Maybe you are a financial supporter of our local SPCA of Texas or one of many city residents who fought to get an animal cruelty unit created within the Dallas Police Department.
Maybe you are among the hundreds of concerned citizens who have reported the abuse of a dog or cat in recent months. Or who saw the sickening Facebook video that went viral Wednesday night of a man beating his dog on the balcony of a southeast Dallas apartment.
Almost none of you know this: It’s all but impossible right now to get justice for abused dogs and cats in Dallas. Whether these pitiful creatures have been shot or stabbed, tortured or starved, their cruelty cases have hit a dead end.
As of Oct. 1, 2022, the Dallas-based SPCA withdrew from its agreement with the police department to provide services, including vital forensics exams and court testimony, necessary for the three detectives in the DPD animal cruelty unit to make cases.
SPCA’s decision came after months of sporadic negotiations over the nonprofit’s desire to no longer do the work for free but rather be reimbursed for its costs.
“We are disappointed an agreement could not be reached but proud of the work we have done to support DPD and the City of Dallas in their animal cruelty investigation efforts,” SPCA President and CEO Karen Froehlich wrote to Dallas Executive Assistant Chief Lonzo Anderson in a Sept. 2 certified letter.
Until I began asking questions, neither the SPCA nor DPD had revealed the breakup of this partnership. In fact, until I called it to Froehlich’s attention, the SPCA still stated on its website that its investigative unit focused on the city of Dallas.
Anderson says he most recently laid out financial options in a Sept. 22 call with Froehlich. DPD had come up with $25,000 for the current fiscal year and $50,000 for the next, but said a revised agreement would need to go through the City Council.
Froehlich maintains no formal offer was made, and the conversation continued to be “exploratory.”
Seven weeks after the SPCA letter arrived, Anderson officially told the animal cruelty unit and Dallas Animal Services director MeLissa Webber “the SPCA’s ongoing support is ending” and he was working with Webber on “care and resource substitutions.”
The animal cruelty unit continues to investigate incidents, but making any case requires a medical professional’s statement on cause of death or injury. With the SPCA forensic veterinarian no longer available, few — if any — cases can be filed.
For example, even if a dog or cat is found stabbed or shot, a specially trained vet must conduct a necropsy to verify the cause of death.
If an owner starves a pet to death, detectives must have a vet’s statement that starvation is what killed it — as opposed, say, to it having an underlying medical condition.
Pets that investigators believe are victims of neglect end up back with owners because there’s no vet to confirm their suspicions. Similarly, animals that need to be removed from a home due to suspected cruelty often continue to suffer.
Under the DPD-SPCA agreement, the nonprofit also provided shelter and care for the abused animals while cases proceeded.
Additionally, SPCA staff is trained in the necessary protocols to save emaciated animals. Starved dogs, for instance, require a strict recovery feeding process or they die from shock to their system once they have food available.
According to numbers Froehlich shared with me, from mid-2019 through Oct. 1, 2022, the nonprofit did 152 necropsies for Dallas police and housed 1,215 animals in abuse investigations.
In 2018, under James Bias’ leadership, the SPCA signed a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, to do the work free of charge.
Soon after Froehlich succeeded Bias, she met in February 2020 with Anderson and Dallas Animal Services leaders to request the city find $50,000 a year in its budget to help with the expenses.
When COVID hit Dallas several weeks later, Froehlich set aside her pursuit of reimbursements. She again raised the need for a new financial arrangement in May of last year.
Froehlich told me the decision to end the MOU was a strategic one. “We support other counties out to the east of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and those are counties that don’t have the resources that Dallas does,” she said.
When I asked her Tuesday why the SPCA website continues to say its “Animal Cruelty Investigations Unit focuses on the city of Dallas,” she acknowledged that is incorrect information and needed to be removed. Now the page lists only Hunt and Van Zandt counties.
This speaks to a misunderstanding that a lot of you likely have about the SPCA of Texas: It is located in our city but at present isn’t doing animal cruelty work in Dallas.
If you fill out the “report abuse” form on its website, the SPCA funnels your concern to Dallas police. The nonprofit no longer has a peace officer commissioned in Dallas County who could seize animals or obtain warrants.
Abuse reports made on the SPCA website by residents of one of the surrounding cities in Dallas, Collin, Denton and Rockwall counties are likewise forwarded to the appropriate entity in their town.
Just as Dallas police created their own animal cruelty unit in 2018, most local departments “are now sophisticated enough to be able to do their own investigations,” Froehlich said.
“The areas we are focused on are those that need our help the most,” she said. “Those currently are going to be the more rural areas and that, quite frankly, have some of the most serious issues.”
Froehlich noted that her nonprofit has other local programs to prevent cruelty, such as the food provided at its pet resource center, and the SPCA provides housing and medical care for dogs and cats in its adoption center. It also offers low- and no-cost spay and neuter services.
In 2022, Dallas police received 1,249 animal cruelty calls, filed 62 cases with the district attorney’s office, opened 392 investigations and made 36 arrests. The arrest number would be higher if the police had not lost the SPCA’s help in the last quarter of the year.
Anderson has turned to Dallas Animal Services for help, but that department is struggling mightily with its current workload and has two openings on its always-stretched, five-person veterinary team.
Webber reported Thursday to the Animal Advisory Commission that another outbreak of canine influenza virus has occurred inside the city shelter. She also released statistics that show DAS’ live-release rate of dogs dropped from 85% to 75% in the last quarter of 2022 from the same period in 2021.
For an organization committed to getting back to the 90% live-release rate it attained under former DAS director Ed Jamison, the latest numbers are a big blow. Additionally, Webber announced her second-in-command, Whitney Hanson Bollinger, has resigned to take a national animal welfare job.
Despite all this, Webber also is trying to sort out how best her department can support DPD’s animal cruelty unit.
For example, the New York-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is not affiliated with local SPCA nonprofits, has agreed to do the training needed to get Webber’s staff up to speed on taking over the work previously done by Froehlich’s team.
A Facebook post and video shared Wednesday night by local Univision meteorologist Nelly Carreno, who belongs to a group of Latinas fighting animal abuse, is the latest example of why our city’s dogs and cats are urgently in need of help.
Carreno talked with residents at the southeast Dallas apartment complex who had videoed a man — who neighbors said was angry that his dog was whimpering in the cold — repeatedly hitting the defenseless pup. Carreno told me the police officers who arrived said they could find no injuries on the dog.
This is a small example of why losing the SPCA’s help is such a big deal. Dogs don’t bruise like humans and to find evidence of a beating requires a skilled investigation.
In the SPCA’s most recent published audit report, for the year 2021, its total revenue was $26.6 million and its total expenses were $24.8 million.
It’s a crying shame this nonprofit — whose donations certainly include Dallas residents who want the prevention of cruelty to animals in their hometown — decided it could no longer do this work pro bono.
The city can’t afford to stand up an animal cruelty unit if it doesn’t have the expert help and housing to make the operation effective.