Advocates say Dallas dumped dogs show signs of abuse
DALLAS – Two men arrested on suspicion of dumping a dead dog in southern Dallas are the first people caught on cameras installed by animal advocates who say animal cruelty is going unaddressed on the city’s south side.
Nieman Demarcus Coleman, 25, and Demarcus Lechard Wilson, 24, both of Dallas, are charged with misdemeanor illegal dumping following their arrests last week. Neither could be reached for comment through their lawyers.
Both men were caught on cameras installed by Jeremy Boss, an animal advocate who said he began raising money for the cameras after he and others found hundreds of dead dogs over the past few years across southern Dallas, primarily along Dowdy Ferry Road.
“Something needs to be done,” said Boss, who along with other advocates formed what they call the Dowdy Ferry Animal Commission.
The area, which is heavily wooded, has long been a dumping ground for garbage, furniture and dead animals, particularly dogs.
WFAA tagged along with Boss this past summer when he installed the cameras and drove around looking for carcasses.
“I'll keep my AC on and I'll turn it on fresh air and I roll down the windows,” Boss said. “It gives us the ability to smell death.”
Boss combs through debris in search of clues – a dog tag, a beer bottle with fingerprints – anything that he can give to authorities to help lead them to the people dumping the dogs.
Most of the time, there are no clues, just dogs, sometimes double or triple bagged, sometimes covered in lye to accelerate decomposition before being tossed on the side of the road to rot.
He shares his work on social media, and it has gotten national attention. Last year, he raised about $5,000 and bought 16 motion-activated game cameras that he attached to trees near known dumping areas.
For months, his cameras only caught people dumping furniture. Then, several weeks ago, the cameras captured two men, later identified as Coleman and Wilson, drive up next to one of Boss’s cameras, place a box on the side of the road and leave.
Boss drove to the site and found a pit bull inside that box. He handed the images over to the Dallas City Marshal’s office, which investigates illegal dumping.
“Through the investigation and through Crime Stoppers, we were able to determine the identity of the two individuals who dumped the dead dog,” said Paul Hansen, interim City Marshal.
The Marshal’s office also has cameras, and made five arrests in 2017 for illegally dumping dead dogs in southern Dallas. But investigators have been unable to find any signs of cruelty.
“The majority of the cases we've run into in these areas are family pets or domestic animals that people have and, like I said, instead of using 311 to have them picked up by the city, they choose to go out and dump them illegally,” Hansen said.
Boss, though, isn’t convinced that the hundreds of animals he and others have found are dumped by careless pet owners. He said many are wrapped the same way, using what appear to be the same bags.
Could the city have more than an illegal dumping problem?
Dr. Melinda Merck thinks so.
She is a nationally known forensic veterinarian and was the lead expert used by federal prosecutors in the animal cruelty case against former NFL quarterback Michael Vick.
WFAA showed her the photos of the dead dogs that Boss and his crew documented.
She flagged 16 that she said, just based on the photographs, could show signs of abuse. Dowdy Ferry, she said, could be dumping grounds for dog fighters and others wanting to hide mistreatment.
“That one there has a fractured jaw,” Dr. Merck said as she looked at pictures. “The teeth are going the wrong way. So that should've been looked at.”
Proving animal cruelty, though, is hard, she said.
The key is timing. She said after 72 hours in the elements, an animal body decays past the point where a useful animal autopsy, called a necropsy, is possible.
“It’s the same as with humans. The more time that goes by,” Dr. Merck said, “it's harder to determine the cause of death.”
That’s why cities like Austin and Houston set up animal cruelty task forces dedicated solely to investigating and prosecuting these cases. In Dallas, there is no such task force.
Belinda Smith, former Harris County assistant district attorney who headed up their animal crimes section, said their crackdown on organized cruelty in the Houston area likely impacted North Texas.
“You guys have the problem now,” she said. “The dog fighters knew you weren't taking it seriously so they moved in.”
So for now, here in Dallas, the bodies will continue to pile up and decay. City sanitation workers will eventually pick them up as trash – and take with them any potential evidence of abuse.