By Edgar Bazan, Mayor’s Star Council Class 2016-2017.
You may recall a tragic story that happened this year back in May when a woman was mauled by a pack of dogs in southern Dallas and ended up losing her life to her injuries. Many would condemn the dogs and say: we have a dog problem. Of course, we do. But the root of this issue is our own carelessness and inattentiveness towards our pet companions.
Our loose dog problem is a cruel reality we are facing. We can’t turn the other way and expect it to just go away. This situation is inevitable and unavoidable. It is happening, and we need to deal with it promptly with responsibility and compassion, for what we let grow in the shadows will eventually hurt everywhere, or bite us to death. And, denying its reality only feeds into its progressive growth and threat.
On December 13th, 2016, the Mayor’s Star Council met with community leaders and public servants to learn the particulars of this issue and find creative, sustainable and responsible ways to address it.
Among the facts shared that night, we learned that approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur each year United States of America and nearly one out of five bites becomes infected (Preventing Dog Bites, The Centers for Disease Control Prevention, May 2015). In 2014, loose dogs off their owner’s property inflicted 40% of all fatal attacks, a sharp rise from the 10-year average of 24% in 2005-2014 (Dogsbite.org). The following year reported that more than 28,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs (2015 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons). In this same year, 9% of the attacks resulting in death were inflicted by dogs rehomed by county-operated shelters or rescues (Dogsbite.org).
This is a ubiquitous and ever growing issue. Using the descriptive analogy by Stephen Edison, Principal at The Boston Consulting Group, to explain this situation in a practical manner, Dallas dogs can be conceptualized as buckets and flows. First, imagine the Dallas dog population as a bucket of water that is continuously filled as new dogs are born. Second, you have the dog owners that surrender their dogs to Dallas Animal Shelter (DAS), which in turn scrambles to rehome these dogs. Third, even after this is done, some dogs fall through the cracks of the bucket and become loose, including runaway, loose-owned, community or feral dogs. And fourth, those loose dogs collected from the streets to prevent public safety and animal welfare issues go then through adoptions and transfer partners—with the overflow resulting in euthanasia. (The Boston Consulting Group, 2016)
This is an expensive challenge we are facing, both financial and health-wise. Consider this: while pet ownership crosses all social, economic and geographic boundaries, access to information and services does not. Many will be quick to judge those that are behind the problem, however, while in some situations a crime is indeed committed against the well-being of the animals, in many cases the causes of ill-treatment is a lack of money. The owners’ love is there to care for their pets, but the means are not. Caring for a pet is often financially out of reach, hence standard wellness care is not the norm. In this regard, without disposable income, transportation, and access to information, taking proper care of pets becomes highly inaccessible and unrealistic for residents living in poverty. Because of these barriers, these owners don’t go to the vet for preventative care, and they don’t learn about parasites and the risk to their kids, or the importance of spaying and neutering.
Where to begin? What can be done? A dear friend of mine (Fran Gaconnier) that is passionate about finding solutions to this challenge and has been helping our community to encourage healthy practices for the city and pet owners, speaks on this and says: “this issue can only be solved by a multifaceted approach. Each facet needs to work towards the goal of stemming the source of loose animals and elevating the safety and quality of life of our city’s residents and their companion pets.”
Some of the most feasible and effective approaches that provide practical and sustainable solutions are through a strong spay and neuter culture, education initiatives for pet owners and their kids, ordinances requiring vaccinations, low-cost and no-cost clinics in places where they are needed the most, and other parallel efforts that will support healthy communities for our companions and ourselves.
This is a daunting task that will not be resolved by planning plans but by executing them. The City of Dallas is beginning to address this challenge two-fold: by learning how to provide for public safety by reducing the number of stray and loose dogs; and by allocating resources to support healthy practices for animal welfare in partnership with animal shelters and other community groups. (Callahan, Dallas City Council Member, District 5)
While some had argued that this is a self-inflicted citizen’s problem, this will not be resolved by passing the blame around like a hot potato. At the end of the day, we are the moral animals, the homo sapiens, that need to understand that our dogs, and all of our pets, need to be respected and love. They are family not to be thrown away as waste, for when we value our pets’ contribution to our happiness and well-being, and when we celebrate how our pets serve, love, and protect us, we will elevate our city’s animal culture, which in turn makes safer communities for our own families and our beloved pets.
Since this is our city, this issue is our responsibility, and we are committed to continue learning how to contribute to the solutions of this challenge.