An estimated 1.2 to 1.4 million homeless dogs and cats roam Houston’s streets, according to The Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC), our city's shelter. BARC takes in approximately 2,000 pets each month and is forced to euthanize half or more of that number.
To be fair, BARC is grossly underfunded compared to other cities and is overwhelmed by intake. Combine that with no comprehensive spay/neuter strategy (see Unity for a Solution’s efforts to spur city leaders into action on that topic) and the need for community education with regard to responsible pet ownership and it becomes a dire situation. Beleaguered rescue organizations are left fully aware that tens of thousands of extremely adoptable pets are euthanized at BARC and other Houston area “shelters” each year (an estimated 80,000 pets). While BARC has received its share of bad press in recent years, there are many who work tirelessly at the organization to save as many animals as possible, every day.
Why Rescue Groups Aren’t Enough
In the traditional rescue setting, when a foster becomes available, groups will pull animals from the pound or off the streets and have them kenneled or fostered for several months or even years until they are adopted out to forever homes. The traditional rescue model depends upon space available, and for rescue groups in an already saturated market like Houston, space isn’t available often enough. Groups must either close intake or take on more dogs than they reasonably afford.
The dogs go to places where year-round breeding doesn’t exist, directly into carefully vetted no-kill shelters and rescue organizations that will place them into forever homes.
Funds are a limiting factor as rescue groups continually struggle for donations and new long-term fosters to support even a basic operation. The outcomes, while extraordinarily significant to each pet saved, are fairly minimal overall, with relatively few pets being saved from Houston shelters and adopted out into Houston homes. As a result, volunteers and donors get discouraged and feel like they are fighting an uphill battle with no relief in sight.
Enter the newly formed Rescued Pets Movement (RPM) and their official “launch week,” which included two van loads containing 50 dogs headed for adoption in Colorado – for a total of 400 that have been transported out of state since the group quietly began working with BARC eight weeks ago.
The effort has been incredibly well-received, providing hope with a powerfully efficient program based simply and brilliantly on the concept of supply and demand to get dogs off of death row — sometimes directly from the euthanasia table — and out of state. The dogs go to places where year-round breeding doesn't exist and spay/neuter strategies have been in place for years (unlike Houston), into carefully vetted no-kill shelters and rescue organizations that will place them into forever homes.
“It’s amazing to see so many death row dogs having a new chance at life,” says Cindy Perini.
A new way of thinking
Perini worked in traditional rescue in Houston for several years before moving to New Mexico, where she worked with a local, rural shelter. She discovered that while her area of the nation was oversaturated with homeless animals, there were other parts of the country that actually needed adoptable animals due to shorter breeding seasons, better spay-and-neuter laws and programs or just a general better attitude towards companion pets.
They hope more people will step up to foster and to sponsor the $50 fee which covers the cost per animal. Limitations are based solely on fosters and funding.
For five years, Perini worked at creating out-of-state connections and ultimately was able to implement a highly successful transfer program of shelter animals to cities in northern New Mexico and Colorado. Earlier this year she returned to Houston and began working with her rescue contacts and BARC officials to do the same here. RPM was formed by Perini, along with Houstonians Dana Blankenship, Laura Carlock, Cheryl Felps and Timothy Lambert. As a group, they have approximately 65 years of animal rescue experience among them.
The facilitation process is straightforward. The group coordinates the rescue of highly adoptable pets from the shelter, places them in temporary foster homes and then transports them where they are wanted. They hope more people will step up to foster and to sponsor the $50 fee which covers the cost per animal. Limitations are based solely on fosters and funding. Ultimately, the group hopes to reach out to other area shelters.
BARC spokesman Christopher Newport is thrilled to work with the group for a “uniquely Houston effort.” He sees it as an easy value proposition since the effort is privately funded, thanks to supporters of RPM and corporate partners like Proler Southwest that have already stepped up to support the initiative. Says Ronny Proler, “I love dogs. We get so many strays at our facility (located near BARC) and I’ve re-homed as many as I can. We need bigger strategies.”
Proler has sponsored other initiatives at BARC, including the recent Healthy Streets, Healthy Pets Initiative (a collaborative effort with SNAP, Unity for a Solution and Friends for Life No Kill Animal Shelter) in neighborhoods with a large number of stray animals and dog bite complaints to provide spay-and-neuter services along with education and vetting support. Donations to the Houston BARC Foundation help continue the program into new neighborhoods in 2014.
Newport calls initiatives like Rescued Pets Movement and Healthy Streets, Healthy Pets a “fundamental shift” in the way things are done in Houston.
Newport calls initiatives like Rescued Pets Movement and Healthy Streets, Healthy Pets a “fundamental shift” in the way things are done, and he’s emotional when speaking of the efforts. He believes these are the kinds of things Houston should/would do – after all, Houston has always been known as a problem-solving, can-do city. Newport has also been collaborating with groups in Austin that initiated the process for Austin to declare itself on the path to become a "no-kill" city, something Houston animal lovers dream of.
Apparently, efforts like the Rescued Pets Movement constitute a real movement. Not only does the group “move” animals to other states, they are beginning a new movement to change how Houstonians view and address the pet overpopulation problem in our city, including the demand for more free and low-cost spay-and-neuter services and community education to get to the heart of the problem.
The founders of RPM have a long-term goal of making Houston a no-kill city. To the rescue community, “no kill” very generally means a “kill rate” of 10 percent or less. It is difficult to assess the actual kill rate in all of Houston and Harris County because not all shelters release that information and there are several factors that affect that number. Thus, most shelters talk in terms of “save rates.”
In 2012, BARC—which actively reports its statistics—had a save rate of just 42 percent, while Harris County Animal Control’s save rate was only 11 percent. In late 2005, the Mayor’s Animal Protection Task Force reported that Harris County Animal Control’s kill rate in 2004 was 77.48 percent, while the SPCA’s was 58 percent, even after the SPCA began daily transferring large numbers of stray pets to BARC.
No matter how you look at it, the numbers are grim, and they are just getting worse. RPM would like to expand efforts to include other facilities as support allows. Maybe an effort like Rescued Pets Movement will get Houston thinking – and acting in terms of the bigger picture, so we can be a city that won’t settle for our abysmal statistics.