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Vicious Dog Attack, Surge In Strays Has Dallas Scrambling To Respond

Most big cities have a problem with stray dogs. In Dallas, it’s more like a crisis.

In early May, dogs mauled a homeless woman, biting her more than 100 times. A week later, she died. Now, neighbors are furious and city officials are scrambling to come up with an answer.

Neighbors say the dogs that killed Antoinette Brown weren’t homeless strays. They belonged to someone. They were allowed to run loose. Animal advocate Marina Tarashevska struggles with that.

“It’s so scary that someone got attacked so viciously. I can’t imagine what she went through, nobody should go through that and I just feel so sorry for her family," she said.

A Full-Time Rescuer

She's driving through southeast Dallas in her jam-packed Chevy Tahoe. There’s a trap in the back, a few leashes and a shopping bag full of Spam—the dogs really like that. All Tarashevska does day in and day out is try to rescue and foster strays.

“I think at this point everyone agrees that it has become a crisis, not only for animals, but for humans as well," Tarashevska says.

She’s doing her part today, driving to a field off Highway 175 that’s a construction site. It’s also home to a pair of dogs she’s hoping to coax into her SUV.

“One of them is a female and she looks to be pregnant and she’s blind in one eye and very thin," she says. "And there is also a male with her and I think he got attacked by a snake or a spider because his face is really swollen.”

A Grisly Detour

The 50-pound female walks right up to Tarashevka, happy to get a snack. In a few minutes, the shepherd-pit bull mix is resting on a sleeping bag in the back of the Tahoe. The male is too skittish to come close, so she sets a trap and leaves.

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA news
KERA news
Marina Tarashevska opens a suspicious garbage that's been dumped off the highway. A dead Rottweiler with a head wound was inside.

A construction worker tells her about a suspicious garbage bag just off the highway. She assumes someone has dumped a dead dog. 

“Yeah he’s a Rottweiler and there’s blood on his head, so it looks like he might have died of blunt force trauma or something like that," she says.

Tarashevska is used to seeing the worst. Dallas City Council member Tiffinni Young says her constituents are used to that too.

“It is an epidemic, it is out of control, stray dogs are everywhere," Young says.

Young represents this part of Dallas—just south and east of downtown and the Trinity River. The street where Antoinette Brown was attacked is pockmarked with overgrown lots and vacant houses.

“This is nothing new," Young says. "This is something I know I’ve seen since I was in school.”

Calling For Change

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA news
KERA news
A memorial for Antoinette Brown, near where she was attacked in South Dallas.

Young is a fierce critic of how the stray problem has been handled. She wants more code enforcement so dogs can’t escape through bad fences. She calls for mandatory microchipping and real consequences when pet owners repeatedly fail to follow the rules.

“At some point you begin to lose those rights to own those animals when you’re not taking care of the animals, when you are allowing them to roam the streets and terrorize others," Young says.

Dallas Animal Services is under fire for focusing on keeping what’s called the “live release rate” high. That means fewer animals in the crowded shelter are euthanized -- more are adopted out. Young says her constituents worry some vicious animals aren’t being picked up at all.

Joey Zapata, who’s an assistant city manager, takes issue with that.

“The city’s primary function is to keep its residents safe. That is paramount, everything else is secondary or less," he says.

A Significant Stray Problem

Zapata and Jody Jones, who runs animal services, admit the stray problem in Dallas is bigger than it should be.

“I think from a national perspective we really have an exacerbated problem here with loose animals and the city is really coming together to implement creative strategies, strong enforcement and opportunities to really fix this problem," Jones says.

A new partnership with the police is one of those strategies. Dallas is also considering stronger spay and neuter laws.

And let’s face it, in tough neighborhoods, some people have big dogs for a reason-- security. And if the city takes them away, some folks will just find new ones. That puts Jones in a difficult spot.

“It’s a tragedy that Ms. Brown’s life was lost in this process, but we are stepping up to the plate yet again and we do have a long way to go but we will remain committed to getting there," Jones says.

Demanding Answers

Young, the City Council member, says at this point, her constituents need more than promises.

“As a representative for some 90,000 people south of the Trinity, at the end of the day, they want peaceful, quiet enjoyment of their neighborhood," she says. "They want the dogs picked up.”

That’s something almost everyone agrees on. Despite a brutal death, no one’s figured out quite how to take it on.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.