Hoping to inspire some law-abiding action from Dallas residents, the city's animal shelter and the Dallas Marshal's Office are partnering up on a warrant roundup on all animal-related tickets.
The roundup will begin on January 20. Anyone with an outstanding warrant for offenses such as loose or tethered dogs is encouraged to step up, pay their tickets, and get it taken care of.
Those who don't will be subject to arrest.
The Dallas Marshal's Office has done warrant roundups in the past for things like unpaid traffic tickets. But the animal-related roundup is a first, says Interim City Marshal Paul Hansen.
"This operation is geared mainly towards animal violations such as animals at large and tethering," Hansen says. "We want to make sure that people understand they need to modify their behavior and answer to the city by taking these charges more seriously."
In the past decade, Dallas has dedicated much energy and resources to try and solve a long-term problem with too many animals in the city — one that exists in other cities in Texas, as well. State and local laws often do not address the issues in a way that's easy to enforce.
In Dallas, there's a gap between Dallas Animal Services and other agencies. DAS Animal Control Officers are the ones who get called when animal offenses arise, and they can write a citation. But enforcement falls to the Marshal's Office.
"We each have enforcement roles," Hansen says. "The Marshal's Office doesn't have a specific role when it comes to animals, but a lot of duties overlap."
In the last fiscal year, Dallas made 191 arrests for animal-related cases. Of those 191 arrests, there were 744 cases, meaning that the violators had multiple warrants.
Hansen says that there are currently about 10,000 outstanding animal-related warrants in the city of Dallas.
"We want to reduce that number and also show people what an Animal Control Officer does," he says. "The role of the ACO and of DAS is that they have a public safety duty. Part of what they're doing is to help protect the public and protect animals. They'll go out and try modify people's behavior, but for right or wrong, those citizens might not take it seriously."
The overlapping duties issue is also a factor in cases of suspected animal cruelty, which animal advocates have been tracking at dumping grounds like Dowdy Ferry Road in southeast Dallas.
"That falls under our environmental crimes unit, when we're investigating dumping and find dogs that have been dumped, as well," he says. "People dump anything they don't want. If we suspect or if there's any suggestion that animal cruelty is involved, we involve DAS, and those cases are referred to the SPCA, who have a dedicated cruelty officer contracted with the city. As law enforcement officers we enforce the law, but we have to work within parameters we’re given."
On the warrant roundup, Hansen is working with DAS assistant director Ryan Rogers. "I've known him for some years — he's a former assistant director for municipal courts and is excited that we're involved because he recognizes the fact that people aren't taking these offenses as seriously as they should," Hansen says.
The program will be deployed over the next few weeks.
"We'll be working throughout the city from warrant lists we've produced," Hansen says. "We're breaking it up by geographic areas and we'll be visiting every area. We'll likely see a spike in arrests because we’re going after these certain repeat violators."
But making arrests is not the primary goal.
"We don't want to look at it as 'How many we can arrest,'" he says. "We want to see how much compliance we can get. And there's generally a higher level of compliance when we announce these types of operations."
Defendants with warrants can resolve their citations in three ways:
- They can pay in person at the Court & Detention Services Municipal Building, at 2014 Main St. on the first floor. Full payments on citations, cash bonds, and surety bonds will be processed at the Dallas Marshal's Office 24 hours daily, at 1600 Chestnut St.
- They can pay online at www.municipalonlinepayments.com/dallastx.
- Or they can pay by mail, by sending a check, cashier's check, or money order, to 2014 Main St., Dallas, TX 75284-0245.