There are several components of this plan that are explained on the website dallascompanionanimalproject.org.
A component that I find extremely interesting promotes outreach and helping low income pet owners – those in need of assistance for spay-neuter surgeries, vaccinations, micro-chips, medical care, training assistance, mend-a-fence and others. Reaching this goal would be so easy if we could just wave a magic wand and POOF – all of these folks would immediately have their needs met, which would, in turn, improve the quality of life for their family pets. A new model of community outreach would help these pet owners the most.
A few weeks ago I attended the Texas Unites Conference in Austin, where my eyes and ears were opened to numerous out-of-the-box ideas for providing all types of assistance to pet owners. I learned that reports show 16 percent of pets in Texas live with families below the poverty line. However, the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) was established in the 60s when the cost of food equated to one-third of total living expenses, causing this theory today to be completely out of date and extremely low. It is now estimated that 40 percent of people in Texas qualify as low income, and Texas benefits are harder to obtain and much lower than other states.
After learning about this shift in poverty levels, I read an article by Sue Sternberg titled “Training Wheels” in the American Pet Dog Trainer’s Newsletter. Most animal welfare advocates are knowledgeable of Sternberg, who is a pet lecturer, shelter owner and creator of the infamous “Assess-A-Hand” program. In this recent informative article, Sternberg shares an inspiring story about a new model of active community outreach that immediately piqued my interest and made me wonder if something like this could be achieved in Dallas to help us reach out goals of the DCAP Plan.
Sternberg wrote: “A local man who had just lost his trailer home in a fire came to the shelter to surrender his dog. Now, homeless, this man had to move in with his father and couldn’t take his pet with him. The dog, a six-year old English setter named Moose, had been kept on a 20-foot chain his entire life.
Moose presented as a most affectionate, social, gentle, and loving dog. He had obviously never been abused and he had a wonderful temperament. But he was not neutered, had never been indoors, had never been to a vet, had never been vaccinated or tested for heartworm and had been sunburned on his nose over and over again.
And yet this owner clearly loved his dog and, upon his surrender, proudly donated Moose’s chain, telling me how every Thanksgiving he would bring a plate of turkey and fixings out to Moose, how he never hit Moose, how if Moose ever needed discipline, he would just open the window of his trailer and yell, “Moose, quiet” and Moose would shut right up. He also expressed how he hoped Sternberg’s shelter could find Moose a good new home.
The man was genuinely loving and kind, Sternberg realized, but from a completely different world of dog ownership that most pet owners know and from a very different financial position. He had raised this dog the only way he knew – just like his father had raised dogs before him. The man signed his dog over to the shelter and Moose finally got a bath, his first health check-up, heartworm testing (negative!) and vaccines. Soon afterward, Moose was chosen and adopted by a loving family where he easily adjusted to living primarily as an indoor dog.
Luckily, Moose’s story had a happy ending, but Sternberg wrote that she could not help but think about all the “what ifs”:
• What if Moose could have been surrendered five years earlier so he didn’t have to spend most of his life outside on a chain?
• What if Moose’s owner could have been found earlier in Moose’s life and, over time, been educated about the care of a family pet, and gently talked about bringing Moose indoors… at first at night and then, as his behavior proved to be exemplary, more permanently?
• What if Moose could have been offered low-cost, minimal vet care and at least he could have been on heartworm preventative?
We must all remind ourselves that it’s easy to judge those people who keep their dogs on chains… until we begin to understand their reasons, beliefs and lack of education about animals. It doesn’t mean these folks love their pets any less than we do – just differently.
Like Sue Sternberg, I began to envision a van that would travel around our city, into the poorest of poor neighborhoods, going door to door, kind of like the Good Humor Ice Cream truck for pets.
The truck would be outfitted with experienced volunteers with excellent people skills, along with supplies such as dog and cat collars, instant ID tags, rawhides, Milk-Bone biscuits, cable runners (to replace chains, at first), non-tip water bowls, educational materials, spay/neuter subsidies, and good intentions.
The goal would be to bring the shelter to the community, instead of waiting for people to bring their animals to the shelter. The goal would also be to help the many people who love their pets but need training and assistance for them to live the quality of life our own family pets do. It’s not a hard goal, and it’s one that will help us reach our overall goal of the Dallas Companion Animal Project. The question is, Is this Good Humor Ice Cream Truck for Pets possible? Somehow in my heart, I think it is.