In a move to raise revenue for a new adoption center, the City of Houston is ordering veterinarians to provide clients' names and their pets' licensing information. According to a September 28 letter from Administrative and Regulatory Affairs Director Alfred Moran to Houston vets, those who don't comply are subject to a fine of up to $500, plus additional fines for each subsequent day of non-compliance.
Although Moran's letter states that "your compliance with these laws will help lower euthanasia rates for Houston animals," Dr. Jeff Chalkley, president-elect of the Harris County Veterinary Medical Association, said he was told by Moran and other officials that the city needs the revenue for operating the planned Ann Young Adoption Center. Getting more licensing fees from owners who are being policed by vets would be one way to get it.
And the city needs it stat, because some folks have campaigns to run, according to Chalkley.
"Basically, what was told to us by Alfred Moran [was] 'This, BARC, is the last black mark on Mayor White's record, and he wants it fixed before he runs for Senate. And he wants it cleaned up -- and he wants it cleaned up, ASAP. And that's why he's removed it forcibly from under Health and Human Services.' I mean, that was word-for-word, basically."
City ordinance allows the director of Health and Human services to deputize veterinarians for the purpose of providing licensing information to the city. Moran's letter points out that the ordinance requires licensing "through the Director of the Health and Human Services Department."
Ostensibly, this ordinance was crafted with the understanding that directors of HHS would actually do their jobs. Who would've known that the animal wing of HHS would become such a lunatic asylum that it would need to be relocated? And, Hair Balls wonders, if we're following the letter of the law, nowhere in the ordinance does it state that anyone other than the director of HHS is responsible for licensing.....so do vets really have to comply?
Either way, Chalkley says he's already heard from 20 local vets who said they won't comply.
"Part of, you know, being a veterinarian is getting people to trust you," Chalkley tells Hair Balls, "so that they do what you recommend for their pets. And if they're not going to trust you because you're a tax collector for the city, it makes our job even that much harder."
Chalkley said he's been through this with former BARC Bureau Chief Kent Robertson (who lasted about a year and a half before running back to Dallas), former Interim Bureau Chief Barbara Sudhoff-McGill (who was whisked away without explanation), and former Bureau Chief Ray Sim (who was canned without explanation after two months -- are you sensing a pattern yet?). No one stuck around long enough, Chalkley said, to hammer out a collaborative licensing procedure.
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Chalkley said he's told all these ghosts of bureau chiefs past that when the ordinance was mildly enforced years ago, clients either took their pets to vets outside city limits, or just refused to vaccinate and license them altogether.
"Our concern is that this is going to be a public health nightmare for the city," Chalkley said.
Alarmist? Perhaps. But Hair Balls distinctly remembers, during Acting Bureau Chief Gerry Fusco's vetting process before City Council, Fusco and Moran saying Fusco would reach out to vets and members of the rescue community to try to find the best solutions to BARC's plethora of problems. Threatening vets with fines doesn't exactly signal "olive branch." (Besides, vets are pretty busy these days, what with a lot of BARC adoptees dying from distemper, a pesky li'l problem Hair Balls is still waiting to hear about from city officials).
We're also waiting for comments on this renewed interest in licensing fees from the Mayor's Office, and we'll update this as soon as we hear back.