By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
The only downside of the do-nothing-and-just-hope-it-goes-away approach is that, if you're an elected official, you will have to occasionally endure rants by animal welfare advocates who continually raise allegations. And some of them can be persistent. Recently, a bunch of them raised $8,000 to hire a nationally recognized "no-kill" shelter consultant to assess BARC. The idea was to bring in Nathan Winograd, author of Redemption, the bible of the no-kill movement, so he could suggest ways to vastly reduce the shelter's euthanization rate and increase buy-in from the community. Winograd would have done what he did for other shelters: release a no-holds-barred public report detailing the shelter's strengths and weaknesses. As it turns out, the City of Houston did not want this: Winograd was told that, if hired, he was not allowed to reveal his findings to the public. Not surprisingly, Winograd did not respond well to a pre-emptive muzzle. Negotiations went south. Winograd will not be assessing BARC.
It was a coup for the city, which will now be spared the additional drubbing. Stifling dissent is preferable to enacting change because, as ridiculous and naive as it sounds, the most obvious is still the most explanatory: Animals cannot vote. Protecting dogs and cats from city employees accused of falsifying records and much worse will not get you the cushy mayor's chair. It will not get you a senate seat. If there were political percentage in fixing BARC, it would've been done the first time someone sent up a flare saying the facility was a festering sore of incompetence, neglect, mismanagement and cruelty.
So, if you happen to be an elected official reading this right now, here's your cue to put down the paper and move on to something else. But if you happen to be a resident of Houston who cares about animals, or about how your tax dollars are spent, you might want to read on.
Politically, though, 2700 Evella Street in the Fifth Ward makes sense. It is not an affluent neighborhood. No one who can contribute significantly to campaign coffers has to drive by it every day. The only people who have to see the trucks come and go are the occupants of the splintering shotgun shacks nearby and the adults who mill about the middle of the major cross street with no jobs to keep them busy during the weekday afternoon.
Adjacent businesses offer views of mountains of crushed concrete, gigantic rust-flecked fuel tanks and endless rows of stacked pallets. Not every street is clearly marked, so a first-timer might get lost trying to navigate toward the shelter, whose main building is a gigantic dome. Exactly why it was built as a dome is unclear, although spokeswoman Kathy Barton says it was the singular vision of former BARC Director Robert Armstrong.
Clearly, Armstrong, who went on to write supernatural crime novels involving his alter ego, Houston Animal Control Director Duncan MacDonell, did not believe his skill set was limited to veterinary medicine. He not only had a little Dean Koontz in him, but there was some Frank Gehry too, and his dome would be the envy of municipal animal shelters across the country, because a dome would better integrate the heating-ventilation-and-air-conditioning and sprinkler systems, making for a consistently cool environment. Fortunately for Armstrong, he was long retired before shelter employees would have to deal with frequently malfunctioning air-conditioning.
The shelter operates under the control of the city's Health and Human Services Department, a massive bureaucracy with only one public affairs officer, Kathy Barton. Barton has her work cut out for her. She not only has to field calls from a ton of reporters every time a new allegation surfaces at BARC, she has to field questions for every other office in the department. But BARC can be especially problematic, especially since employees there haven't really figured out how to use the new software system, called Chameleon, as both Barton and interim director Barbara McGill admit. This makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly how many animals go in and out of BARC on a regular basis.
Perhaps the best numbers can be found in the 2005 Report of the Mayor's Animal Protection Task Force. The architects of that report had difficulty finding historical numbers as well, since "until November 2004, BARC did not track total animal intake."
However, the report estimated an 80 percent euthanasia rate. "In fiscal year 2005, for example, BARC received approximately 26,243 animals and euthanized 21,214." Forty percent of the animals are euthanized "off the truck," meaning they don't stick around long enough for potential adoption or owner redemption.
Per the report, "BARC explains its high euthanasia rate on the ground that the overwhelming majority of the pets it receives are not adoptable. But the task force found that BARC has no policy guiding the distinction between 'adoptable' and 'unadoptable' pets, and instead has a strong bias in favor of euthanasia."
Not giving owners a fighting chance to find lost pets was just one of the concerns discussed in the report. These include the policy of euthanizing German shepherds "on the purported grounds that they are dangerous," while at the same time not hiring people qualified enough to determine whether a dog is a German shepherd in the first place. Here's another: BARC did not allow its strongest volunteer base, "Friends of BARC," to work inside the shelter, but only to transport pets. According to the Mayor's task force report, BARC says its relationship with the Friends has been "adversarial." (This policy appears to have been eliminated after the report was released.) Or another: "a severe shortage of veterinary services at BARC for any purpose, including for routine spaying and neutering."
BARC stole my puppy, I called numerous times and left several messages to which none of my calls were returned, the Owner/Manager told me I had to pay $500.00 -which I did not--my puppy was stolen off my property and BARC left a note stating that the dog was taken from its home address, and then I found out re-sold my puppy to some one earlier today.
Has this happened to anyone else before?
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