Larry Freeman, head of this city's Environmental Health and Conservation Department, is beginning to think less and less about making local businesses conform to federal air quality standards and more and more about cats and dogs.

"People here are just more worried about stray cats and dogs than they are about the air," Freeman says. "We get about 2,000 or 3,000 calls a month about animals. We get about 10 or 15 calls about the air."

And just like the federal regulators whose air and water regulations he also has to watch, Larry Freeman is operating under a new game plan: "We have be cost effective, and I have to decide to commit our resources to the areas where we get the best return for our money."

For Dallas, that probably will mean more money spent on finding stray animals, which can be seen and heard easily by the citizenry, and less money spent on monitoring the quality of air. Freeman contends that air pollution is caused mostly by automobiles (85 percent of the air pollution in Dallas comes from cars, he says) and it is the federal government that must mandate car emission standards.

Dallas, in fact, has joined the State of Texas in a suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency challenging air quality standards.But the legal wrangling goes both ways. The EPA once sued the City of Houston for removing the emission-controlling catalytic converters from their own police cars.

"I'll show you why this is a difficult problem to solve," says Freeman."We have reduced the hydrocarbons entering the air from our local Dallas industry by 60 percent," he said pointing to several cases where the city has gone to court to force industry to install costly pollution abatement equipment. "But we still have nothing to show for it, we have not reduced the ozone level in the air like we were told we would. Now, I'm not sure that we could lower the ozone count no matter what we did."

Still, Freeman and his 160-person staff spend much of their time and money taking air and water quality readings. Although he had reduced the air quality readings at his 14 stations situated around town from 5 times a week to 3, he is beginning to wonder if once a week would be enough."

"I don't feel the air in Dallas is adversely affecting people," Freeman says. "And we've always had the same ozone readings we have today - except maybe they are even higher than they were before."

Freeman praises the concept of making environmental regulation cost-effective. "I think it's a super idea," he said. "If you ask me how much good I did yesterday, I'd have trouble answering. And if I can't tell the mayor why he shouldn't cut our department, then he probably should cut our department."

There is the case of small printing plants, for example. Many small print shops around the country run into problems with hydrocarbon emissions from certain heavy inks used in highspeed printing. But if they try more environmentally sound inks, there is a noticable reduction in quality.

"Most of these people are small job printers," says Fred Barnes, a member of Freeman's staff. "And they are only over the hydrocarbon level when they are printing a big job. I can't understand making these people buy equipment that they can't afford. They will only go out of business, and these are the kind of businesses we want to keep. Some of these regulations just have to be looked at to see if they are accomplishing what needs to be accomplished."

Take, for example, the City of Dallas' program to control rats, which are apparently becoming something of a local problem. "At the last council meeting, because of complaints from some Community Development Programs, it was decided that my agency should provide some rat traps and bait," Freeman said. "But I'm not sure that we aren't just throwing money down a rat hole."

He said he felt the rats are "a people problem, not a rat problem. People leave food out and create an unsanitary situation. I'm not sure that the best, most cost-effective, thing to do wouldn't be to spend the money on an education program in the neighborhoods where the problem is growing." So that is what he is going to try with the money he gets.

But unlike most governments today, Dallas voted to give Freeman $50,000 to deal with the rat problem, even though he said he didn't need it, and finally accepted it only after adding, "Well, what am I supposed to do with it?"