When Cienda Partners recently purchased prime Riverside-area property on Fort Worth’s East Side, the Dallas-based company wasted no time in evicting tenants of the 133 duplex units of Parkview Village Apartments and two nearby homes to make way for a mixed-use development. Those renters were given only the state-required minimum of 30 days to vacate, with no financial assistance. But as neighbors soon found out, the human tenants weren’t the only victims.
Just days after the “notice to vacate” letters were delivered in mid-August, Robbin Mendoza, wife of the Parkview property manager Jesse Mendoza, began finding pets abandoned by tenants who had fled amid rumors that law enforcement officers were coming to forcibly remove them (“Get Out,” Oct. 15, 2014). At the height of the problem, Robbin said, 20 to 30 abandoned and hungry dogs were wandering around the property, along with perhaps as many as 100 cats.
Pet deposits required by most apartment complexes were too high for the cash-strapped families who had to find new homes quickly. Jesse said most of the residents there were already living paycheck to paycheck, with many renters regularly asking for extensions on monthly rent.
“Basically I was feeding and watering as many of the strays as possible while attempting to find homes for them,” Robbin said. “Now [it’s down to] 11 dogs in addition to my own pets that I am caring for. That does not even address the issue of the cats.” The area already had a sizable feral cat population, she added.
Suzette Watkins, owner of Riverside Kennels, was one of the first animal-care professionals to hear of the problem. After receiving a call from a nearby resident, she drove over to see the situation for herself and found a starving and emaciated Chihuahua puppy. She knew being exposed to the elements is dangerous for any domesticated pet and that puppies are especially vulnerable. With no viable alternatives, she took the puppy and, eventually, several other dogs to the Humane Society of North Texas.
“With puppies, you can’t leave them out because of disease, cars, and dangerous animals,” she said. “With a puppy, they are most often going to have worms, so that’s eventually going to wear their body down and suck the nutrients out of their body, and they will die. I don’t like to see any dog left out in the elements.”
Watkins’ actions led to an argument with Robbin, who saw the action as a death sentence for the animal. In response, Watkins asked Robbin if she would take the dog in. Robbin said she didn’t have room. Watkins, who has adopted a number of rescued dogs over the years, explained that the same was true for her, but that the puppy could not be left outside.
Watkins told Fort Worth Weekly that she believes that animals taken to the Humane Society shelter have a much better chance of surviving than those taken to the city shelter.
“My opinion of the Humane Society of North Texas has changed over the years,” Watkins said. “The [Humane Society] has a new director, and it’s a completely different place. Their posts on Facebook are much more in line with getting dogs adopted, and they are doing things that are moving toward a no-kill shelter.”
Whitney Handon, director of development and communications at Humane Society of North Texas, said the goal of her group is to prevent tragedies like the one at Parkview.
As an open-intake shelter, “We take in absolutely any animal, regardless of breed, age, medical condition, or behavior, at no cost,” she said. “In doing so, we hope that people facing hardships such as this will turn to us rather than abandoning their pets.”
Animals brought to the organization’s facility on Lancaster Avenue are evaluated for adoption, she said. “We work hard to find loving, forever homes for each of them,” she said.
Part of the problem, Watkins said, is that in Fort Worth the whole pet-rescue and animal-control system is “so enormously overloaded that everybody is in overload all the time on every aspect of this problem,” leaving few resources for crises like the one at Parkview.
Diane Covey, public information officer for the city’s code compliance department, said that if more owners spayed and neutered their pets, the shelters wouldn’t be so overloaded and could better handle emergency situations like Parkview.
Working with nonprofits, Covey said, the city tries to provide temporary help to pet owners who get laid off or have other hardships. A new medical ward at the city’s animal shelter also provides treatment that formerly had to be left to the rescue groups, she said.
Judy Obregon, founder of Tao Animal Rescue in Fort Worth, said she has never heard of a mass pet abandonment of this scale before. She said abandoned dogs are at particular risk of being hit by cars and caught for use in dog fighting, which is illegal and often results in the deaths of animals forced to fight.
She recently ventured out to Parkview to assess the problem. As she pulled up to the complex, a medium-size brown dog came out in the rain to greet her.
“It just broke my heart,” she said.
The dog led Obregon back to the Mendozas’ home, where she found a roomful of other abandoned dogs. Jesse told her that several small and medium-size dogs still need to be adopted, although he and his wife have found homes for several more.
“We will be posting [information on the dogs] to our network to find foster homes” and, eventually, new permanent homes for the dogs, Obregon said. “Jesse is going to be patient with us.”
Obregon said that her group typically receives three or four calls a week about abandoned animals. Once the animal has been located and caught, it is taken to a pre-arranged foster home. The pets are treated for any medical conditions and only then are permanent owners sought, using the group’s Facebook page and website.
She said that pet owners who move to apartments face serious obstacles in keeping their animals.
“Right now you have certain breeds that apartments won’t accept at all,” she said. “If apartments could work with rescue shelters to lower their deposit fee — often $350 for each animal — it would help us find homes more easily.”
She said some “pet-friendly” apartments are waiving the traditional pet deposits but that more needs to be done.
“The services are there [for rescuing abandoned pets],” she said. “It’s all about getting the word out. Not everyone has Facebook and the internet.”
Before she left Parkview, Obregon gave Jesse contact information for a cat rescue group called Kool Kats.
Jesse said he and his wife are doing their best to feed the dozens of cats that were left behind. But the cats are reluctant to move very far from their former homes. They’re waiting for something that will never happen, he said.
“They’re waiting for their owners to come back.”