DALLAS – Dallas city leaders expressed outrage in the month after a homeless Army veteran was killed by roaming dogs, bitten more than 100 times as the animals tore one of her arms to the bone and ripped away most of her thigh.
They promised to respond to Antoinette Brown's death by cracking down on loose dogs found regularly in the city's poorer neighborhoods. They ramped up arrests of dog owners, hired a consultant and are reviewing several proposals, including requiring an insurance policy for "dangerous breeds."
The issue of loose dogs has long plagued low-income neighborhoods in some of America's largest cities as leaders allocate more funding and attention on broader concerns such as crime, housing and sprawl. While Brown's death shows how one incident can prompt a city to take action, animal-welfare groups say fixing the problem in Dallas and elsewhere requires long-term investments that many cities have not made.
"Our field is starting to recognize that we cannot accomplish what we seek to accomplish, which is safe, humane communities, if all we do is respond to crises after they occur and approach the situation with a punitive mindset," said Cory Smith, a public policy analyst for The Humane Society of the United States.
The 52-year-old Brown was attacked by three pit bulls in the early hours of May 2 in a neighborhood of single-story, aging homes, some left vacant. A City Council report on the attack noted that much of a thigh was missing. Brown died in a hospital days later.
The loose dogs had run free before the mauling and in the days after. Their owners have had dogs seized in the past. Police have said they could face charges, but none had been filed by Tuesday as a criminal investigation continues.
"It happened because this is south Dallas and this is the poorest part of the city and they don't care," neighbor Netra Reese told The Dallas Morning News. "Now they're talking about it. It takes someone to lose their life for them to come out and do something."
Brown's death led the city to increase enforcement: Authorities since early May have arrested at least 40 people on some 160 animal-related warrants.
The outcry in Dallas follows similar ones in Detroit, Houston, San Antonio and other cities where funding for animal services often has been lacking, primarily affecting low-income areas.
Reforms in those cities included adding additional enforcement officers, collaborating with pet adoption agencies and in some cases small acts like handing out leashes to pet owners.
Houston officials since 2009 have increased animal control funding to more than $12 million, from about $5.5 million, after reports about high rates of animal euthanasia at city shelters and stories of puppies being flushed down drains to quickly dispose of them. By November, more than 90 percent of animals were leaving city shelters alive.
Greg Damianoff, director of Houston's Bureau of Animal Regulation and Control, said outreach programs must be done continuously in low-income areas because of the transient nature of the population.
"The fallacy is that people in those neighborhoods don't care about their pets," he said. "But the reality is they simply don't have access to a vet nor do they think they can afford it."
James Bias, president of the SPCA of Texas, added that municipalities have to craft a response specific to problem areas. For instance, rental properties often don't have the proper fencing to keep pets enclosed, so outreach efforts could include working with property owners to better secure their land, he said.
Smith said cities also should be providing free or discounted spay and neuter programs. The problem of stray dogs, she said, is "the result of communities of people and animals that have gone underserved for a long time."