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Dallas Animal Services’ Shelter Is Over Capacity. Advocates Are Making the Case for a New Facility.

The city's animal shelter is more than 135 percent over capacity, and has waived adoption fees to try to control its population. The more permanent solution, advocates say, is to build a new shelter.
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Clair, a Labrador retriever mix, is available for adoption from Dallas Animal Services. The shelter is roughly 135 percent over capacity, and has waived adoption fees. Courtesy Dallas Animal Services

As of Monday morning, there are 405 dogs occupying 300 kennels at the Dallas Animal Services shelter, which means the shelter is about 135 percent over capacity. Just a couple weeks ago, there were more than 500 dogs in the shelter. The shelter’s cat population, thanks to foster initiatives and trap, neuter, and release programs, is actually quite low, at 28 percent occupancy.

Large dogs wait an especially long time for fosters or families to adopt them. The shelter has waived adoption fees as it tries to reduce the shelter population.

Mary Martin, the assistant director of Dallas Animal Services, said Monday that things seem to be improving slightly from last week. “It was really looking awful for a while there, but it’s better today,” she said.

The department and animal advocates are now pressing the city to include money to build a $114 million facility in the upcoming $1.1 billion bond election that they say will make the city’s shelter more efficient, more animal friendly, and more likely to produce good outcomes for the animals that end up in its care. It would also give DAS a basic necessity: more room.

On Friday, I saw firsthand how difficult the pet adoption process can be for employees and potential adopters alike. The current facility is clearly not built to house animals for the length of time the city tries to provide before it is forced to euthanize an animal. The present facility creates a chaotic, fairly confusing scene, and as employees fan out, it can be difficult to provide services.

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Loretta, the best good girl, is a 5-year-old mixed breed house hippo that was recently adopted into the Erickson household. Bethany Erickson

While the parking lot was full, there were only a handful of families milling around, looking to adopt a new pet. The intake side of the shelter was bustling, which means the flow of new animals is easily outpacing the amount leaving the facility for new homes. 

You’ll need to pack your patience when you go. We arrived around 11:30 a.m. Two hours later, we had a new family member—Loretta, a five-year-old, 39-pound, mixed breed that moved in Sunday after she was spayed. She’s quickly adapted to our family. If I may brag, she’s also incredibly smart. She sits for treats and stops when told “No.” She learned that standing by the back door means one of her humans will let her out in the backyard, and that it’s bedtime when everyone goes to their rooms. (She also loves snuggles. She cried when I left to come to the office this morning. But then she got to go outside and I was promptly forgotten.)

That’s the kind of outcome Martin said she wants for everyone who comes into the shelter to find a new family member. She also knows that because of the facility’s shortcomings and the agency’s chronic understaffing, it can take a few hours to meet prospective new pets and adopt them. She knows it’s frustrating.

“We’re not where we like, but we’re gonna get there—none of those things are what we want to be,” she said. “The one thing I ask people is to think of us first, and to give us a shot.”

The current shelter, which sits on Interstate 30 and Westmoreland Road, is landlocked. The new facility would be located about a mile away, and would be double the size of the current shelter.

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Courtesy Dallas Animal Services

“The current shelter is not set up as a humane shelter,” Martin said. “We used to think of animal control as protecting people from animals, and the humane society was protecting animals from people. But now animal control is often expected to do both.”

But the economics make it difficult to do that sometimes, she said. The influx of animals often outpaces the animals that get adopted. “We don’t want to euthanize. We’ll try to find a way to keep a dog from that if we can.”

In an August animal advisory commission meeting, DAS Director Melissa Webber said much the same. The inadequacies baked into that distinction impact the health of the animals at the shelter, too. For instance, she told commissioners, the shelter wasn’t built to adequately address any contagious illnesses that might strike—like the recent bout of canine influenza.

“It was not made to mitigate illness,” she said. “And we see so many illnesses.”

There aren’t enough play spaces, so dogs may not get playtime and group play as often as they should, Martin said Monday. The kennels don’t offer varying sizes for the array of dogs the shelter receives.

“We want to reduce their stress, and that will also help reduce the length of their stay,” she said. Animals who feel less stressed, she said, exhibit fewer of the behaviors that might make a potential adopter wary. 

It also doesn’t allow the shelter to adequately address more unusual demands, either. Webber said in August that at one point this year, the shelter had 3,000 roosters to deal with after a cockfighting operation was busted. Last month, it temporarily took in six abused horses, despite not having facilities for them.

“I mean, for heaven’s sake, they were in our play yards,” Martin said. 

The new shelter, should it be included in the bond package, would address many of those issues. Martin said that the national trend is to get away from the brick and mortar shelters and to move to more of a community model. That is part of the aim of the new shelter, too—to make it friendlier to adopt and more efficient. The other aim is to make it better for animals who end up staying longer, like larger or sick dogs who need more time be adopted or recover from an illness.

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Bruno is one of more than 400 dogs available for adoption.
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Charlette, a 9-month-old puppy, is ready for adoption. Courtesy Dallas Animal Services

“We don’t necessarily want more kennels,” she said. “What we want is better kennels, and more room to help socialize dogs.”

Webber told commissioners in August that the new shelter would have indoor-outdoor wings, where each dog would have an indoor and outdoor kennel. Thirty kennels would be in each wing. With that layout, Webber explained, if a dog became ill, they could “shut off components of the wings at every five kennels,” which would slow the spread of infection.

The new facility would also have separate entry points for intake versus adoption, a community veterinary clinic, space for seminars, and flexible space to adapt for animals that have been seized in animal cruelty cases—like those horses. It would also include more than 60,000 square feet of space for outdoor runs, exercise yards, and meet and greet play yards.

But more importantly, Webber said, “we would be able to grow.”

Webber also acknowledged that DAS has taken criticism in the past—and even currently. But she says a new facility would set the city up for success when it comes to its animal population.

“Feel however you wanna feel about me and the current DAS,” she said in August. “This is a shelter that would take us into 2050 and beyond. I won’t be around then. It’s for the city of Dallas, it’s for the animals, and it’s for the residents.”

New animals are added daily to the shelter’s website, bedallas90.org. To attend an upcoming bond town hall, go here.

Author

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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