Houston PetSet is working to end animal homelessness and suffering in Houston, but we can’t do it alone.
For those working within the animal welfare sphere, the recent news stories about desperate shelters, maxed-out rescues and dangerous strays on the streets are nothing surprising or even new. But for those who don’t experience these heartbreaking issues firsthand, this wall-to-wall coverage of Houston’s homeless animal situation should serve as a sort of wake-up call to the ongoing crisis.
Within the past week, a 71-year-old man was mauled to death by a pack of dogs in Ft. Bend County, a 16-year-old boy was chased by a stray dog into the street where he was killed by a hit-and-run in West Harris County, and a Galena Park police officer was bitten by a dog multiple times after responding to a call that the dog had bitten a woman.
It’s not just dogs who are causing quality-of-life issues for Houstonians, either. Houston Chronicle writer Joy Sewing wrote a piece about her property being overrun by feral cats, with nowhere to turn for help.
Houston PetSet has been looking into this issue for years, and speaking up about it for just as long. In fact, all the way back in 2017, we commissioned Rice University’s Houston Action Research Team to assess the state of animal welfare in Houston and Harris County. We have also been working with the Rice Kinder Institute to gauge how animal welfare affects Houstonians. One fourth of those surveyed said that stray dogs and cats are a somewhat or very serious problem in their neighborhood, and fully 64% of respondents were in favor of spending more taxpayer money to reduce the number of strays.
We know the community views homeless animals as a public safety issue, and supports the idea of spending more to correct it. The question then becomes, what exactly is stopping Houston from making progress? Houston PetSet Co-Presidents Tama Lundquist and Tena Lundquist Faust recently penned an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle outlining various ways that the city and county can address the problem of homeless pets. A city that prides itself on being a hub of ingenuity and economic success should be extremely motivated to buckle down and get to work.
There is no sense in placing the blame on any one entity, though it’s easy (and satisfying) to point a finger at a single person or organization and say they aren’t doing enough. The truth is, animal welfare contains within itself several schools of thought regarding how animals should be pushed through the system. Until we address that these factions are often working at odds with one another, it will be nearly impossible to move forward together.
In a Randy Wallace news segment about the ongoing crisis this week, Lundquist Faust mentioned an animal sheltering buzzword; Live Release Rate. For those unfamiliar with the term, Live Release Rate is usually used to refer to how many animals leave the shelter alive as compared to how many are euthanized. There are multiple ways to calculate this number, though none of them truly tell the story of animal welfare in a community.
Rather than focusing solely on this number, as the no-kill movement tends to do, Houston PetSet believes the city can take a more holistic approach to combating animal homelessness. First and foremost, the city and county shelters need to be adequately funded so they can pay their staff to do a very difficult job. For comparison, Houston has one million more residents than neighboring San Antonio, but designates $5 million less in city animal shelter funding. More dollars mean more animal control officers available to respond to nuisance and dangerous dog calls and more staff to adequately care for animals in their care.
We also believe education is paramount. Providing more funding for school programs and passing legislation that mandates a humane education curriculum would be a positive step. And focusing on education and behavior correction for pet owners rather than punitive measures such as fines and seizures would keep pets in homes where they are loved and out of the system where they risk euthanasia.
In the meantime, we and our partners are going to continue to fill the gaps where municipal entities need support. We will transport animals out of state to relieve overcrowding, and we will provide free and low-cost veterinary care to owners who are doing their best to get by. We recognize that these are stopgap measures, but until everyone is willing to implement the necessary change, it’s the best we can do.