SPCA of Texas has a long history of helping make our furry friends healthier, happier
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
If you are looking to adopt a pet from a shelter, there are plenty of options to choose from in North Texas. But few have the depth of history and breadth of programming that SPCA of Texas offers.
Back in the days when people first started thinking about animal welfare in terms of protecting animals from people and other dangers, rather than protecting people from animals — that’s going back to the late 1800s — the organizations that were talking about taking care of animals were the same ones that focused on the rights and welfare of women and children. It wasn’t until after the turn of the century, according to Maura Davies, vice president of communications for SPCA of Texas.
The first U.S. organizations focused on the welfare of animals formed in New York, Davies said, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which sprung from the foundation of England’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Those organizations then jumped cross-country to start organizations in California before leap-frogging back and forth to create chapters and similar organizations around the country.
It was Emilie Schuyler, who came to North Texas from New York, who brought this new idea of animal welfare to this area.
“She was advocating for animals in a very modern way, long before any other animal group I am aware of in Texas,” Davies said. “She was looking at protecting the animals from people, rather than protecting people from animals. Emilie Schuyler was the one who brought that sensibility to North Texas.”
Schuyler got the state charter for the Dallas Humane Society in 1938 and remained involved with the organization until her death. The organization which she helped found, Davies said, has gone through a series of name changes, including the spelled-out Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of North Texas to its current, official, name: SPCA of Texas.
Davies also pointed out that while there are a number of organizations with “SPCA” and “Humane Society” in their names, and even though many if not all grew out of the same original organizations, each one is now it’s own independent entity.
SPCA of Texas has also moved through a series of facilities, and now has three locations: Jan Rees-Jones Animal Care Center and Myron K. Martin Spay/Neuter and Wellness Clinic at 2400 Lone Star Drive in Dallas; Russell H. Perry Animal Care Center and Spay/Neuter and Wellness Clinic, 8411 Stacy Road (FM 720) in McKinney; and Mary Spencer Spay/Neuter and Wellness Clinic at Village Fair, 4830 Village Fair Drive in Dallas.
While Emilie Schuyler and those like her were unusual in their day for the way they looked at animal welfare, Davies notes that “the way that people treat and think of animals has really grown and changed, especially in the last 10 to 15 years. People realize now that these animals really are our family members. I mean, my human kids look at our pets as their siblings.
“I think society as a whole has reached that critical mass.”
And as that perspective has changed, the SPCA of Texas has continued to grow steadily.
“In 2016, we were a $15 million-a-year organization,” Davies said. “And while I don’t have any official numbers, I know we’ve grown tremendously this year.”
All of the organization’s funding, she added, comes from individuals, foundations and corporate sponsors instead of from public funds. The organization does occasionally receive a grant from a city, county or state agency, but those funds are limited to use in very specific programs and projects.
“We wouldn’t be here without our supporters,” Davies said. “And the tens of thousands of animals and their people that we help each year would go without that help without the generosity of our supporters.”
The southern Dallas surge
Over the last couple of years, especially, the dangers of dogs running loose, especially in southern Dallas neighborhoods, have made headlines and focused attention on the problem. In May 2016, a woman named Antoinette Brown died after being attacked by a pack of dogs. And Dowdy Ferry Road in Southeast Dallas has become known as a dumping ground for unwanted pets, especially ill, malnourished and abused dogs.
After Brown’s death, the city of Dallas hired the Boston Consulting Group, using donated funds, to “look at everything involved” and find solutions that would “truly make a difference; what would help protect people and animals and make this a healthier and happier community for all of us,” Davies said.
The BCG report found that, at any given time, there are some 8,700 dogs running loose in southern Dallas, and that the number of loose dogs has increased by about 15 percent annually since 2013. The report suggested that the best way to make the biggest impact in addressing the problem is to have at 45,000 animals spayed and neutered every year over a three-year period.
That’s where the SPCA of Texas and other participating agencies come in.
The aim of the Southern Dallas Spay/Neuter Surge — an effort undertaken by a coalition including SPCA of Texas, Spay/Neuter Network and Operation Kindness — has set a goal of spaying or neutering 50,000-60,000 animals per year in the 23 southern Dallas zip codes where the problem seems to be at its worst.
“This year, we’ve really expanded our work in offering free spaying, neutering and microchipping to people in those 23 zip codes,” Davies said, noting that the agency also helps pet owners in other ways, too.
“The goal is keeping pets in homes, off the streets and out of the shelters,” she said. “And when it comes to those who don’t have homes, the goal is to rescue them, heal them and find them homes.”
Rescue, heal, home
Pet adoptions is what most people think of then they think of SPCA, and most people think of dogs and cats when they think of pet adoptions. “We have all kinds of animals in our shelters,” Davies said. At the Jan Rees location, in addition to dogs and cats, they have adoptable pets rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and even an occasional chinchilla. “We don’t have the capacity here to house birds or reptiles, so we work with other folks to house those animals,” she said.
But if you are looking to adopt larger livestock, SPCA has you covered, there, too — from pigs to horses and more.
A large part of the SPCA of Texas’ work is in rescuing lost, neglected and abused animals, and the organization’s investigators often work with animal cruelty investigators from city and county agencies to do that.
“Our animal cruelty investigators are a great team, and we have increased more than 90 percent in terms of the number of animals we have rescued,” Davies said. “We received just over 3,000 reports of abuse or neglect in 2016, and out of those, we rescued almost 2,300 animals. It was mostly dogs and cats, but there was a lot of livestock in there, too.”
When SPCA gets a report of animal neglect or abuse, the first step is to work with the owners, educating on how best to care for their animals, Davies said. “If that doesn’t work, we ask them to surrender the animals to us. But if that’s not possible or if the situation is dire, we work with law enforcement to get a warrant and go in and seize the animals,” she said.
There have, she added, been some unusual cases: “We rescued a stray tiger once,” Davies mentioned nonchalantly. “It was about 15 years ago. Someone called in to the sheriff’s office in Collin County and said, ‘Hey, there’s a stray tiger running around out here.’ The sheriff’s office deputies just laughed — yeah, right. But the caller’s like no, really. There’s a stray tiger.”
So SPCA of Texas workers helped catch the big cat and arranged to send it to a wild animal sanctuary.
“We have helped some other wild animals, too. And SPCA of Texas was part of what is still the largest rescue of its kind in the world,” Davies said.
She explained that PETA had sent someone in undercover to investigate an exotic animal importer in Arlington. After finding what Davies described as “some of the most horrific abuse we’ve ever seen,” that undercover investigator notified law enforcement, who called in SPCA for help.
The rescue, which took place in December 2009, involved 26,411 animals of more than 500 different species. “There were mice, rabbits, sloths, ring-tailed lemurs, wallabies, lizards, snakes, turtles. There were even some hermit crabs,” Davies said. “It took dozens and dozens of animal care technicians and veterinarians and zoo workers all coming together to handle it,” she added. “The hardest part was finding a spot where they could all be cared for. But when you get that many really caring, compassionate people together, you can do amazing things.”
And bringing together caring, compassionate people is how SPCA of Texas manages to do what it does. To help facilitate that, Davies said, the organization has recently revamped its volunteer programs.
“It’s pretty wonderful,” she said. “The new way is already making a huge difference. It’s really easy to register as a volunteer, and the number of volunteer hours is going up already.”
One of the most interesting new volunteer programs, Davies said, is the Borrow a Buddy program. “It is my favorite,” she said. “Once you are registered as a volunteer, you can be a Borrow a Buddy foster. That let’s you take a dog home for a night, or a weekend, or however long. It’s a short-term foster. It gives the dogs a chance to get out of the shelter for a bit, and it gives the volunteers the chance to give some love to a dog in need and help them stay healthier and happier.
“This shelter is a great place,” she added, “but we think all the pets really need to be in a home.”
The newly-revamped volunteer programming includes “a lot more cool stuff that’s coming but just isn’t ready yet,” Davies said. “We will soon have even more ways to help these pets be healthy, and happy, and find homes.”
For more information on the SPCA of Texas and its many programs and volunteer/sponsorship/donations opportunities — from adopting a pet to spaying, neutering and microchipping to grief counseling for those who have lost a pet — visit SPCA.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 14, 2017.