More than 2,500 people have signed a petition calling for new leadership at Houston's Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, according to No Kill Houston President Bett Sundemeyer, who organized the petition drive. She also claimed in a press release that 400 people wrote letters to City Councilmembers, expressing their dismay.
There's a slight problem with the signatures, though, in that many of them come from outside Houston -- way outside Houston. Like Europe. (We think the petition may have sent a stronger message if the signatures were limited to Houstonians).
A "no-kill" advocate, Sundemeyer stated in the press release that General Manager David Atencio, who took over the reigns (sort of) in mid-January, hasn't done enough to lower euthanasia rates and increase adoption/foster rates. (Although Sundemeyer writes that "tens of thousands of dogs and cats continue to be killed at BARC almost every year," the number is probably closer to 10,000; BARC takes in around 27,000 every year).
The petition was sparked by the March death of a badly injured dog, Keiko, who many animal welfare advocates believed should have been treated by private specialists, and not at BARC, which lacks specialized medical equipment.
Referring to former BARC Administrative Manager Hope Bennett, Sundemeyer writes that "an employee who filed a complaint with the [Houston Police Department's Office of Inspector General] in response to BARC's treatment of Keiko, was fired by David Atencio shortly after filing her complaint."
(Citing confidentiality laws, BARC representatives would not say why Bennett was no longer employed at the facility. Bennett has declined to comment on the situation, but she retained an attorney, Martin Shellist, who has successfully handled BARC-related whistleblower suits against the city. Most notable was the case of Sam Levingston, a BARC veterinarian who had warned supervisors of faulty air-conditioning units in animal control officers' trucks, among other things).
Sundemeyer also writes that "citizens had hoped [Atencio] would provide an outlook different from the 'catch and kill' mentality that has plagued BARC for years. But there have been few changes that would help save lives, and, in fact, some of Atencio's new changes actually cost more animals their lives."
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But BARC Spokesman Chris Newport says the numbers don't support Sundemeyer's contentions. He says BARC had 3,486 live releases between February-April, which shows a marked improvement over past years. He also said BARC expanded offsite adoption locations to nine in May alone. (Offsite locations in Katy and Kingwood are in the works, he said).
According to Newport, "The actual data points to more lives being saved every month than ever before at BARC, and fewer animals being euthanized...."
He added: "I understand her advocacy, and the entire staff at BARC who are faced with making the hard decisions each every day....they understand better than anyone else the realities of what their job entails. Everyone there wants to get to a point where every animal that's suitable for adoption is able to be placed into a loving home. And the results over the last three and a half months, since Mr. Atencio has been at BARC, clearly [show] that progress is being made strongly in that direction."
We'd love to hear from anyone who's been to BARC lately. Let us know your thoughts.