Rather Than Fix the Problem, Houston Officials Ship Stray Animals Off to Other States

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Kent Robertson, BARC's then-director who hired that vet, quit in 2008 after two years at the helm. Robertson's replacement, poached from Florida, lasted three months. In late 2009, White pulled BARC out from under the auspices of Health and Human Services and stuck it in a department called Administration and Regulatory Affairs, where it remained under the watchful eye of Alfred Moran, whose position as board member of a private prison company called Cornell Companies made him just the kind of dude you want overseeing the care and well-being of defenseless puppies. (Fortunately for the city, Murphy left the Chron in 2009, and BARC and Parker can now depend on the paper not to scratch beneath the surface.)

Moran tapped a church buddy, Gerry Fusco, to be BARC's interim director. Fusco was a cypher who was alternately described as a consultant, a change-agent and a "Six Sigma." Fusco's first order of business was to ban volunteers who said anything negative. His second was finding a permanent BARC director. After what we assume was a tireless search throughout the four corners of the Earth, Fusco found his man: a former regional sales manager for 24 Hour Fitness.

The new director, David Atencio, and Moran continued the tradition of silencing complainers. When BARC's African-American Community Involvement Coordinator was demoted and had her salary cut by $10,000, she suspected her race might have been a factor. After she emailed her concerns to Parker, she found herself called into a meeting with Moran -- a meeting that she recorded. Moran told her, "You've escalated this whole thing to the Mayor. I got that call....You and I don't need to get into some sort of a conflict. Because you won't win that." Moran told her that it wasn't "smart" to write Parker, saying, "She's got my back. You don't need to take me on." To illustrate how he and Parker were BFFs, he told the beleaguered employee: "I was with her last night at dinner."

Under Atencio, BARC launched a low-cost vet clinic. After Atencio resigned in 2012, the clinic's manager, Damianoff, took over the reins and continued the tradition of avoiding tough questions. It's a job made especially easy given the lack of local media outlets that even want to ask tough questions of BARC.

As for Parker: Alleged dinners with titans of the private prison industry aside, the mayor has at least tried to drum up more awareness -- and dough -- for BARC than her predecessors. The facility's downhome-soundin' low-cost spay-and-neuter clinic, Fixin' Houston, launched in November 2014. BARC's budget increased from $7.7 million to $8.6 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year, and City Council approved an additional $2.9 million for 2014-15. (More curiously, a BARC spokesman claimed in January 2013 that the city had "entered into discussions" with an Austin-based low-cost spay-neuter clinic called Emancipet. After two years, that must be one humdinger of a conversation.)

In July 2014, Parker held a press conference to talk about BARC's new adoption center, which looks really pretty in pictures, and to say that the agency was headed in the right direction.

"Frankly, for decades, BARC was a mess," the Chronicle quoted Parker as saying. "Now it is staffed by business-minded people who still have a heart for animals."

The public image of RPM that both the group and BARC want you to see is exemplified by a photo accompanying a November 2013 puff piece in the Chronicle.

In the pic, co-founder Laura Carlock is cradling two puppies who are so adorable as to almost be edible, and she's kissing one of them. It's genius. The article does not say where those puppies are going. It's as if it doesn't matter.

Still, the piece did name two of the rescue groups RPM partners with, a rather remarkable feat given how much of a lid RPM likes to keep on its partners. Carlock and Perini say this is in deference to those rescues, who they fear would be inundated with so many requests from other rescues and individuals to take animals that it'd be hard for them to get any work done.

Although RPM formed only in 2013, Carlock and Perini have been in animal rescue for years. Both are attorneys, but only Carlock practices full time (she specializes in commercial litigation). They co-founded Scout's Honor in 2006, but Perini temporarily relocated to New Mexico, where she started a successful transport program. When she returned to Houston, Scout's Honor started a small-scale transport program, using Perini's contacts.

"It had been so successful for me in New Mexico that, to me, it...didn't make any sense -- the effort that I put in to save one dog, I could save 500," Perini says.

This ultimately led to a philosophical divide, with the majority of Scout's Honor's board wanting to focus on transport and move even more animals to Colorado. Those board members left to form RPM.

With connections to Scout's Honor's donors, and donors elsewhere, RPM has proven to be a fundraising juggernaut. And given the program's expense, it would have to be: RPM's four vans cost $78,000 each, and monthly veterinary bills have run as high as $90,000. The group was especially lucky to have ties, through Carlock's husband, to Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, who has donated to animal welfare causes.

Thanks to Alexander's donation, RPM will be able to build its own clinic and boarding facility, named in honor of Alexander's father. Whether Alexander knows where the dogs he's paying to dump in Colorado end up is anyone's guess. (His PR flack, Tracey Hughes, literally refused to even forward our questions to him, instead telling us to speak with Carlock; apparently, if we want to know Leslie Alexander's personal opinion on something, we should ask Carlock.)

Carlock and Perini say having a vet conducting wellness exams and vaccinations in-house will save a fortune, and a planned 53 kennels will allow them to pull even more animals from BARC each month. The facility will also include a grooming area and two quarantine rooms.

The women say they were able to get support from BARC because they approached Damianoff with a concrete business plan.

"We made it easy for [BARC] because we did all the work," Perini says.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow