By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Highlights from Hair Balls
Brown's Pricey Vacay
$2K Spent on Asia Hotels.
Marking yet another strange turn involving City Council Member Helena Brown's recent trip to Asia, Brown stayed at a series of luxury hotels in Beijing and Seoul, charging the City of Houston more than $2,000 in six days of lodging expenses, according to her expense report. A Brown spokesman wrote in an e-mail to the Houston Press that she chose these locations because they were the most "cost-effective options" available in Taipei, Seoul and Beijing.
She must not have been looking very hard. In Beijing she stayed at the five-start hotel JW Marriott, which on its Web site calls itself "spectacular," featuring the "most luxurious accommodations," three "exquisite" restaurants and rainforest showers. Brown stayed three nights at the hotel, spending $1,210. It's unclear what her specific accommodations were; her office declined repeated requests for comment.
Next she jetted to Seoul, South Korea, where she checked into the downtown Lotte Hotel, another opulent number complete with — believe it or not — a Greek statue inside the gym. The city got charged for $650 for her two nights there.
According to her travel itinerary, she met with at least two large state-run oil companies while in Beijing — the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and SINOPEC Corporation. These meetings weren't mentioned in Brown's press release last week, and it's unclear why, on a trip she said was to orchestrate a direct flight between Houston and Seoul, she sat down with large Chinese oil companies. She also met with Cameron International, another energy company, which is actually based in Houston.
She apparently traveled with her volunteer "senior adviser," William Park. Park's relationship with Brown was explored in a recent cover story, "Strings Attached."
Though Brown ultimately charged the city $13,573 on her trip to Asia, she ran a separate fund-raising campaign for the trip last month involving at least one e-mail and meeting with the local Korean business community. She asked them to make checks out directly to her. It's unclear whether she was successful raising money, but if she had been, it would have been a violation of city law under Chapter 18 of the City Charter, which bans direct contributions except during a campaign.
The trip — and its extravagance — contrasts with the narrative Brown projects at City Council meetings, where she castigates fiscal wantonness and needless spending. In her six months in office, she's voted against payment to caregivers of the chronically ill and against fulfilling city pension obligations.
Rescued dogs saved in Spindletop.
Dog rescuers throughout the country are worrying over the fates of dogs they placed at the Spindletop Refuge in Willis, where authorities say hundreds of dogs were found living in their own waste in cramped, stacked crates near a mass grave with an unknown number of bodies.
The 298 dogs seized July 17 by Montgomery and Harris county law enforcement as well as the Humane Society of the United States are being evaluated at an undisclosed location, HSUS Texas State Director Katie Jarl told local reporters.
Opened by Leah Purcell in 1985, Spindletop earned respect from those in the animal rescue community nationwide, especially for Purcell's work in rehabilitating and placing pit bulls. Spindletop Refuge was listed as a "friend of the court" in the notorious Michael Vick dogfighting scandal in 2007. While Purcell wasn't a part of the proceedings, the court filing stated that she has "been qualified as an expert witness on [pit bulls] in several court cases, and courts nationwide have entrusted the care of seized dogs to Spindletop."
Purcell and her attorney, Zandra Anderson, declined to comment for this story.
An Austin woman named Marisa (she asked us not to use her last name) created a Facebook page earlier today to coordinate efforts among rescue groups and individuals who've boarded dogs for adoption at Spindletop. Marisa said she placed a two-year-old pit at Spindletop about four weeks ago and saw no signs of neglect or cruelty.
She said she researched Spindletop for weeks before placing Bella, whom she fostered for eight months after the dog was rescued from a Los Angeles shelter the day before she was to be euthanized. She said she paid $750 to board Bella.
"I called her a couple times a week and checked on Bella, and I just feel like...all of us that have dropped our dogs or foster animals there were completely fooled," Marisa said.
The remains of five dogs were pulled from the collective grave on the property, but Jarl told Hair Balls, "We have information that there were many more dogs buried in that same spot." Based on the advanced state of decomposition, it appears the dogs may have been buried for about a month, she said.
As for the living dogs, Jarl said, some were covered in feces, and "the cages were incredibly overcrowded into spaces where the ammonia levels were so high that it almost knocked our investigators right off their feet," Jarl said. "I went into one of the houses, and even with the mask on, I still couldn't breathe."
Many of the cages were shut tight with makeshift accessories like multiple wires bound around the doors, she said. Some of the dogs were covered in feces.
"Some of these dogs, when they walked out of the house...acted shocked just to be on grass," Jarl said.
Jarl added, however, that volunteers at temporary shelters said the dogs "were doing great [and] were really happy last night when they got there," and they were enjoying food and Kong toys donated by PetSmart.