By David Webb

Group seeks funds for no-kill animal shelter in Oak Lawn area

Animal welfare advocates Jonnie England, left, and Cathi Wood co-founded Paws in The City 20 years ago.

Animal welfare advocate Jonnie England isn’t sure whether her devotion to helping animals is a calling or an affliction.

"You can sound lofty and say working in animal welfare is a calling," England said. "Some people call it an addiction. Either way if it gets in your blood, it’s really hard to get it out of your blood."

But England doesn’t want to change her ways. Instead, she’s launching a new project — the development of a new no-kill animal shelter to be operated in Dallas by Paws in the City. The organization, which England and animal advocate Cathi Wood co-founded 20 years ago, now houses homeless pets in foster homes and boarding kennels throughout the city.

"We think there’s a great need for another no-kill shelter," said England, who is on the board of three animal organizations and on Dallas’ animal shelter commission.

There currently is only one no-kill shelter in Dallas in the Love Field area called Dog and Kitty City, which is run by the Humane Society of Dallas County. Operation Kindness is another no-kill shelter where England formerly served as executive director, and it is located in Carrollton.

England said it’s the Dallas animal shelter’s statistics she reviews in connection with her work on the city commission that motivated her to want to open a new no-kill shelter. Dallas animal control officers impounded 31,000 dogs and cats in 2007, and euthanized 83 percent of them, she said.

"It’s a tragedy," England said. "These are living beings, and it’s a tragedy that a city the size of Dallas as wonderful as Dallas is can’t solve this problem. People at animal services have to do the dirty work because there just aren’t enough homes for them."

England said it is impossible to "adopt our way out of this terrible situation."

The need is immediate, so Paws in the City’s board of directors plans to kick off a capital campaign for the new project at the organization’s annual event, "Top Hat & Tails" at the Hotel Intercontinental on June 14 at 6:30 p.m. The sit-down dinner will include pre-dinner cocktails, entertainment, a live auction, raffles and a celebrity dance contest featuring local political, business and sports celebrities such as former Mayor Ron Kirk, real estate business owner Carolyn Shamis and former Dallas Cowboy Mike Saxon.
England said she hopes to raise enough money to immediately open a shelter in a leased space in a storefront or freestanding building in either the Oak Lawn or Uptown area.

"We want to get people accustomed to the idea of Paws in the City having a shelter and coming to that shelter to adopt," England said.

A couple of hundred thousand dollars is needed just for the first year’s budget for a leased space, England said. That would include two employees to help volunteers care for the animals.

The long-term goal is to purchase some land and maintain a shelter on it, England said. That will require much more money, she said.

"It’s a lot of money, and we can’t do it unless people respond," England said. "There are a lot of people in Dallas who love their animals, and Dallas is known as a very philanthropic and charitable city. People care about the quality of life here, and pets contribute a tremendous amount to quality of life. We think we will find that support."

Wood, who is president of the organization’s board of directors, said in a statement she is also confident Dallas residents will support the plan.

"We know there are many people in the community who are ready to help us and share our concerns and goals for animals who need us," Wood said.

England said she would consider becoming the executive director of the new no-kill shelter.

"I think we just have to wait and see when and where all of this takes us," England said.

England is currently unemployed, having resigned from Operation Kindness after disagreeing with a decision she said the board of directors made about her duties without discussing it with her.

"It wasn’t a direction I wanted to go so I resigned," England said.

England noted that she spent 22 years with Operation Kindness, including work as a volunteer, board member, board president and executive director. She was board president for nine years before spending 10 years as executive director.

Operation Kindness grew from a leased space with two employees to a permanent site with 4 acres of land and 40 employees, England said.

"It didn’t happen overnight," said England, who noted the new project would take time also.

Operation Kindness Executive Director Sherwin Daryani praised England for her years of service to the organization and said he hopes her new project will be a success.

"We wish her luck with that," Daryani said. "We all have the love of the animals to be saved at heart. We wish her all of the luck in the world."

In the meantime, England said that after being off work for three months she is ready to return to some type of employment, and that another opportunity may be available soon.

"I’m looking for some other options," said England, who also worked for KERA-TV in senior management in Dallas for 17 years. "I hope to have something in animal welfare."

England, who said she left the television station to work full time for animal welfare, noted that she has not been loafing.

"For someone who is unemployed, I’ve been busy doing all sorts of animal things," England said.

"That’s where my heart is. Who knows where life will take us."

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 23, 2008.

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