By CLINT FOSTER
Micha Saldana seemingly struggled to hold back tears as she recounted the story of her dogs’ deaths, for what may have felt like the 100th time.
It had been eight days since her family learned their two puppies an Australian Shepherd/Texas Heeler, named Doc Holliday, and Bull Terrier, named Red had been euthanized by the Mineral Wells Animal Shelter. This was despite multiple attempts by the Saldanas to get them back.
Her husband, Mark, was by her side Tuesday night, as the two stood before Mineral Wells City Council at the City Hall Annex. They appeared to humbly, yet firmly, urge the council that their dogs’ deaths would not be in vain.
Many citizens and members of animal groups were in attendance to support the Saldana family’s endeavor.
After council members heard the Saldanas, they unanimously approved a policy change but could not yet change the ordinance.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, the policy allowed animal control staff to euthanize an animal after a 72-hour hold, which included the animal’s date of pick up and date of euthanasia. The new policy would not include the pick-up date or the euthanization date, resulting in extending the amount of time a potential owner would have to retrieve their pet from the animal shelter.
The council also wanted to immediately begin the process of changing city ordinance 18-123, which reads that any animal not claimed after 72 hours may be humanely euthanized.
Council Member Bill Terry suggested the ordinance be extended to five business days, not including pick-up, euthanasia or holidays.
Other council members suggested multiple other changes that could improve the system, as well.
“One of the things we can do quickly is we can make a policy change ... It takes a while to change an ordinance,” Mayor Mike Allen explained during the meeting. “My heart goes out to everyone. I have a rescue dog; I love animals. We want to get this fixed.”
While they were out of town, the Saldanas’ two dogs, both under a year old, had escaped around Independence Day -- likely spooked by area fireworks. The couple told city council they tried tirelessly to find their dogs, impeded by weekend and holiday closures, unanswered messages and what they considered cryptic responses from the shelter. By the time the Saldanas finally got through to the shelter on July 8, they learned that they were too late.
Micha and Mark Saldana told the Index they were very happy with the amendments to the policy and hope for a better city ordinance. They added that, although their dogs cannot be brought back, they were glad that someone else might not have to go through what they went through because of their presentation before city council.
“We have children and there’s definitely sorrow at our house, but I feel like we won a victory today in trying to avoid it happening to another family,” Mark Saldana said after the meeting. “That was our main concern. I think we accomplished our goals.”
One change the Saldanas said they want to see soon is an alternative to the shelter’s answering machine.
After the meeting, Mark Saldana said he felt they were “misled” by shelter employees and referenced “gross negligence in not listening to the answering machine.”
“If that had been done, there’s a great possibility that our dogs might still be with us,” he added.
Council Member Thomas Lively suggested the city have an after-hours call number posted that would put owners through to dispatch. This would be an attempt to eliminate the issue of unanswered messages left at the shelter and ensure that owners looking for their animals will be heard.
“Our interest, if at all possible, is getting owners their lost dogs back,” Lively said at the meeting.
Terry agreed with Lively’s suggestion.
“I think the whole problem here was communication,” he said. “That’s something that we need to work on right away.”
With regards to a new city ordinance, Mineral Wells City Manager Lance Howerton said that a revamped ordinance could be available for the council to review as soon as September or October. He added that he would be more than happy to hold public hearings and accept input on the draft of the new ordinance before it is implemented.
“We all have a shared responsibility here,” he said. “This is something that we have to contend with every day. It’s a very difficult job. We did some things here that probably could have been done much better. We’re looking to correct those things. Ultimately we don’t want to do anything that’s going to harm the citizens here or their animals.
“We want to work with the folks that have a vested interest in this across the board. There’s not an ultimate cure-all for all of these issues. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have the best possible system in place.”
As for the Saldanas, they said they are proud of Mineral Wells and the initiative the council is taking to create positive change. However, they are still working to heal after a tragic two weeks concerning their dogs.
In addition to losing Doc Holliday and Red, July 8, their 3-month-old Great Pyrenees, Lilly the only dog that did not escape their yard over the holiday died of parvovirus Monday night.
Micha Saldana said their sense of closure for this whole ordeal is driven by a spirit of forgiveness, specifically toward the animal shelter.
“We’re very religious people and, ultimately, we all have a forgiving God,” she said. “As long as something’s done about it and it’s changed, there’s no reason [not to forgive]. Our God forgave us and we have to forgive others. Ultimately that’s what’s going to give us closure. That’s just the way it has to be.”
When they are done grieving and the time comes to get another dog, the Saldanas said they want to adopt rescued dogs from now on and spend time volunteering with the Palo Pinto County Humane Society officers of the organization came to the meeting in their support.
The couple is currently fostering a Border Collie puppy and they hinted that although the dog recently chewed up their cow-skin rug it could possibly become the newest member of the Saldana family.
Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55