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Houston Pets Alive!

A better BARC

This is good to see.

As recently as three years ago, Houston’s animal shelter put down half of the dogs and cats that came through its doors in a busy month.

Now, five times in the last year alone, the city’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care finished a month having euthanized fewer than 10 percent of the animals it took in, achieving, at least momentarily, the coveted “no-kill” label that animal rights activists have sought for years.

BARC is a rare bureaucratic success story, having evolved over the last decade from an embarrassment for city leaders and the cause of outright rage among animal activists to a broadly respected facility that has managed to get ever-increasing numbers of animals into the hands of rescue groups or new owners.

The shelter’s progress even led the City Council to increase its budget by $2.6 million a few years ago to help answer more of the 55,000 calls citizens place to BARC each year.

Now, shelter leaders and their nonprofit partners confront a once-unthinkable milestone: Could Houston’s pound achieve “no kill” status?

[…]

“Our rescue partners have played a major role in how far we’ve come thus far and will continue to play a role in continuing to increase those live release numbers,” [Ashtyn Rivet, the facility’s deputy assistant director] said.

Chief among those partners is Rescued Pets Movement, a local nonprofit that gets $75 in city money for every animal it takes from BARC and relocates, often out of state, to a foster group or a new home. The group has handled more than 22,000 animals for BARC during their roughly four-year partnership.

A key reason for BARC’s low kill rate in recent months, Rivet added, is a burgeoning partnership with Houston Pets Alive! and its more established cousin, Austin Pets Alive!, a group that was instrumental in helping that city achieve no-kill status several years ago.

That nonprofit has taken 975 animals from BARC since August, only 14 percent of which were in good health. Avoiding having to put down ill animals will be a key way to further boost BARC’s live release rate, Rivet said.

Just getting BARC to a point where it is fully functional was a big win. Getting it to full no-kill status would be amazing, and a very worthy goal for which to aim. Kudos to all for the major progress.

Improving how animals are rescued

One of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina was the need to rescue pets along with their owners, and to do everything possible to keep them together afterwards. This Texas Monthly story describes how that went with Harvey.

There are a few best practices that became understood in the wake of Katrina: holding animals in the local area for much longer than in the past, ensuring that evacuees had opportunities to find their animals quickly, and sending animals that the organizations were confident were unowned to facilities where they could be adopted effectively. All of that came to bear in the wake of Harvey. “At the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, the warehouse set up as a staging area for bringing in these animals is right next to a Red Cross shelter,” explains Barbara Williamson of Best Friends Animal Society. “There are animals there that are somebody’s pets, and they can come and visit their pets. Post-Hurricane Katrina, if you were to talk to anybody in state disaster response in any state, that’s a priority. The recognition that pets are members of the family, and sometimes they’re the only thing people have left. They got out with their kids and their pets, and the last thing you want is for them to lose that four-footed family member.”

Also crucial is ensuring that families and their pets don’t get separated in the first place. Not all shelters for human evacuees are equipped to take care of pets, which is something that Austin Pets Alive—which found itself spearheading many of the animal-based relief operations around Harvey—stepped in to help with.

Mary Heerwald of Austin Pets Alive said that her organization didn’t know exactly what to expect when they got to Houston a few days after Harvey hit. They had expectations of how they’d be useful, but they quickly learned that the city’s needs were different from what they had imagined. “When we made it down to Houston, we didn’t know what we were walking into. We came with motorized canoes and boats and thought that we’d need to literally rescue animals from the water,” she says. “What we quickly found out was that no one has stepped up yet to figure out what to do with the pets who were being rescued. Once you remove a cat from the top of a car or a dog from a flooding backyard, then what do you do? They still need a chance to live and either find their family, or a safe and happy adoptive home. So we became the accidental spearheads of the pet lifesaving initiative in relation to Hurricane Harvey.”

Here’s the Austin Pets Alive! page for Harvey evacuations. The immediate need has passed, but foster homes for animals whom they hope to adopt out are always in demand. Reach out to them or to Houston Pets Alive! if you want to help.