Animal control officers in Fort Worth say that stray dogs are being captured in the city at a record pace, thanks to a focused effort now three years and thousands of animals later.
"It's more of a public safety issue than people think," Barry Alexander said. The supervisor for the city's "Stray Teams" has been working in animal control for 16 years, the last three leading a team of enforcement officers who focus almost entirely on rounding up stray dogs.
"The numbers are still high. It's still a problem," said Brandon Bennett, the Fort Worth Code Compliance Director. It's a problem Bennett says is getting better.
In 2013, they picked up 3,622 dogs in Fort Worth. In 2014, the first year utilizing their first Stray Team, they removed 4,634 dogs from the streets. In 2016, after a second Stray Team was added, the number of strays captured increased to 6,896.
An effort is being made to keep the dogs from going to a shelter at all. In 2016 approximately, 18 percent of the dogs were identified and returned directly to their owners.
"This morning before 11 o'clock, we had a truck full," said Alexander during a Tuesday tour through a southern Fort Worth neighborhood.
Bennett says a recently expanded shelter means they can hold, return or adopt out more animals. He says upwards of 90 percent find a new home or go back to their old one. Every animal taken into the shelter is micro-chipped before it leaves again.
"There was just one right before you arrived, and we were able to call the owner and say, 'Hey, we have your dog,'" Bennett said.
But even as Fort Worth streets seem to have less stray dogs, animal control officers say they are still dealing with a people problem: owners who think letting their pet roam free isn't a problem. But it's a problem, multiplied thousands and thousands of time.
"These dogs that are running stray, they're getting hit by cars, they're dehydrated," said Bennett. "And then you have the public safety aspect. The longer they're out there, the more of the stray pack mentality they get, they become more wild in their temperament. And they start biting people."
"I can see that we've made a huge difference. But I think we've got a ways to go," said Alexander.
So animal control officers are still trying to educate dog owners, reminding them that keeping a dog confined to a yard, keeping it licensed and identified is still the law.
"Realistically, we keep educating, getting the dogs off the street, then realistically we should be working ourselves out of a job," said Alexander.
But for now, the daily hunt continues to keep the dogs and humans safe. Oh, and Tuesday, they caught a Guinea hen trying to cross a busy Fort Worth road too.
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