The Girl Scouts of America Team Up With the SPCA of Texas

November 16, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Jeff Johnson

Brady, Eli and Payton snuggle close for a family portrait. Photo by: Jeff Johnson

It’s just after 1 p.m. on a beautiful Saturday and the various occupied kennels and enclosures are eerily quiet at the Riverfront Boulevard Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) of Texas shelter.

A few couples file in and immediately are attracted to the various puppies enclosed in the center of the main room and lining the walls. The couples make their rounds petting eager pups pawing and yelping back. Some couples bravely venture down the various halls where bigger, louder dogs are vying for attention too.

After several minutes of browsing, the couples, still undecided, start to leave and the excited dogs begin to calm.

Suddenly, several young girls in green vest with an array of badges storm the kennels of puppies. They are the Girls Scouts of America Troop 2170 wrapping up a tennis ball donation drive for the dogs.

“We collected about 700 of them and we are giving them to the SPCA,” Maggie Pankey said.

According to their troop leader Julie Keith, her troop of 11 and 12 year old girls worked 15 hours to gather donations, which didn’t include the time they spent teaching Brownies how to make toys out of them.

“I’m very proud of the girls, they did a lot of work,” Keith said of the girls’ community project, which earned each of the girls a Bronze award.

Riverfront SPCA shelter is home to 67 various animals and over half are dogs followed by a considerably smaller population of cats. It is one of four facilities, two being clinics, funded through private donations, foundations, clinic fees and adoptions.

“We take in dogs, cats, horses, some birds, livestock animals and we had a llama in the past,” Vice President of Communications Maura Davies said over the phone. “We take any and all animals!”

Clem the pointer-hound mix, she is one of the newest arrivals at Riverfront Boulevard SPCA. Photo by: Jeff Johnson

According to Davies, in 2010 the SPCA took in over 8,000 animals and found homes for over 5,400 of them. However, the care of the animals doesn’t come cheap.

“We pulled all the numbers we could and the end result of that calculation gave us the number $600 per animal,” Davies said.

Davies said the figure includes medical care, staff and volunteer time, a micro-chip for identification and facility usage cost from the time the animals enter the shelter until adoption.
The SPCA of Texas doesn’t advocate euthanasia; it uses a selective intake system to control shelter capacities.

“An animal that is happy and healthy will stay with us until it is adopted,” Davies said.

Davies added the SPCA utilizes a number of media outlets and popular social network sites to place its animals a home.

With around 500 animals currently in its shelters, the personal care of each animal takes many. Davies said the SPCA currently employs 120 paid workers and a team of over 400 volunteers.

That’s where the Girls Scout troop 2170 comes in. The girls, say officials, are making a difference. Aside from gathering hundreds of tennis balls, the girls also gathered leashes, bowls and other fun accessories for the dogs.

“We didn’t just have fun with each other and the little girls,” Elise Savant said. “We had fun raising all that stuff to give to the dogs!”

But this experience meant more to them than just a day with the girls and puppies, it was a community project they took seriously and have been touched by.

“The experience is great because I feel like I made a difference,” Cara Lawson said. “So many people don’t understand how abused the dogs have been and it doesn’t get spread around like other topics.”

Many of the puppies sheltered by the SPCA are from unwanted litters, which is why Davies urges pet owners to spay or neuter their pets.

“The pet overpopulation problem in this country is vast,” Davies said. “Two to three million animals enter shelters each year nationwide.”

Davies said the only way for every companion animal to find a home would take every man, woman and child from birth to 75 years old to adopt seven animals a day for their entire life. She estimates three to four million animals are euthanized in the United States each year because of the over population problem.

“Spay and neuter is the best way to make an immediate difference in the pet overpopulation problem,” Davies said.

The SPCA spays and neuters all its sheltered pets before adoption.

Despite the individual cost of each pet’s care and parent package upon adoption, Davies said its highest adoption rates are a fraction of the cost for the same care by veterinarians and products bought in stores.

She said in her personal experience it can cost up to $700 or more.

“Animals adopted from the SPCA have everything they need,” Davies said. “From an additional round of shots and any other care from the veterinarian that might be necessary.”

Simply put from troop 2170, “Adopt a dog!”

The Daily Update: Monday, March 28

March 28, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

The Daily Update: Monday, March 28 from on Vimeo.

On today’s Daily Update catch up with the latest on Libya and what members of the U.S. government are saying about it. Could radioactive water be heading to the Pacific and Mustang Men’s basketball team season is over, see where they ended up.

Dallas Working to Combat Growing Animal Overpopulation

November 4, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

By Lauren Michaels

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.”

Animals Suffer from Poor Economy

April 15, 2010 by · Comments Off 

by Katie Simon

The sad, tired eyes of an old chocolate Labrador peer through the bars of the kennel that is now his home. The four-year-old dog’s family recently abandoned him to a local animal shelter because they could no longer afford to care for him. But he doesn’t understand that.  

For many people, the poor state of the economy has taken a significant toll on their ordinary lifestyles. But for those with pets, both the owner and the pet may suffer.

Animal abandonment is no new problem. A family moves, which serves as an excuse to hand their dog over to an already over-capacity no-kill shelter. Or a man realizes he’s allergic to cats after all, so the cat ends up at a city pound where it is most likely to be euthanized.

But families who genuinely love their pets are now handing them over to shelters because they have either lost their jobs or their homes for financial reasons. Shelters, on the other hand, are experiencing a decline in adoptions because people know it is hard enough to care for themselves when they are tight on money. Adding an animal to the equation is simply out of the question.

Mark Cooper, the rescue coordinator for the city of Dallas, says the number of people surrendering pets for economical reasons has increased by 20 percent.

In December 2008, the Collin County Animal Shelter took in 63 pet surrenders from owners. In December 2010, it took in 117.

Owners surrender dogs more than cats. Dog food is expensive, and visits to the vet, especially for big dogs, are generally more expensive.

“People cannot afford the vet bills any longer; so instead, they are surrendering the animal to us in hopes that we can “fix” the animal,” Cooper said.

Tomi Tucker, the volunteer coordinator for the no-kill shelter Operation Kindness in Carrollton, says that they are constantly turning away animals—especially large breed dogs—because of space.

“We get hundreds of calls a day that we can’t take,” Tucker said. “We have to tell them no.”

While some shelters have maintained a steady number of animals, one thing is constant among all of them, say shelter workers: the number of surrenders and fewer adoptions are due to the economy.

Loss of a Home

When a family loses their home, their pet often loses its home and its owners.

“It’s like being separated from one of their own family members,” said Jackie Shapiro, who recently adopted a kitten from KittyCo Cat Rescue in Dallas.

Cats have an advantage in this situation, explains Tucker. If a person or family downgrades from an expensive home to a smaller one, a cat can usually be included in the moving process.

Large dogs, however, usually end up homeless.

“Cats are a little bit easier because more people can take cats than they can take dogs, because dogs require more assistance,” Tucker said.

For pit bull terriers and pit mixes, moving homes is practically an automatic death-sentence.

Pit bulls are considered an aggressive breed and many homeowners or landlords won’t allow their owners to keep them. And when pit bull owners bring their beloved dog to a no-kill shelter, they are often turned away because the shelter knows it is unlikely to be adopted.

Some city shelters, such as Carrollton’s, don’t take in pit bulls at all. Instead, they are immediately put down.

Amy Pelzel, a full-time volunteer for Denton Animal Shelter, says that Denton euthanizes 35 percent of its animals, and of that 35 percent, 70 percent are pit bulls.

“A lot of pit bulls are great with people, but aren’t dog-friendly. A lot of homes won’t allow you to have an aggressive breed,” she explained. “You can’t take it to a dog park, and you can’t find anywhere to live with that dog. It’s a stereotype of what that kind of dog is, so they aren’t accepted by society.”

Owner Surrenders

Before the economic downturn, many animal surrenders were strays people had found. At least that’s what people were telling shelters.

Pelzel believes that then, people were embarrassed to admit that they either could not care for or did not want their pet any longer. Now, however, financial problems have given some people a legitimate reason for handing over their pets, and others a believable excuse.

“People are literally just saying, ‘Oh, it’s because of the economy.’ And it’s almost more of an acceptable excuse to give up an animal,” she said.

Whether the surrenders are genuine or not, though, more people are turning in pets rather than strays.

Many pet owners want the best for their pet, but they don’t always understand how to go about ensuring that their pet ends up in good hands.

“If they turn the dog in as an owner surrender and there is no cage space, it can be directly taken to be put to sleep. Its time is up the second it is released to a shelter,” said Molly Peterson, the president of the Collin County Humane Society.

Peterson recommends that owners tell kill-shelters that the dog is a stray rather than turn the dog in as their own. This way they not only avoid paying the surrender fee, but the animal is automatically ensured a three to six day holding period, which was originally created so that owners could find missing pets. This window of time allows an owner’s pet a greater chance of being adopted rather than euthanized.

A Sad Future

For those animals who are lucky enough not to be turned away to a kill-shelter, a kennel or cage may be their forever-home.

Vikki Honkala, president of City Pet Rescue, says that old pets in particular face a dismal future living in the shelters.

“When you see the confused look in the eyes of a 10-year-old dog that has been left at a shelter by its owners, it’s awful. Who wants to adopt a senior dog or an old cat?” Honkala said.

Because older animals usually experience more health problems, which equal more expensive veterinarian bills, most of them live out the rest of their lives behind a caged door.

Maura Davies, the senior director of communications at SPCA of Texas, said the number of adoptions occurring within the SPCA has plummeted in recent months.

Last year, the SPCA adopted out around 750 pets a month, or about 25 a day. However, those numbers have significantly decreased lately.

“Adoptions went from 750 a month to 500. We have gone down from about 25 a day to around 16 a day,” Davies said.

Operation Kindness has seen the same decrease in adoptions. They usually adopt out between 60 and 75 animals per week. Recently, though, they experienced a week where only six animals were adopted out between Monday and Thursday.

For the animals, living in the shelter is a complete shift from their lives in homes with families. Most are sad and scared.

“You can’t tell them, ‘It’s going to be okay, you’re going to find somebody.’ They don’t understand why they are where they are,” Pelzel said.

Responsible Ownership

Operation Kindness and other shelters say it is better to adopt a pet from a shelter rather than buying from a breeder, because breeders add to the problem of animal overpopulation.

“I think it’s really important to adopt. It helps the animals, and a lot of times the animals that you can adopt are absolutely wonderful. From what I’ve heard, a lot of times they make better pets,” Shapiro said.

However, breeders stress that adoption is not for everyone.

While many families can’t help losing a job and the subsequent inability to pay for their pets, there are still others who adopt a pet without considering the costs and responsibilities associated with doing so, say shelter officials.

Tucker said that Operation Kindness has very strict requirements for adoption, and does its best to educate potential new pet owners of the responsibilities a pet entails.

Tucker recalled a family of five who bought a poodle they had bought from a breeder for $1,500, then turned it over to Operation Kindness when they realized it was required too much trouble and time.

“We asked, ‘Ok, is it housetrained?’ And they said, ‘We don’t know. We just keep it in the bathroom,” recalled Tucker.  

Many shelters also frequently experience animal returns because the owner realized he or she didn’t have enough money to afford her pet.

“We try to educate people when they adopt them that this is a commitment,” Tucker said.

Adoptions by college students are also strongly discouraged. Operation Kindness receives many animal surrenders from recent college graduates moving away for their jobs.

Shelters strongly recommend that owners prevent the problem of homeless animals by spaying and neutering their pets, because poor economy or not, the number of animals in shelters is astounding.

“The only way that every animal in the U.S. could have a home is if every man, woman and child adopted seven animals a day every day for the rest of their lives,” Davies said.