ABOVE: Eli Perez, Cory Stottlemyer, and Laura Spivey
‘Healthy Pets, Healthy Streets’ initiative seeks to address this ongoing crisis that is affecting streets across the Greater Houston area
Hey, Houstonians… as you go about your day, have you noticed a lot more stray dogs and cats roaming around your neighborhood than usual?
The answer should be yes, and no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. There is a reason you’re witnessing such an influx of stray animals taking over the streets of the city of Houston.
Statistics show that while the COVID-19 pandemic led to a dramatic increase in pet ownership, it also contributed to a massive uptick related to the breeding of animals. This rampant increase in animal breeding has led to a self-perpetuating crisis of stray animals that have infiltrated Houston area streets in an unprecedented way.
Just late October, the City of Houston’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care—or BARC as it is more commonly referred to—informed the community that they had been operating at their 300-animal capacity limit for several months, and that they were being forced to euthanize more animals than customary because of those limited capacity issues, and because adoption and foster care numbers were at an all-time low across the city.
It is important to note that BARC is the City of Houston’s Animal Shelter and Adoption Facility and is the only city shelter in Houston that is required by law to accept every single animal that comes through its doors, regardless of breed, temperament, health conditions, or circumstances.
Fast forward to today, and BARC still finds itself facing similar challenges, which is why they launched the ‘Healthy Pets, Healthy Streets’ initiative to address the stray animal crisis at its source—by providing free spay and neutering services, as well as other programs.
On August 8th, several officials from BARC participated in a monthly roundtable discussion at the Southwest Multi-Service Center to share key insights with attendees about their ‘Healthy Pets, Healthy Streets’ initiative. The event was supported by the Houston Endowment.
The purpose of this important briefing, which was hosted and facilitated by Ethnic Media Services, was to address the ongoing crisis of stray animals affecting Houston area streets, as well as discuss the economic factors exacerbating the crisis, the public health issues involved, the safety issues surrounding the issue, and what responsible pet ownership requires.
The featured panelists included Cory Stottlemyer, who serves as the Shelter Director at BARC, overseeing the Outreach, Customer Service, and Registration teams, and as the Director of Communications for the department of which BARC is a division, Administration and Regulatory Affairs; Laura Spivey, who serves as an Animal Enforcement Officer for the City of Houston; and Eli Perez, who serves as the Community Outreach Coordinator for BARC, and who also runs the Community Cat Colony and Trap Neuter Release programs, and helps manage the ‘Healthy Pets, Healthy Streets’ program.
On average, BARC takes in between 20,000 and 30,000 animals annually, and has introduced pioneering programs to help address the address the stray animal issue, such as offering no- and low-cost spay/neuter services, mobile adoptions, transfer/rescue, and community outreach.
It is also important to note that while choosing to spay/neuter an animal is a viable and proven solution to help reduce animal overpopulation, many citizens in Houston do not have access to, or can’t afford, professional veterinarian services.
Per the panelists, the ‘Healthy Pets, Healthy Streets’ initiative provides those spay/neuter services for free to more than 200+ pets every month, particularly in neighborhoods across the city of Houston with large stray animal populations.
The panelists emphasized the importance of Houstonians working collaboratively with BARC to help address the stray animal challenges they are facing before things get even worse.
“It’s a crucial time right now because in the past we’ve had some limited capacity to go out,” said Stottlemyer. “Our enforcement team, our outreach team has been able to go out in the past, but we don’t really have a focused community outreach team. Here in Houston and cities in the south, we have a stray problem all year because we have temperatures that allow strays to continue to roam and not face those harsh winter months.”
Stottlemyer stated that a part of what they have tried to look at in the past is educating youth and trying to build a new generation of responsible pet owners to help with the issue, but he acknowledged that it is going to take a lot of work.
“We are trying to get the word out, breaking down some mentalities of those who may oppose spaying or neutering their animals, not understanding the need, not understanding the stray animal crisis we have,” Stottlemyer continued. “Some owners let their pets roam freely out in the community, and they are not spayed or neutered, so then, for instance, a male dog can go out and have many litters in a short amount of time.”
Stottlemyer indicated that because of the overpopulation of pets, coupled with the other factors that were mentioned, the clock is working against many of the animals, specifically as it relates to euthanasia as a final possible outcome.
“Animals with lengthier stays might qualify for euthanasia,” Stottlemyer informed the attendees. “It’s usually the medical and the behavior that are the first factors we look at for euthanasia, but we do reach those critical capacity times. They are adoptable and a lot of times they have no issues, they just have the clock working against them.”
According to Spivey, when it comes to the stray issue, many people don’t understand that if a person feeds an animal for more than three days, per the law, that animal technically becomes their animal. She vehemently warned against it, for a variety of reasons.
“You may think you are doing a great thing by feeding the strays, but you are congregating the strays in that area, increasing the strays in that area and then they procreate and make more animals,” said Spivey. “You can call 3-1-1 and let them know about the strays. Once we know what areas to aim for, such as the ones that are the most populated with strays, then we will go in and do sweeps, mostly on Wednesdays, and pick up all the strays that we see.”
According to Perez, there is an unfortunate veterinarian shortage nationwide, and because many veterinarians are trying not to go into shelter medicine and are going into more rural or cultural medicines instead, it has become increasingly more difficult to find veterinarians who want to work with high capacity.
“If you’re going to a private vet, say for spay or neutering services, it can range from $200 to $600, depending on the size and weight of the animal,” said Perez. “With the City of Houston’s ‘Healthy Pets, Healthy Streets’ program, as long as you reside within the city limits, the services are free no matter the size or the weight.”
As stated earlier, BARC must take in any animal brought to the shelter, by law. In addition to having a legal mandate to protect the public from a safety standpoint, they are also tasked with removing dangerous, sick, and stray animals from the community, and taking in animals who are surrendered by their owners for various reasons.
There is a stark disparity in the number of pets in need and the overcapacity of the BARC animal shelter. Rough numbers indicate BARC’s intake of 6,000 in 2022 has nearly tripled this year.
“The total number was like 18,000, because that includes the owner turn-ins as well. Ten thousand was just enforcement,” Stottlemyer explained.
BARC is not just limited in taking in dogs and cats. They take in horses, chickens, snakes, other reptiles, and recently they even rescued and brought in a frightened and injured pet monkey.
According to the panelists, donations at BARC are desperately needed, which include, but are not limited to:
- Used bedding. Don’t discard it, donate it.
- Used towels, linens, quilts, and blankets that can be used for the animals.
- Food of any kind, even open containers, and bags, are accepted.
- Food is distributed to foster families. Rotisserie chicken and hot dogs are a big hit with the dogs! These food items are used for treats.
The BARC Adoption Center is located at 3300 Carr St. Houston TX, 77026, just a few minutes from downtown Houston off the Eastex Freeway (Hwy 59/69) and by taking the Collingsworth/Calvacade/Kelly exit.
The BARC Adoption Center is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12 pm-5 pm and closed on Mondays. You can also help BARC in the following ways:
TO VOLUNTEER: https://www.houstontx.gov/barc/get_involved.html
TO FOSTER: https://www.houstontx.gov/barc/foster_a_pet.html
TO ADOPT: http://www.houstontx.gov/barc/adopt_a_pet.html
TO DONATE: https://www.houstontx.gov/barc/donate_landingpage.html
TO HELP URGENT PETS: https://www.houstontx.gov/barc/urgent-pets.html
For more data and information from BARC, please visit https://www.houstontx.gov/barc/stats-reports.html.