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Dallas has a stray dog problem — about 9,000 of them. And some killed a woman

A deep growl came from the other side of Shaniqua Roland’s front door.

She was pregnant at the time and headed to a doctor’s appointment, but she knew she couldn’t leave the house. Not with the dogs back.

For half an hour, as she tried to shoo them away, a pack of pit bulls snarled and snapped at her metal door. She thought of her sister, who’d recently lost a chunk of her calf in a dog attack. She’d see her doctor another day.

“It’s crazy,” Roland said, sighing. “I don’t walk outside anymore. No way.”

Across the low-income, predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods of southern Dallas, so many stray, sometimes vicious dogs roam the streets that many residents have given up on going outside without a bat or pipe for protection. Some carry pepper spray, others ride in golf carts to outpace the canine cliques.

It’s been a problem for years, Roland said. The daughter she was pregnant with when trapped in her home is now 2.

But a tipping point came in May, when at least four dogs fatally attacked Antoinette Brown, 52, in an overgrown lot just across the street from Roland’s home. The mauling was so vicious — fang marks dotted her body and a chunk of her bicep was missing — that a police officer compared it to a shark attack.

After that, Dallas officials hired a consulting firm, which released a report this summer estimating that nearly 9,000 loose dogs live south of Interstate 30 — the separation line in the largely segregated city.

Consultants drove around the city several days this summer and spotted strays of all sizes and breeds in southern Dallas. A few pit bulls, but also a small, fluffy gray dog and a sleek black one with white paws.

Councilman Casey Thomas, who grew up in and represents a swath of southern Dallas, said the area has been “plagued” by loose dogs for as long as he can remember.

“It’s a huuuge problem,” he said, stretching the vowel for emphasis. “People walking with sticks and golf clubs? That’s a quality-of-life issue.”

The problem is almost entirely in southern Dallas, a situation Thomas attributes to lower spay-and-neutering rates as well as a shortage of veterinary clinics in the poorer neighborhoods. Residents say some of the dogs get left behind after people are evicted, with others dumped into the neighborhood by people from other parts of town. 

Since Brown’s death, Thomas said, Dallas Animal Services has rounded up strays and increased patrols in problem areas. The city also assigned a deputy police chief to tackle the problem.

During a news conference a few days after five Dallas policemen were fatally shot at a protest in July, Police Chief David Brown cited the loose-dog problem as one of many “societal failures” that cops are now being asked to solve.

And there’s no quick fix.

Essicka Wilson, 40, said heard a desperate scream from outside her red-brick home in southern Dallas in July.

“Stooooooop!” she heard a woman shout. “Get away!”

Another attack. This time the woman survived.

A few days after the mauling, the family of the woman who was bitten dozens of times told Dallas television station WFAA that she had been released from the hospital and would recover.

People shouldn’t have to live like this, Wilson said, adding that she shouldn’t have to worry about her kids playing in the frontyard or about what might happen to her Chihuahua named Abraham — Ham, for short — if other dogs sneak into her yard. 

She said she has had nightmares about a pack of dogs descending on her as she walks to the car. In her dream, she tries to sprint but her rheumatoid arthritis hobbles her. The dogs catch her. 

“Dogs didn’t used to be like that,” she said, shaking her head. “So vicious.”

But Rekka Melby of the Street Dog Project, a Dallas nonprofit group focused on rescuing animals from a neighborhood in southern Dallas, said it’s “extremely rare” to find a ferocious dog on the streets. That certainly hasn’t been true, she said, of any of the 45 dogs rescued since the group started in March, describing the canines instead as a bit skittish and eager for consistency.

“They just need to get in a home and they’re fine,” she said.

The group focuses on spending time in the neighborhood, talking to people about spay-and-neutering surgeries and helping with small tasks such as patching holes in fences dogs might use to escape.

“We’re looking for people in the neighborhood who want to help the animals, and then they can pay it forward,” Melby said.

Back at Roland’s house, she had just gotten off the phone with city officials on a recent morning — the third time in as many days. She wanted Dallas Animal Services to know she had spotted more dogs.

Sometimes, in the quiet moments when no dogs are around, Roland sits on her porch staring across the street at the nearby abandoned lot. There, tucked between a small white cross and orange tulips made of cloth, is a note to Antoinette Brown from her daughter.

“I really don’t understand why this had to happen to my mom,” it reads. “I just hope you’re in heaven watching down on us. … Happy Birthday, Mom.”

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This article originally referred to a Dallas television station as KFAA. The station is WFAA.
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