Some of the most experienced folks in Dallas animal rescue have formed a new group dedicated to a most vulnerable category of pets: stray dogs on the street.
Called The Street Dog Project (TSDP), the group was formed in March 2016 by advocates adept at catching elusive dogs and finding them homes. In four months, they've saved 34 dogs, including 16 adults and 18 puppies.
TSDP consists of Rekka Melby, Nicole Bush, Sheli Steinert, Donna Duncan, and Jean-Paul "JP" Bonnelly, who've volunteered with rescue groups for decades.
Bonnelly first got involved in street dog rescue after helping catch a dog that made the news when it tied up traffic on LBJ Freeway. They were able to corner the dog, and the success of that rescue led to another: a dog that had been living on church property over at Midway Road and Northwest Highway, which took a month to catch.
In 2012, they formed Duck Team 6, a rescue group dedicated to street dogs. Back then, Facebook was coalescing into a tool to network lost animals and bring like-minded individuals together. Bonnelly and company used the social medium to document their rescue operations: stake-outs on deserted streets, night-vision cameras catching stray dogs sniffing around food, puppies coaxed out from under rundown buildings.
Their photos and updates allowed followers to become a virtual part of the rescue from the comfort of their own computers, and to donate money and supplies. "We sat down and said, 'If we're going to do this and accept people's money, we need to form a real group," Bonnelly says.
From 2012 to 2015, they honed their street rescue skills, saving between 750 and 800 dogs, and registering hundreds of volunteers to help with backup, administration, and, key to any rescue group, fosters — people who will provide a temporary home to a dog until a permanent adopter could be found. They got several hundred animals spayed and neutered.
Their forays into neighborhoods with stray dogs gave them an opportunity to do outreach — to encourage better ownership practices including spaying and neutering pets. It's the same kind of outreach being done by Dallas Animal Services and by groups such as Dallas Companion Animal Project, the nonprofit that channels resources to the shelter.
"We befriended people in the neighborhood, and they'd pick up on our program," Bonnelly says.
He left Duck Team in 2015 to take a break. No one gets paid in the rescue world; the work is done entirely by volunteers. And dynamics in groups change.
In the interim, Dallas residents and the City of Dallas are paying more attention to the loose-dog issue, including areas Bonnelly used to work, such as Dowdy Ferry Road. But Bonnelly knew he'd come back.
The Street Dog Project has a Facebook page, sharing tales of dogs like Chevy, the pit bull hit by a car; Siri, the nursing mom who leads Bonnelly to her litter of black-and-white puppies; and Mugsy, the puppy that lost almost all his fur.
It's impossible to watch the videos of their rescues and not get choked up. Thanks to an anonymous donor, a GoFundMe campaign called Dog Days of Summer matches dollar-for-dollar contributions up to the first $5,000.
"One of the volunteers for SoupMobile came up to us and said, 'Since you've been coming here, I've seen less stray dogs on the streets and I've seen people treating their animals better,'" Bonnelly says. "That's how you know it works. People tell you it works.
"We made an impact in that area. This is 'trickle-up' support. You start at the bottom with the dog, and it's one less thing that family has to worry about."
Another rescue group has asked to work with TSDP and follow their methods.
"We want to show that street dogs aren't as vicious as they're portrayed," Bonnelly says. "We're just a little group in a small part of Dallas. What we need is a big group for all of Dallas."