Animal advocates across Dallas are protesting a proposal by city manager A.C. Gonzalez to cut the staff at the city's animal shelter by half. A petition has been launched and a "peaceful" demonstration is planned to take place at City Hall on May 28.
The proposal surfaced in a presentation before the Dallas City Council on May 21, during a session on the city budget for 2014-2015 by Gonzalez and financial officer Jeanne Chipperfield.
The budget process is in the early stages and is expected to evolve. But as it currently stands, the number of workers who care for the animals at Dallas Animal Services would be cut from 35 to 17. There is also a long list of basics, described as "enhancements," that weren't funded at all, including canned pet food, vaccinations, cleaning supplies, repairs for broken equipment and maintenance of the grounds.
As the budget currently stands, the number of workers at Dallas Animal Services would be cut from 35 to 17.
The shelter has seen a marked improvement since the 2011 hire of manager Jody Jones, even despite cuts to the budget and workforce. In 2013, some tide-me-over funds were found at the last minute to fill in some gaps, but the shelter has been shortchanged for a number of years.
Response to the proposal has included a Facebook page called We Care About Dallas Animal Services, as well as a petition that has drawn nearly 2,500 signatures in just over a day. Animal blogger Larry Powell posted an impassioned entry, as did a shelter-themed blog called Now or Never. Animal groups such as Duck Team 6 and Humane Society of Flower Mound have spoken out against the budget's proposed cuts.
"Everybody says they care about animals and quality of life, but to do that, we need to fund the Dallas Animal Shelter," says Chris Watts, owner of the Petropolitan pet service and a member of the Animal Shelter Commission.
At the Wednesday meeting, most city council members questioned the funding shortfall. Mayor Mike Rawlings highlighted animal services as one of the budget's so-called optional "enhancements" that he said needed to be addressed.
Council member Philip Kingston chimed in, saying that those enhancements were not optional. "Isn't one of the 'enhancements' dog food?" he asked incredulously. "How is that optional?"
Council member Sandy Greyson urged Gonzalez and Chipperfield to bump up the shelter's priority.
"How much discussion do we have every week about animal services?" she asked. "And yet nothing they've asked for is funded. It needs to be way higher up on our list of priorities, because that's what the public wants."
When Sheffie Kadane quizzed the city manager on the budgeted reductions in workforce, Gonzalez and Chipperfield tried to say that the reductions weren't really going to happen.
"Well on page 75, line 15, it says that Dallas Animal Services will 'reduce the day labor force by 50 percent,'" Kadane said. "That looks like a 50 percent decrease."
"But it's asterisked so we intend to fund it," Chipperfield said.
Council member Rick Callahan observed that the city was expecting Dallas Animal Services to do more but without funding to match. "We continue to tread water while there are more dogs, more cats, more animals," he said. "If there's a dead raccoon, it takes 72 hours to pick him up."
Greyson also expressed concern over the lack of funding allotted for a satellite adoption center that opened in 2013 at a PetSmart in North Dallas.
"PetSmart put a lot of money into that adoption center," she said. "One of the things we committed to do was matching funds. On principle, if someone is willing to give us some money, we need to make it our business to make that a priority."
A second round of budget discussions is scheduled for the city council meeting on May 28. That's also the day that animal advocates have planned a "peaceful protest" to take place at City Hall.