Animal shelters across North Texas are overwhelmed with an influx of cats and dogs. It’s a chronic summertime problem. But it could be even worse if it weren’t for scores of volunteers like Marina Tarashevska who roam the streets, looking to help stray animals.
Tarashevska is driving to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Dallas – Arizona Street in East Oak Cliff. She calls it Hell Street.
“The neighborhood is pretty much overtaken by stray animals -- by stray dogs and cats,” she says.
There are goats and roosters, too. On a recent morning, a dozen dogs are roaming around this neighborhood, sauntering past run-down homes with dirty bedsheets hanging in windows.
Tarashevska visits Oak Cliff and South Dallas almost every day, with leashes, food and water in her trunk. She’s part educator, pet detective, dog catcher and nurse.
“I just try to give them a bit of happy days, happy times,” she says. “Because it might be the only love and care that they’ve ever received in their lives.”
She snaps pictures and videos of cats and dogs and posts them on Facebook, hoping others will take them in. She encourages residents to spay and neuter their pets. And she scoops up strays.
Tracking down a killer
On Arizona Street, Tarashevska spots a stray male and female hanging out near a fence and pulls over. She pops open her trunk and grabs a leash.
“It’s hard to get them,” she says.
They’ve been terrorizing this street. They’ve killed chickens – a pile of fresh feathers covers the road. They’ve mauled two kittens.
Tarashevska has found someone who will foster the male dog, a collie/chow mix. She just needs to catch him.
He sees her – and he slips underneath a truck. She approaches the homeowner for permission.
“Can I get the dad because he’s under the car?” Tarashevska asks. “Un chico? Gracias.”
She grabs a leash and corners the dog.
But the dog slips away and leaps over a fence.
“Ahh, shoot,” she said.
"She's got a heart"
Tarashevska didn’t get the dog this time, but she has the support of folks on Arizona Street, including Ray Wilson.
“I like the way she handles her business,” he said. “She’s got a heart, she’s got dedication. And she’s got pride.”
Tarashevska, who’s from Ukraine, moved to North Texas last year. She visited a park in South Dallas and saw four stray dogs – and two dead ones. She was horrified. She figured there were more dogs around town.
So when she isn’t working her part-time marketing job, she’s driving around. The work can be dangerous – a motorist tried to run her over.
“The woman did not even press her brakes once,” Tarashevska said. “She did not even slow down.”
She spends more time with the dogs and cats than her boyfriend.
“You just nurse that dog back to health and the dog starts trusting people again,” Tarashevska said. “Basically you’re restoring the dog’s faith in humanity. It’s just so amazing to see. It’s the best feeling, the most rewarding feeling ever.”
About 200,000 animals euthanized each year
Across North Texas, hundreds of volunteers like Tarashevska are helping animals, says James Bias. He’s the president of the SPCA of Texas.
“The municipal shelters can’t be everywhere,” Bias said. “People who volunteer every day -- they’re doing what they can to be the lifeblood for animal protection in the community.”
Bias encourages volunteers to follow local laws. A Dallas city ordinance, for example, requires residents to make a reasonable effort to locate animal owners. But if you can’t track down the owner, you can keep the animal or find it a new home.
Many volunteers avoid dropping off dogs and cats at city shelters – because most of them are euthanized. In North Texas, about 150,000 to 200,000 dogs and cats are put to sleep in an eight-county area, Bias says.
Shelters across the country get inundated with animals in the summer partly because it's "kitten season," when female cats have their babies. Also, people are outdoors more often, and animals can get loose. Regardless of the season, some folks turn in their pets because they can no longer afford them.
Bias and other animal experts encourage those who help animals to be careful. The Humane Society of the United States says people should pull their cars completely off the road in order to avoid accidents and to be cautious when approaching animals in order to avoid being scratched or bitten. Speak calmly to the animal and offer strong-smelling food, such as canned tuna, the Humane Society says.
Three hungry dogs
Back in Oak Cliff, Tarashevska continues her hunt.
She comes across three more hungry dogs, including two chihuahuas.
“Hello guys,” she says.
She cracks open a can of wet dog food and pours it into a bowl.
She grabs one of the dogs and picks off fleas and ticks.
“Oh my gosh, so many of them,” Tarashevska says. “Oh baby. I’m sorry.”
In this part of town, stray dogs and cats can’t count on much, but they can count on a meal and a smile from volunteers like Tarashevska. She’s looking out for them.
How you can help
Marina Tarashevska could use donations -- and volunteers, too. Here's her Facebook page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She encourages donations to Mercy Animal Clinic and Wag Time Doggie Day Care Center.
Animal shelters overwhelmed
Dallas Animal Services and Adoption Center says its shelter is full and officials are encouraging North Texans to adopt. Learn more here from this earlier story.
More money proposed for Dallas Animal Services
The upcoming Dallas city budget includes $700,000 more to deal with abandoned dogs and cats. Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez talked this month with KERA about that and other parts of the city budget.
Tips when finding stray pets
Be careful when you approach a stray animal you want to help. The Humane Society of the United States offers these tips.
Empty The Shelter Day
Adoption fees will be waived at several North Texas animal shelters on Sat., Aug. 16 during Empty The Shelter Day. Organizers say it's the largest adoption event held in North Texas. Learn more here.