter that doubled the capacity of their previous shelters. The air in the shelter re-circulates every 8 to 12 minutes and more than 90 percent of natural daylight serves as an energy source throughout the shelter.

Currently, the shelter holds up to 1,000 kennels and receives about 300 to 500 animals per week. While the Dallas County district attorney’s office continues investigating recent allegations of animal cruelty at DAS, the city has hired Dallas police Lieutenant Scott Walton to be the shelter’s interim division manger. Walton said he feels compelled to maintain a high standard of care at the shelter and has made it his mission to give every animal a second chance.

“I think where Dallas should be encouraged is if you really look at the number of rescue groups and the number of advocacy groups that really are working to get that message out,” Walton said.

Delia Jasso, District 1 Councilmember for the City of Dallas, which covers the Northern Oak Cliff neighborhood, has great compassion for Lt. Walton.

“He is very open and very aggressively wants to change the perception of the animal shelter,” Jasso said.

In December, Jasso is planning to launch a “Dallas Loves Animals” campaign with local advocacy groups in order to educate the public about ongoing animal issues. Jasso would also like to offer discounted adoption fees to encourage the community to come out to the shelter and adopt an animal.

A mother sits with her puppies in a back road in Oak Cliff. (PHOTO COURTESY JONNIE ENGLAND)

While at times the challenges seem daunting, Zapata said that there are resources available. He sees a need to create more public awareness of the resources like spay and neuter programs.

On Oct. 25, 2008, Dallas added a new amendment to the city’s Chapter 7 Animal Ordinance, which said that all dogs and cats must either be spayed or neutered, with limited exceptions. If an animal does not get altered, the owner will be required to pay a yearly license fee and take an education class on responsible pet ownership. While many owners do alter their pets, the majority of stray animals in Oak Cliff have not been spayed or neutered, officials said.

Both Zapata and Dallas assistant city manager Forest Turner understand the importance of enforcing the ordinance. They are currently working with animal advocacy groups, such as Operation Kindness and Paws in the City, to inform people about pet ownership responsibilities.

“People need to consider how to care, feed, pay for vet bills and have their children understand,” Turner said.

Rebecca Poling, founder of Companions for Life and an animal rights advocate, works with the Metroplex Animal Coalition to help provide free spay and neuters for citizens. If an owner resides within a certain zip code, and earns less than $35,000 per year, their pet will qualify for free spay or neutering services. Dallas also provides free spay and neuter options for citizens on public assistance.

The SPCA of Texas also offers low-cost spay and neuter options through subsidies at the Martin Clinic at Village Fair in Oak Cliff. Last year, more than 17,000 animals received spay and neuter treatments from the clinic’s board certified veterinarians.

Poling believes that Oak Cliff residents may be working longer hours and do not have the funding, time or transportation to take advantage of these programs. Therefore, many stray dogs and cats roaming the streets are unneutered and producing litters that contribute to the overpopulation.

“There is nobody out there that isn’t contributing.” Poling said. “Everybody has a role and there is so much to be done.”