The Turn Around King
The tragic death of a stray cat trapped in a wall in the beleagured animal shelter launched a story of an unlikely pet hero – Dallas Police Lt. Scott Walton.
On May 3rd, 2010, shelter employees reported hearing the plaintive mews of a cat trapped inside one of the shelter walls. Repeated reports to their supervisor went unheeded and 12 days later the cat died. The shelter manager would later be indicted for felony animal cruelty and the sudden resignation of the animal services division manager culminated in Lt. Walton volunteering for the interim manager’s position at the shelter.
Lt. Walton may not have personally saved a cat from a shelter wall since his arrival, but he has empowered his employees to fully embrace the mission of the animal shelter. He approached his assignment with several goals.
First came the wristbands – small green bands inscribed with the word “Compassion.” This came about on the first day at work for Lt. Walton. At the first meeting with the staff, the word “compassion” was introduced as a theme. According to Lt. Walton, “it resounded with the staff. We wanted something tangible. I originally wanted to get small stones with the word “compassion” inscribed on them for the staff to carry in their pockets, but the Dallas Animal Advocates approached us asking how we would feel about them donating the wristbands instead.”
Lt. Walton introduced daily details. “The supervisors and I went out to the Southwest Substation to observe an actual police detail. We have two details now – one for the shelter staff and another for the field personnel. We’ve added to the details by providing education to it like bite prevention,” said Lt. Walton.
Then came the appointment of a “pet detective” of sorts – a lost and found coordinator who worked diligently to reunite owners with their pets. Tony Villarreal, who worked in the kennel, now also sifts through lost and found postings to reconnect owners and pets. He keeps a thick blue binder on his desk to highlight the success stories of the shelter.
A Dallas Animal Services Facebook page was launched soon after Lt. Walton’s arrival. The page is updated regularly and has attracted nearly 1000 friends. The facebook page handled its own controversy recently. CNN erroneously stated in a caption that an accidental euthanizing of a family pet was done in Dallas leading many viewers to believe the DAS was responsible. Numerous facebook posts led to CNN rewording the caption “to ensure that the Balch Springs Shelter is not confused with the Dallas Animal Service.”
And perhaps most importantly, Lt. Walton established a rapport and partnership with the animal rescue and advocacy groups. Jonnie England, a former member of the Dallas Animal Shelter Commission and longtime advocate, noticed this immediately. “I wanted to meet with him to air my concerns about the shelter. I had been very disturbed by a number of things at the shelter. Scott said the sooner the better and we met and talked several times a week. I saw him once or twice a week. He has worked with a number of us in the animal advocacy world. I only have 24 hours in my day, it seems like there are more than 24 hours in his day.”
“I actually met with him on the second day of his job and he used the word ‘compassion.’ My eyes filled with tears. I had never heard that word spoken in the building. And this summed up so much what was missing the last three years. He wanted the employees to start treating the animals with compassion. That was his mantra, his guiding force.”
Lt. Walton’s arrival at the DAS in September 2010 was a surprise to many in the animal advocate community. When controversy erupted at the shelter over the sad death of the cat trapped in the shelter’s wall and the sudden resignation of the shelter manager, no one expected the city to tap a police official to oversee a shelter which has been historically led by code compliance. “We knew that someone within the city would be appointed and when we got the call that it would be Scott Walton, we started hearing great things about him. Chief Brown gets a lot of credit for allowing one of his best and brightest to go to another department for an extended period of time,”said England.
The proudest moment for Lt. Walton came through his ability to forge relationships with the animal rescue community. “We were full [of stray animals] and the rescue groups really came through for us and pulled hundreds of animals to good homes,” said Lt. Walton. This was made possible by following up on the advice offered to him by the animal advocacy groups. Lt. Walton changed policies to allow rescue groups to pull companion animals faster from the shelter. This change “fast-tracked” the animals to the rescue groups who could find good homes for the pets. “Scott asked us how the shelter could save pets’ lives and we told him to make it easier for the rescue groups to rescue the animals. So now when the shelter gets overfull with animals, the registered groups can come in and get the qualified animals and have the fees waived,” said Jonnie England.
There have also been moments of levity during Lt. Walton’s tenure at the shelter. The“Take Me Home Pet Rescue” named a male kitten “Lt. Walton” after Lt. Walton and Jonnie England rescued two kittens one evening. The male kitten had been dropped off in the bushes in front of the shelter. Jonnie England fished the kitten from out of the bushes and subsequently contracted poison ivy. “I blamed [the poison ivy] totally on Walton,” said England. England also recalls an encounter with Chief Brown and Lt. Walton at Tachito’s Restaurant on illinois. “Several of us were at the restaurant with Lt. Walton when Chief Brown walked in. Chief Brown asked us, ‘when am I going to get [Walton] back?’ I said ‘we want to keep him, we want to keep him forever’ and Chief Brown kept saying ‘but I need him back.’”
In addition to the wristband, Lt. Walton has another tangible reminder of his time at the shelter – a kitten from the first litter he fostered. He also bestowed a sibling of this kitten to Deputy Chief Michael Genovesi. Chief Genovesi’s kitten has been something of a terror in the Genovesi household, shredding a window treatment and breaking a lamp. “This was also a proud moment for me,” joked Lt. Walton.
Despite the lobbying of the animal rescue community, Lt. Walton elected to come back to the police department. “He will be missed from the day-to-day part of things. We plan to keep him involved. We want to have him work with us to continue saving more lives,” said England. “The job is not finished, but he made incredible, incredible strides. We call him ‘the turnaround king.’ He has laid such a stable, solid foundation we really have nowhere to go but up. Jody [Jones, newly hired permanent manager] is going to have it much easier because of his work.”