Fighting Homelessness With Help of Stray Dogs

How do you fix two of Dallas's biggest problems: homelessness and stray dogs?

City Councilman Kevin Felder may be new on the job, but he has an idea. He wants to train people who are homeless to catch and care for stray dogs that can become pets.

Justin Bickems knows homelessness.

"Too many bills, not enough money," he said of what led him to spending six months on the street.

He felt hopeless.

"Fear, doubt, am I worthy?" he said.

As of March, Bickems has been working at Dallas Animal Services as an animal care technician. He said his new job gives him meaning.

"I am in a place to where I'm doing some good for another life, making sure that I'm doing something better," he said.

So he supports the councilman's vision.

"I think it is a brilliant idea," Bickems said.

Felder, an animal lover, thinks training the homeless to domesticate stray dogs may be the key to giving them purpose. It also combats something that's become a serious problem for areas of Dallas.

"People being bitten at least once a month by stray dogs in the city of Dallas, mainly in the southern sector," said Felder, who represents District 7.

He feels it's time for change.

"Somebody has to do something different from what we've been doing, because all we're doing, we're on a merry-go-round," he said.

So what's the plan?

"There's going to be a thorough vetting process, a through screening process. We're not going to just go grab the first hundred homeless people that we see," Felder said.

It's very much in its beginning stages, but Felder hopes to stabilize the homeless in rehabbed vacant housing and provide proper training to get the ball rolling.

"I want to bring Cesar Millan to Dallas-Fort Worth and talk to him about this particular program and to get his advice and get his council on how to do this," he said.

Millan, also known as "The Dog Whisperer," is best known for his long-running television series about training animals.

Felder knows it's an ambitious project that still needs funding, but he says he's confident private dollars can be channeled into the pilot program.

And if it works?

"Everybody wins. The homeless win, the dogs win, the city wins. It's a win, win, win!" he said.

Felder hopes that it's up and running within one year. Dallas Animal Services says it's open to new ideas. The goal is for organizations to partner together to come up with a well thought out plan, before this becomes reality.

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