The animal welfare crisis is making its way north, so how can we help?

For the past five years, Houston PetSet has organized regular rescue transports from Houston-area animal shelters and rescues up to adoption partners in northern states such as Minnesota. In addition to being feel-good events, transports are a valuable tool for an oversaturated homeless animal population. Each pet that Houston PetSet sent on our ‘big red bus’ left an empty kennel here in Houston that could be filled by another pet in need of shelter.

When supporters ask us why we transport to states like Minnesota, the answer has always been simple – they just haven’t experienced the homeless pet overpopulation crisis up there that we’re facing here in the south. With warm weather almost all year round, unfixed animals in Texas have much more time to reproduce, leading to more unplanned and unwanted litters. We also don’t regularly experience the deadly cold that prevents stray animals from surviving the harsh winters up north.

For the five-plus years since Hurricane Harvey, this partnership has flourished. Our adoption partners in Minnesota could fulfill their waiting lists for adoptable dogs and cats, and our rescue transport partners in Houston have had an alternative to euthanizing healthy, adoptable pets for space. Recently, however, we’ve noticed an alarming trend… shelters in the midwest and northeast are finding it less beneficial to accept transported pets from the south. 

Whether it’s because adoptions have slowed across the country, or because more and more pets in shelters and rescues are harder to place in the average pet-loving home, we and our colleagues here in Houston are hitting unexpected roadblocks that simply weren’t there before.

Our primary adoption partner in Minnesota, who has so graciously taken thousands of Texas dogs and found them families, is now facing a staffing crisis. This means they don’t have the employees to care for the intake of animals from their own community, let alone the 40+ dogs we send each month from Houston. As a result, until we can solidify plans with a new receiving organization, Houston PetSet will only be transporting cats.

While we are grateful and proud to offer positive outcomes for these deserving rescued felines, we know how difficult this temporary setback will make things for our shelter partners here in Houston. So in the meantime, what can be done? We will be hard at work finding alternatives to get dogs to safety out of state, including a potential partner in Alabama. It’s a unique opportunity for which we are not currently budgeted, so we are considering the best way to raise funds specifically for that.

We will also be leaning hard into spay and neuter here in our own neighborhoods, because the fewer unwanted pets that are born on the streets, the more space shelters and rescues will have for rescuing animals in need. And of course, we will continue to encourage our friends and supporters to adopt, foster, and volunteer with local animal welfare organizations.

Until we can change the culture around the treatment of companion animals in Texas and across the country, we will be fighting this crisis with one arm tied behind our back. Have conversations with your neighbors and friends about the plight of animals in our city, and recruit them to the cause of animal welfare. The more voices calling for change, the stronger we will be, together.

Lisa Tynan