Out of Control: Harris County Pets Response

The following is a response to the article Out of Control: Harris County Animal Control by Rebecca Deurlein, which appeared here on April 1. 

We appreciated reading Rebecca Deurlein’s concerns about animal control in the Houston area. Harris County Veterinary Public Health (VPH) always looks for opportunities to share information about these challenging problems in our community. Harris County has one of the lowest spay/neuter rates in the country, which of course fuels the problems described in the Katy Christian Magazine article (“Out of Control: Harris County Animal Control”). However, there is some confusion in the article we would like to clear up to keep your readers informed and able to access services they need.

Our organization is Harris County Veterinary Public Health (VPH), which operates the new Harris County Pets Resource Center, and our jurisdiction encompasses the unincorporated areas of Harris County. BARC mainly serves the City of Houston and is a City of Houston department. The 311 number mentioned in the article is specifically for City of Houston departments, including BARC. Harris County Pets and BARC each have their own jurisdiction, procedures for picking up animals, animal shelter, adoption program and animal control officers.

The article mentions another agency responding and quickly euthanizing an injured baby opossum. Our animal control officers do sometimes retrieve certain types of wild animals that may carry diseases, such as bats, but our primary focus is saving pets, mainly dogs and cats.

Regarding residents who trap stray dogs and cats, we respond frequently in your community, and many others, to take possession of them. We ask residents to avoid setting traps on weekends and holidays because we have fewer personnel working on those days and focus primarily on emergency cases.

Harris County Pets’ Community Cat Program takes free-roaming (or community) cats and neuters or spays them, vaccinates them and tips their ear to identify them as a community cat.

Harris County Public Health (HCPH) is the local public health agency for the Harris County, Texas jurisdiction. It provides a wide variety of public health activities and services aimed at improving the health and well-being of the Harris County community. Harris County Veterinary Public Health is a division of HCPH and operates the new Harris County Pets Resource Center (formerly Harris County Animal Shelter).

The cats are then safely returned to their original outdoor homes where they live. (It is also important to note that most community cats are not socialized to people and thus, not eligible for adoption programs.) We anticipate that the program, which was approved by Harris County Commissioners Court, will be effective in controlling the cat population in neighborhoods and saving the lives of feral cats that are unadoptable.

Harris County Public Health (HCPH) is the local public health agency for the Harris County, Texas jurisdiction. It provides a wide variety of public health activities and services aimed at improving the health and well-being of the Harris County community. Harris County Veterinary Public Health is a division of HCPH and operates the new Harris County Pets Resource Center (formerly Harris County Animal Shelter).

Safe neighborhoods are a priority for Harris County Pets. Every year our animal control officers respond to an average of 28,700 service requests, which include: routine impoundment, issuing warnings or citations, assisting law enforcement on animal cruelty cases or emergency situations, and rescuing animals from unsafe or dangerous conditions. In 2019 and 2020, they returned over 2,000 displaced pets directly to their owners in the field, rather than having to impound them. This frees up precious shelter space needed for homeless pets and saves residents from paying shelter fees to retrieve their pets.

Animal control officers also educate residents about pet safety and local laws governing pet ownership and dangerous animals. They take part in monthly community outreach events in underserved areas, informing residents about low-cost veterinary services at our medical clinic and helping them become loving and responsible pet owners.

We were surprised to be criticized for not housing animals in need of a temporary home. Until last summer, when our new Resource Center opened, animals were housed in a cramped shelter built in 1986. Staff struggled to safely house two or three times the numbers of animals the shelter was originally built for. Harris County voters passed a $24 million dollar bond referendum in 2015 to build the new facility, which has dramatically improved the lives of animals housed there and our ability to take in much greater numbers.

Even several years before the new Resource Center was completed, Harris County Pets made huge strides in improving the percentage of animals saved, now 99%. That success is due to our amazing rescue and transfer group partners, our compassionate and tireless staff, committed fosters, dedicated volunteers and the generosity of our donors and grant providers.

We are so proud of our new Resource Center and haven’t really been able to share it yet with the public, since it opened just as the pandemic began. We have, and fully use, our 525 pet housing units. The new facility keeps injured, sick and healthy pets separate, a luxury we didn’t have in our previous shelter, so our animals stay healthier now. Dangerous dogs in our custody for legal proceedings have their own space. Our adoptable pets even stay active with our spacious outdoor play areas for dogs and freeroaming playrooms for cats.

The Harris County Pets Resource Center is an inviting, healthy and safe place for pets and people. Schedule a tour and come visit us at 612 Canino Road in Houston or visit us our website at www.CountyPets.com. We love pets, and resources are limited, so partner with us to be part of the solution. Volunteer, adopt, foster or donate; there is a listing of our adoptable pets, services and programs, volunteer opportunities, donation options and other valuable information on our website. We hope to see you soon.

Best,

Michael A. White, DVM, MS

Director, Harris County Veterinary Public Health/Harris County Pets

Harris County Public Health (HCPH) is the local public health agency for the Harris County, Texas jurisdiction. It provides a wide variety of public health activities and services aimed at improving the health and well-being of the Harris County community. Harris County Veterinary Public Health is a division of HCPH and operates the new Harris County Pets Resource Center (formerly Harris County Animal Shelter).

Follow HCPH on Twitter @hcphtx and like us on Facebook

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Joseph Menslage is the Publisher of Katy Christian Magazine and Fort Bend Christian Magazine. Contact him at joseph@houstonchristianmagazine.com.