Loose dogs and the 'North-South Gap'
Large newspaper winner: The Dallas Morning News
Even the judges noted that loose dogs in southern Dallas "might not seem to be an important issue." But, they said, Sharon Grigsby's editorials for The Dallas Morning News showed otherwise.
Grigsby, an editorial writer and columnist, is the winner in the over-50,000 division of the 2017 Carmage Walls Commentary Prize. She has been hounding city leaders on the subject for years.
Here's an excerpt from one of the winning editorials: "A 52-year-old woman died Monday night, a week after a pack of dogs bit her over 100 times – 'like they were eating a steak,' according to her mother.
"Southern Dallas dog attacks are not uncommon; people there regularly arm themselves with bats, air horns, pepper spray and prayers."
This happened not somewhere out in the country, but in a major metropolitan city with its own animal control division of city government. One of the results of Grigsby's work was the demotion of the Dallas Animal Services director and the installation of new leadership.
"We had documented a lot of attacks prior to that, but regrettably it took a death to catch a lot of people's attention," Grigsby said.
When an outside consultant was brought in to investigate Dallas Animal Services, it estimated that 8,700 loose dogs roamed southern Dallas. And when the consultant attempted to make a comparable estimate in North Dallas, there wasn't a loose dog to be found.
The loose dogs campaign is part of the editorial department's 10-year project, "Bridging Dallas' North-South Gap." Grigsby, a cat owner, was the leader of the project team until three years ago when she returned to writing full-time.
The ongoing project took team members out into southern Dallas neighborhoods where residents cited loose dogs as one of their top problems. As Editor Mike Wilson noted in his nominating letter to the judges, "It's a problem in the poorer half of Dallas that simply wouldn't be tolerated in the more affluent neighborhoods to the north."
Grigsby said that Dallas Animal Services would not begin a large-scale dog round-up until the woman died and the leadership changed. Now that dogs are being picked up, the new regime has also increased the number of dogs who are adopted.
"People will say, 'Well, you've got kids without enough food in southern Dallas. The education system has problems.' Of course we write about all those things, too," Grigsby said.
"The fact that a child can't walk to school without his or her mother worrying that a dog is going to accost the child speaks to the lowest, most basic lack of safety. And really, it's just as much a part of the cycle of poverty."
In addition to the public safety issue, the homeless animals suffer for lack of proper food and water, and without a strong spay-and-neuter program, they breed indiscriminately. Private donors came forward to fund a spay-and-neuter campaign.
Grigsby said the previous leadership at Dallas Animal Services mostly hoped she would go away, but she kept pushing and writing. Nor has she dropped the topic; when interviewed in late August, she had just filed an editorial assessing the just-hired Dallas Animal Services director.
"I'm proud of The Dallas Morning News for continuing to make its editorial page such a priority in the face of these turbulent newspaper times. And I'm proud of the fact that we do unique, enterprising, original reporting that underpins editorial campaigns like this," she said.
Jane Nicholes is a freelance writer and editor based in Daphne, Ala. Reach her at email@example.com.