Oak Forest has a stray animal problem, and neighborhood residents are rallying to do something about it.
It's not an original problem; the entire city of Houston shares it. Our streets are home to about one million stray animals, and BARC has neither the money nor the manpower to handle these staggering numbers. Rescue organizations turn away calls and emails for help on a daily basis with the refrain, "No money, no fosters. We're full, and we're broke."
On Sunday, July 20, the Oak Forest neighborhood is taking action to raise awareness--and funds--for the newly-formed Oak Forest Animal Advocates organization in an effort to take control of the stray population in their own backyards. So much the better for us, that action is a three-course dinner with beer pairings for $40 a person at neighborhood bar Sassafras.
Like any good story these days, it starts on Facebook. Oak Forest resident Kay Adams got tired of the ceaseless posts to various neighborhood pages about lost and found pets. The Facebook posts cast the problem in stark relief for Adams, a dog lover and Pup Squad foster volunteer, who decided, "We can do better than this--we just can. There has to be a better way." Kay's way was the founding of Oak Forest Animal Advocates in April 2014.
The fledgling non-profit is dedicated to addressing the stray animal problem in the Oak Forest neighborhood. According to OFAA president Lisa Junco, the first steps are securing funds and fosters. "Our goal is to develop a strong foster base, because without fosters we won't be successful." OFAA is about one-third of the way toward creating a network of thirty foster homes. Having options for immediate placement of found strays helps reunite lost dogs with owners quickly, and gives stray animals a chance to receive medical treatment and--most importantly--love, while long-term placement is sought. When you realize that the kill rate at the city's shelter hovers around or exceeds 50 percent, the need for more Houstonians to step up to the plate and foster becomes crystal clear.
Luckily for OFAA, Oak Forest is full of animal lovers who are willing to help. Joe Apa, chef at Rudyard's, grew up in the neighborhood and lives there today; the OFAA caught his attention--where else--on Facebook. With a house full of his own rescued pets, Apa wasn't a candidate to foster but he wanted to pitch in. "What I'm good at is fundraising," said Apa, who just recently executed his eightieth beer dinner at Rudyard's. One day he ran into Adams as she was attempting to lure a stray dog into a crate, and they got talking. As Apa coaxed the dog with a breakfast taco, Adams told him that money was a huge concern for the organization, and that got the wheels turning.
Apa got in touch with his friend Brandee Boyle, part-owner of neighborhood bar Sassafras, and their friend Mickey Morales, manager of the weekly Oak Forest farmers' market, and the idea for a three-course beer dinner fundraiser became a reality. "Food and Fun to Help Our Four-Legged Friends" will be held on Sunday, July 20, from 6-10 p.m. at Sassafras, with all proceeds going directly to Oak Forest Animal Advocates, thanks to Brad and Regina Kym of Worth Hydrochem, who agreed to underwrite the cost of food. Apa has one beer left to choose before the menu planning process begins, but tickets are already selling--approximately half of the 50 have been spoken for.
"Oak Forest is a strong community, and it's important to all of us [Boyle, and partners Carrie Oliver and Charlie Fernandez] to support it," said Boyle, who has three cats and two dogs at home. "Things have been going well for us at Sassafras since opening, and we love hosting as many events as possible." Providing a community solution to a community problem is a motivating force for all of the volunteers organizing the dinner, says Mickey Morales. "Being in the farming and farmers market businesses, I know that when you make your money in a neighborhood you really want to give back to that neighborhood. It's absolutely thrilling to be able to help--obviously, I've got a few animals myself." In addition to a farm full of chickens, goats, and guineas, Morales has two rescued dogs and a cat, who keeps the farm's mice on the run. Tickets are on sale now via Eventbrite, and you can get in touch with the OFAA--to make a direct donation, or volunteer your time--via their Facebook page until their website is up and running.