Internal e-mails among Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care's new administrators and volunteers from September 20 to October 9 show a newly independent city agency plagued with miscommunication and continued animal negligence -- the same problems BARC suffered under its former leadership.
Hair Balls' preliminary review of nearly 500 pages' worth of e-mails obtained by former volunteer Margaret Gondo's open records request show that, two months into Interim Bureau Chief Gerry Fusco's reign -- and many more months after a series of "Incident Command Teams" were dispatched by Health and Human Services Director Stephen Williams -- the shelter still lacked the basic governance to keep animals fed and free from living in their own filth.
Per one volunteer's impassioned e-mail, cats have been left without food or water, to the point where one cat was gnawing on a bowl. (That cat was lucky -- some cages allegedly had no bowls). Other e-mails complain of dogs being put out for adoption without being spayed/neutered; and one volunteer complains of a dog with a bad eye injury who was forced to wait for a week -- allegedly with fragments of its damaged eye hanging out of the socket -- before being treated.
(A December 1 e-mail, not part of Gondo's records request, concerns a volunteer's request to Fusco about the need for litterboxes. Fusco replies with: "We cannot continue to get deluged with requests about litterboxes or other similar requests when we [are] trying to increase live releases [and] develop better sanitation techniques," ostensibly expressing his belief that cats having no place to shit would not fall under the category of "sanitation.")
Much of the concern over actual problems -- as well as a spate of rumors -- came from volunteers who encouraged City Council to approve Fusco's $180,000 contract, an irony that was not lost on Fusco, per his September 27 e-mail to Elena Marks of Mayor Bill White's office (and BARC's current spokesperson): "Somehow we have to do something to stop this. There is only so much I can take of this nonsense," Fusco wrote. "These are the same people who sang my praises. This is much more than one person should have to bear."
Although some of Fusco's e-mails express dismay over management not being "in sync" with volunteers, of "procedural problems that are pervasive at BARC," about a policy change in releasing euthanasia records made without his knowledge, and about "dismal" record-keeping in the shelter's computerized inventory database, he places much of the blame for BARC's problems on negative comments from the public.
On September 26, Fusco e-mailed Marks that "I will forward you an e-mail from a volunteer that must have seen a [blogger's] comments. I'm really tough, but this nonsense does have a way of wearing you down and works to demoralize one. No wonder BARC can't get on a sustainable path. Much of the public won't allow it."
Here are a few other highlights:
September 20: a volunteer e-mails Interim Chief Gerry Fusco and others about conditions in the north kennel.
"Saturday was pure hell at BARC....The cages [in the north kennel] themselves were abominable. Cages cannot become this filthy day after day. Some of these cages had not been cleaned the right way for days. There were feces in the corners of the cage, smeared on the cages and caked on the cages. We tried to just give food and water, but had to clean a few where the excrement was on the animals."
The volunteer continues: "The condition in the north kennel has definitely gotten worse in the last couple of weeks. I have never seen the cages in this condition....The city prosecutes individuals for having their animals with no food [and] water and lying in excrement. But we are doing the same thing."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Fusco replied later that morning: "I [saw] the cat ward and it was terrible. PLEASE....allow me the opportunity to fix this." Fusco goes on to tell two BARC employees, who were apparently in charge of the north kennel, "I will not put up with this....Either we scheduled poorly, or no one is doing their work."
A September 28 e-mail from a volunteer to Fusco states "I am becoming concerned about the number of dogs that are going to the south kennel available for adoption that are not spayed or neutered. The percentage of unaltered dogs has increased over the last several months. Now that BARC has more vet staff, I do not understand this development. Both of the PetSmarts that I have talked to [for offsite adoptions] request that we bring altered animals only."
Fusco later e-mailed staff vet Virginia Groemminger, asking her for an answer: "As I've mentioned several times, we need to develop clinical stats that show what we are accomplishing at BARC. These are the types of questions we routinely get and we must be prepared to not only answer them but to be proactive in telling the public how we are progressing."
At Hair Balls, we're still waiting for the proactive part. We will update this as we continue to go through the e-mails.