Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Houston: Shelter Killing, Forgotten Promises

Houston is a city that will always have a piece of my heart. I grew up in a lower income area of town,
One of the pups currently waiting to be reunited
at the NRG Arena in Houston, TX.
one that many people might avoid these days. I had an amazing childhood, with neighborhood friends, in fact my best friend of 30+ years grew up next door to me. On several occasions, we discovered a litter of stray kittens on our block and of course, they came home with me. I would hide them in my room until my parents discovered them, then (usually after a lecture on why I need to stop bringing home stray kittens) together, we would find them new families. 

As I grew up, I became very aware of the homeless animal population in Houston. It really started when my Papa (grandpa) showed up one day with a surprise pair of baby Dachshunds that were rescued from the local pound (Houston SPCA). These babies had been pulled from the shelter by a local rescue. A friend of my Papa, who worked with this rescue mentioned their story to him and he thought that they would make a great pair of pups for his granddaughters. I was in second grade, and vividly remember coming home from school one day to these two wiggly little puppies. My Papa shared their history, they were dropped off at the Houston SPCA one night and because they were covered in mange, completely bald, the shelter had scheduled them for euthanasia. Luckily, a local rescue happened to be looking for animals to pull into their program and they were saved, treated and after a few months, adopted for us! It was my first true experience with a rescue organization and one that left a lasting impact on my life. 

Rizo is estimated to be 20 - 23 years old now! 
A few years down the road, my dad was working his regular shift at Station number 6 for the Houston Fire Department. His station was located downtown, so an occasional stray dog wandering around the parking lot wasn't out of the ordinary. However, one dog in particular caught the eye of the firefighters. Rizo, as we named him was a scraggly little longhair chihuahua mix who had obviously been abused before making his way to the station. He had big welts the size of tennis balls on his side, was terrified of everyone and would bolt at the sight of a water hose or broom. Somehow, my dad managed to wrangle him into his truck and brought him home, where my little pre-teen self smothered him with love until he learned to trust us and accept that we loved him. Rizo is still living with my parents and we estimate he is somewhere between 20 - 23 years old today. We know his time is running short, but this little Houston street-dog was given a life that not every dog is as lucky to live. 

I mention these stories as they were a huge part of shaping my love for animals and passion for rescue. While I know that there are not 1 million stray dogs in Houston as so many rescues proclaim (I mean, the streets would literally be covered in stray dogs), there is a stray problem in Houston and it is one that needs a solution. Last month, Hurricane Harvey devastated the city that I grew up in. It destroyed homes, claimed lives and disrupted life in one of the largest cities in our country. Thousands of animals were rescued from the streets and flooded homes of Houston. Thousands of these animals coming to my area in Austin to start their lives by being adopted into loving home. These animals were already in shelters in Houston, not owned animals. Austin rescues pulled these adoptable, shelter animals to make space for strays and truly lost pets from the storm. Many of these animals were dogs and cats that were at risk of euthanasia at the city shelters and may not have been given the opportunity to find a new home. 

Houston has historically ignored life-saving programs. The city shelters continue to kill healthy and adoptable animals rather than implement proven programs to save more lives. The Houston SPCA severed ties and is refusing to work with organizations that stepped in during the initial days following the hurricane because they do not want to be held accountable to saving the lives of animals in their care. They refuse to offer transparency to their programs, close their doors to people searching for their pets and continue to kill dogs labeled as 'pit bulls' deeming them dangerous before even assessing their temperaments. Houston is in a crisis and despite promises by the city council and representatives as they were working to be elected, little to nothing has been done over the last several years to change the way the shelters are run.

Enter Hurricane Harvey. This is one of the roughest storms to hit Houston and the devastation can be
The Rescue Reunion Pavilion with Best Friends
NRG Arena. Houston, TX.
felt all across the city. While this event has been horrible, one bright spot is that it may pave the way for change when it comes to animal sheltering in Houston. Rescue organizations across the state (even across the country) have stepped in to offer support, transferring animals out of the high-kill city shelters and into no-kill rescue organizations. The plight of animals rescued after the storm has been in the spotlight for several weeks now and organizations have stepped in to offer more long-term support as the city recovers from this tragedy. Animals that may have had no option are being given care. Animals that may have died in the city shelter have been offered sanctuary and a guarantee at life with no-kill rescues.

I moved to Austin in 2005 and immediately recognized this city's love for animals. However, even in Austin, it took a small grassroots effort led by Austin Pets Alive to inspire change. Today, APA has partnered with and is working hand in hand with Houston area rescues, inspiring change. It took hard work, leadership and working with our local government to reach our goals. It didn't happen overnight, but it did happen. Houston has millions of citizens, millions of animal lovers that would be outraged if they truly knew what was happening behind closed doors. It takes outrage to inspire change.  Get involved, speak out and share your voice. The animals in Houston are depending on you to make those life-saving changes!

Stephanie Conrad
Pet Studio Art | Owner | Artist

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