Animal advocates worry the crowded Fort Worth shelter’s move to cut off most owner surrenders will result in more dogs being abandoned in the street and nonprofit shelters and rescue groups being swamped.
But Brandon Bennett, the city’s code compliance director, said unconscientious owners have dumped their pets "all over the city," even when the shelter took "everything that came to our doorstep."
"They’re going to dump them regardless of this policy," he said Thursday.
Bennett said the city isn’t trying to push animal control responsibility off on nonprofits like the Humane Society of North Texas, whose operations director said Wednesday the city is shirking its taxpayer-funded obligation to the public health.
"We can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re operating at capacity," and the city has a constrained budget, Bennett said.
Under the new policy, which the city has already put into place, the shelter will continue to accept owners’ surrenders if there’s a "public health, welfare or safety" risk.
That includes sick animals. The shelter also will continue to accept surrenders from owners such as the elderly who say they’re no longer able to care for their pets, Bennett said.
"That falls under the health, welfare or safety caveat," he said.
The policy change "will impact those animal owners who are lazy and have made no effort whatsoever to find a home for their pet," he said. "When you or me or any other citizen takes on the responsibility of pet ownership, it’s their responsibility. They need to step up and take that responsibility."
Through July 31 this fiscal year, owners surrendered more than 3,422 pets at the city’s 4900 Martin St. shelter in southeast Fort Worth, Bennett said. The city is on track to take in more than 25,000 animals for the year, which ends this month.
The shelter was so crowded earlier this year that it put out the word that healthy adoptable animals were at risk of euthanasia, if rescue groups and individuals didn’t step forward.
Jason Smith, a Fort Worth lawyer and head of the Fort Worth Dog Park Association, said he worried that people who have hit hard times will end up dumping their animals because of the policy change.
"People do need to take control of their pets, but our society needs to take care of it when we have problems like people getting laid off," he said.
Increased dumping is "going to cause a lot of problems and require a whole bunch more work for animal control workers to catch them," he said.
Danielle Stewart, founder of the Apollo Support & Rescue group in far North Fort Worth, said she "went into a panic mode" when she heard of the policy change.
"Two things are going to happen," she said. "People are going to start dumping their dogs, or they’re going to turn to nonprofit shelters like ourselves."
Rescue groups are already stretched for resources, she said.
Stewart said she was sympathetic to the shelter’s problems.
"I think the shelter has a very tough job," she said. "There is a lot of dumping already, because people can’t stomach walking into the shelter and signing that paper, knowing their dog might be euthanzed."
Randy Turner, a Fort Worth attorney who's suing Fort Worth on behalf of a client whose dog was mistakenly euthanized, questioned the policy change.
"It just seems to me it’s a situation where the city is abdicating part of its responsibility for animal control, in the interest of not raising its budget," he said. "That doesn’t seem right to me."
The city earlier this week revealed several changes it’s making to relieve crowding at the shelter. Bennett said the changes won’t cut the budget, but will keep it from rising.
Tammy Hawley, operations director of the Humane Society of North Texas, said she worried about the prospect of increased rabies risk, apart from higher numbers of animals already coming into her Fort Worth shelter.
The city is "funded by taxpayers (and has resources) that are far, far bulkier than ours," she said.
She said there’s "no magic wand" to solving the problem of irresponsible pet owners.
"The kind of people who typically give up animals to animal shelters are not always the most vested owners anyway," she said.
Bennett said it’s possible the city could revisit the policy changes based on trends in numbers of animals coming into the shelter.
"We can make them more strict ,and we can make them less strict, based on the number of animals that are coming into the shelter," he said.
The city has been raising private donations to build a medical ward expansion on the animal shelter that would add 58 kennels. The cost of the building, equipment and one year of operations would be about $1.2 million.
"We’re into the hundreds of thousands of dollars" raised, Bennett said. The city’s goal is to raise the first $650,000, and appears on track to get that done by Thanksgiving, he said.
"That’s enough to start moving forward with the construction phase," he said.
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter