Houston area minority media executives gathered on Aug. 8 for Ethnic Media Services’ media briefing on Houston’s stray animal epidemic. Seated (left-right) are Eli Perez (BARC), Cory Stottlemyer (BARC), animal enforcement officer Laura Spivey and Sandy Close (Ethnic Media Services) (Photo Credit: Bayou Beat).

Houston, you have a problem.

No, it is not the struggling Houston Texans or Houston Rockets.

Because of warm temperatures and other factors, the “Bayou City” has a huge problem with stray animals roaming the streets.

“Our partners up north don’t have year-round breeding season, we do,” said Cory Stottlemyer, deputy shelter director at BARC. “Here in Houston and cities in the south, we have a stray problem all year because we have temperatures that allow strays to continue to roam and not face those harsh winter months.”

As a result, BARC has begun to address the problem with their “Healthy Pets, Healthy Streets” initiative.

On Aug. 8, Ethnic Media Services hosted a briefing with Houston’s leading ethnic media outlets and journalists to help them understand the dilemma in hopes that educating their readers, listeners and viewers could curb the stray epidemic in the nation’s fourth largest city.

One of the biggest problems in curtailing the number of strays is people’s lack of knowledge of what it takes to be a responsible pet owner, said Stottlemyer, whose job at BARC has him overseeing the outreach, customer service and registration teams.

He said, “Part of what we tried to look at in the past is educating youth and trying to build a new generation of responsible pet owners but it’s going to take a lot of work.”

One of the main problems that pet owners face is the financial commitment and the physical and emotional commitment needed to be good pet owners.

Many people got pets during the pandemic lockdown.

However, as inflation increased, people lost their rental apartments or homes or people had to go back to work, many people abandoned their pets as opposed to turning them into a shelter like BARC’s shelter.

Furthermore, many people might not realize that if they feed a stray animal for more than three days then that stray becomes their animal.

“You may think you are doing a great thing by feeding the strays, but you are congregating the strays in that area, increasing the strays in that area and then they procreate and make more animals,” said Laura Spivey, an animal enforcement officer in Houston.

Instead of feeding strays, Houstonians are encouraged to call 3-1-1 instead so that animal enforcement officers can come remove the animals from the area.

Even with the shelter option, BARC has limited space for strays or turn-ins.

Spivey added, “You can call 3-1-1 and let them know about the strays and once we know what areas to aim for—the ones that are most populated with strays—then we will go in and do sweeps, mostly on Wednesdays, and pick up all the strays that we see.”

Stottlemyer said, “It’s a crucial time right now because in the past we’ve had some limited capacity to go out. Our enforcement team, our outreach team has been able to go out in the past, but we don’t really have a focused community outreach team.”

Furthermore, BARC considers whether the animals are too aggressive for future adoption.

If the animals get too aggressive with BARC staff or other animals at the shelter, they must be euthanized.

Stottlemyer encouraged pet owners to get their animals spayed and neutered to cut down on the number of strays.

“If you’re going to a private vet (for spay and neutering services), it can range from $200-$600, depending on the size and the weight of the animal,” said Eli Perez, BARC’s community outreach coordinator. “With the City of Houston’s ‘Healthy Pets, Healthy Streets’ program, as long as you reside within the city limits, the services are free no matter the weight or size.”

Another factor that has contributed to the stray animal problem is the nationwide shortage of veterinarians.

Many who choose the field of veterinary sciences are also passing on shelter medicine.

Often vets, instead, are opting for rural or cultural medicines.

Furthermore, many vets opt not to work with high capacity.

The officials from BARC also said that one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about the agency is that they only take in dogs and cats.

However, BARC will accept animals like horses, chickens, snakes and other reptiles.

This week, many Houston residents saw news coverage of an injured pet monkey that BARC rescued and brought in.

While many Houstonians might not have a pet turn in or report, the entire city can help reduce the stray animal situation.

Adopting a shelter animal for a pet will help ease BARC’s issue with limited shelter space.

Stottlemyer himself has one foster fail dog in addition to two other dogs and a cat at his home.

Houstonians can also help by donating items such as bedding, including towels, linens, quilts and blankets.

Also, BARC needs food of any kind, even if the food comes in open containers and bags.

BARC distributes the donated food to foster families.

The shelter dogs also have their “faves” when it comes to food choices.

Many of the dogs at the facility love rotisserie chicken and hot dogs, which the shelter workers use as treats for the dogs.

To help ease the strain caused by strays, the “Healthy Pets, Healthy Streets” program has begun disseminating brochures to educate the public on what they can do to eradicate the problem.

According to press notes distributed to Houston’s ethnic media outlets, “BARC has resource materials available in multiple languages including Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic and French.”

Todd A. Smith
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