November 2005 was a tough time for BARC. Not only did the Mayor's Task Force on Animal Control issue a critical assessment of BARC's failures, City Controller Annise Parker released the results of a performance audit of the facility. (The entire audit can be found on the Office of the Controller's Web site, www.houstontx.gov/controller/.)
Findings included the following:
• Widespread employee dissatisfaction with compensation and lack of training
• A computer network that allowed any employee who logged in to have access to "all information in the database, including cash and accounting information"; furthermore, "all case activities can be updated by any employee without restriction and there are no tracking records of access, except for the first and last entries."
• A nine-month backlog of pending low-priority dispatch calls — low priority including "animals in traps; injured or sick animals."
• "Continuing education is not offered to ACO's (animal control officers) to maintain certification status."
• "New ACO's are trained by inexperienced officers."
• "Some ACO's have not received training to use tranquilizer guns."
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• "Favoritism is practiced among staff and supervisors."
Parker told the Houston Press that while the city has made some improvements to BARC, it has historically been a low budget priority. During her stint on City Council, she said, "We didn't really do anything to change how we look at animal control in the city of Houston, and really didn't invest in top-quality personnel."
Parker was a proponent of bringing "no-kill" expert Nathan Winograd in for an assessment of the facility.
"When it comes down to it, at some point, you have to stop the animals coming in on the front end, which means a major financial and community-awareness investment in spaying and neutering," she said. "And then you have to change it on the back end, in better treatment of the animals that you have and better programs for adoptions, and that piece of it really costs money. And we haven't wanted to make the investment."