Taxpayer funded extortion in Harris County

Harris County, Texas – Randy Wallace with Fox 26 news recently reported that Harris County animal control killed a woman’s dog  even though they knew that she was on her way to retrieve her pets.  

Harris County Animal Control (HCAC) had taken Diesel, Chelsea and a puppy because someone had complained about them “running loose”.  However, when the animal control officer (ACO) showed up, the dogs were inside their fence, on their own property.   The ACO told the daughter of the dogs’ owner, Amy Kroll, that she would be fined $500 PER DOG ($1,500) because the dogs had been reported as “loose”. No one reported them as aggressive. They did not try to harm anyone. No, someone allegedly reported that her dogs had been outside of their fence, and Ms. Kroll was told that she had to pay the ACO $1,500 or he would take her pets.  

Ms. Kroll did not have $1,500.  As it happens, the dogs belonged to Ms. Kroll’s mother, Cathy Foster.  Ms. Foster has suffered some serious losses recently.  Her husband died and her house was recently destroyed in a fire, so she had been living with her daughter.  Her dogs were normally inside only dogs, but after her house burned down, they had to stay in the fenced yard temporarily.

But, instead of talking to Ms. Kroll to find out why the dogs might have been “loose”, and maybe even helping her to rectify any issue that might have allowed the dogs outside their fence, the ACO forced Ms. Kroll to relinquish the dogs—to a high kill pound.

Charging rexhorbitant fines and fees, that few people can afford; forcing people to relinquish their pets; and holding a person’s beloved pets for ransom, in a facility that kills thousands of pets every year, is the equivalent of EXTORTION.    

It should be noted that the fines/fees that Harris County employees told Ms. Foster and her family that they owed, changed a number of times over several days, and no one at HCAC could give a clear explanation of what the fees were for.

At one point, HCAC told Ms. Foster that she would have to pay an “extra” fee because the address listed on Diesel and Chelsea’s microchip was in Montgomery County (Ms. Foster’s house that burned down.)  This is insane.  People should not be charged more fees because the address on their pet’s microchip is in a different county than the pound where they were taken.   And it’s not like they even needed the microchips to contact Ms. Foster or Ms. Kroll, since the ACO took the dogs from her own front yard. 

Even HCAC’s director, Michael White, could not explain why his own employees told Ms. Foster that she would have to pay “extra” fees.  Nor could he explain why his own employees told her different amounts on multiple occasions.   

This whole thing sounds like a big SCAM.  It sounds like some Harris County employees are overcharging distraught pet owners, while holding their pets for ransom, and pocketing the excess “fees”. 

Ms. Foster and her family, did not have $1,500, $900, $700, $600 or any of the other ridiculous charges that HCAC employees claimed that she owed, so she was forced to  give the puppy to a rescue group to avoid paying HCAC’s ridiculous fine.  She told HCAC employees that they would pick up Diesel and Chelsea in 2 days when she got paid again. This time HCAC told her that she owed $200 EACH for Chelsea and Diesel.  

Even after Ms. Foster, and her family, called HCAC multiple times about her dogs; and even though she called HCAC before she left her house to pick up her dogs from HCAC; and even though Chelsea and Diesel’s kennel cards allegedly say that their owner was going to pick them up…. HCAC employees KILLED Chelsea.  

Diesel was next in line.  If Ms. Foster had arrived minutes later, HCAC would have killed Diesel too. Chelsea was the only thing that Ms. Foster had left that had belonged to her and her deceased husband.  She has lost everything else, and now this facility has killed her beloved pet.  


And over what?  What exactly did taking these pets to the pound solve?  These dogs were not dangerous.  They were beloved family pets that may, or may not, have been outside of their yard at some point in time.  If the issue was an inadequate fence, this family sure could not afford to repair it now, after paying HCAC’s ransom.  

HCAC’s actions solved absolutely nothing, other than to enrich their own employees.    

When HCAC’s director, Michael White, was made aware of this horrendous situation, one of his responses to Ms. Foster was “we can give you another dog“. Seriously? He actually thinks that giving this woman another dog will make everything OK?  
The fact that he thinks that a pet lover can just exchange one dog for another, like he/she is a piece of furniture, is a clear example of an extreme issue with the director of this facility.

The employees at Harris County claim that killing Chelsea was an “accident”.   But, this facility killed a horrifying 9,562 animals in 2016.  That is an average of 26 animals killed every single day of the year.

Considering that they are open 5 hours or less per day, that is 5+ animals killed EVERY SINGLE HOUR, of EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE YEAR.

Let’s face it, it is not really an “accident” when this facility is an assembly line of death, day in and day out.   

And this is not a “shelter” when there is very little actual sheltering going on. That facility is a revolving door of death.  Slaughterhouse would be a more accurate description.

And to add insult to injury, HCAC was on the local news about a week ago, saying they were “overcrowded” and asking people to adopt or foster etc.   So the HC animal control officer, knew that if he took Ms. Foster’s pets to the pound, that other dogs would be killed to make room.   He knew this and yet he coerced Ms. Kroll into relinquishing her mother’s pets to the high kill pound anyway. 
It costs money to intake pets, “shelter them”, kill them and dispose of their bodies.   The No Kill Advocacy Center estimates that it costs shelters/pounds approximately  $106 to intake, house, then kill one animal.  
It actually costs more to kill pets than it does to save them. 
So, in their extortion of Ms. Kroll, it actually cost HCAC (i.e.  it cost Harris Co. taxpayers) $106 to intake and kill a loved and WANTED pet.  It also cost HCAC money to intake and “shelter” Diesel and the puppy, when it was totally unnecessary.  These pets HAD homes.   The heartache that they have caused Ms. Kroll and her family is immeasurable.

HCAC’s director should be comprehensively implementing programs that reduce intakes.  He should be working hard to find ways to keep pets out of that high kill pound.   He should be working hard to comprehensively  implement the programs that have been proven, for years, to both decrease intakes and increase live outcomes.

He, and his employees, should not be intimidating and coercing people into relinquishing their beloved pets, especially for something as trivial as “some dogs” were reported as being loose.  Not only is this cruel, inhumane and costly, but doing so only drives up intakes and drives up the killing, as this horrific story clearly illustrates.

I have to wonder if Dr. White has even bothered to visit any Open Admission, No Kill shelters to find out how they ended the killing?  There are 200+ of them now, including 6 right here in Texas, including 2 entire Texas counties. Has White even bothered to research any of them?  
I’m going to guess that he has not, since he has not bothered to comprehensively implement well known, common sense, cost effective, life saving programs. Apparently, remaining in the dark ages of catch and kill sheltering is simply easier.

Folks, this is your taxpayer funded animal control facility.  Harris County Judge, Ed Emmett and the 4 Harris County Commissioners should be ashamed that they have allowed a county dept to function like a third world country.  These people are ultimately over this facility, and the leadership and employees working there.  Yet they have not required that their employees implement the programs and services which have ended killing all over the country.  

If you are sick and tired of the horrendously high killing at our animal “shelters”, then speak out to your elected officials.   Tell them that this issue matters to you and that you expect better from your taxpayer funded departments.  

Tell them that you will not vote for people who do not represent your values.  And if they do not represent your values, then VOTE THEM OUT OFFICE during the next election. 

Click here to SPEAK OUT for shelter pets at Harris County Animal Control.


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Redemption, a key component to reduce shelter killing

Houston, TX (Reposting my article which originally appeared in on 5/13/2010. has shut down it’s website and the article is no longer available there, so I am re-posting it here.)

According to the No Kill Equation, “one of the most overlooked areas for reducing killing in animal control shelters are lost animal reclaims.  Sadly, besides having pet owners fill out a lost pet report, very little effort is made in this area of shelter operations.” This is deplorable because, when shelters aggressively pursue this opportunity, they are able to return a large percentage of lost animals to their families.
A prime example of the enormous impact that reclaims can have on life saving is Washoe County, (Reno) Nevada whose shelters reunite approximately 60% of dogs with their owners. In fact, Washoe County has one of the highest returned-to-owner rates in the nation.  They accomplished this by being proactive in their efforts, rather than blaming the community
Let’s compare Washoe County to BARC (Houston’s animal control facility). At the time of Nathan Winograd’s assessment of BARC in September 2009, it had 1% redemption rate for cats and a 7% redemption rate for dogs.

Repeat: That is a 60% redemption rate for dogs at Washoe Co. animal control, but only 7% at BARC.   

The following story is a perfect example of why BARC returns only 7% of lost dogs to owners.  Unfortunately, this example is repeated every day.
On March 14, 2010, Brian Simon lost his Chihuahua, Nino.  On March 15, Mr. Simon went to BARC to search for Nino. He did not find his dog so BARC’s kennel supervisor told Mr. Simon to leave his “Lost” flyer on BARC’s bulletin board. 
Mr. Simon was told that BARC employees looked at the bulletin board regularly to match up lost pets.  He relied on BARC’s assurances and unfortunately that was a big mistake. Those familiar with BARC know that the bulletin board is rarely, if ever, reviewed before animals are killed.

Picture of BARC’s “lost pet” bulletin board in May, 2010 taken by Fox 26 Houston

Even if BARC employees were checking the bulletin board regularly, it is absurd to think that anyone could match up animals against the mountain of paper hanging there. See the picture above. It is more sickening that Nathan Winograd’s assessment report includes instructions on how to set up a lost and found program that actually works (see page 37-39), yet BARC has not even attempted to institute this program.

On March 17, two days after Mr. Simon reported Nino lost, a Chihuahua matching Nino’s description was brought to BARC.  (See below. Nino is on the left. The Chihuahua brought to BARC is on the right)  The Chihuahua at BARC had been picked up very close to the location where Nino was last seen, yet no one contacted Mr. Simon to tell him that a Chihuahua matching Nino’s description was at BARC.  


Dog on Left:  Picture of Nino that his owner posted on BARC’s “lost” bulletin board — Dog on Right:  Stray/lost dog that was picked up in the same area where Nino was lost, 2 days after Nino went missing

On March 21, four days after arriving at BARC, the Chihuahua was killed. It is appalling that no one attempted to find his owner and he was never considered for adoption.  See the Fox 26 news report here. 
Below is a picture of the bulletin board taken by Nathan Winograd in September 2009.  Compare it to the picture of the bulletin board above taken by Fox 26.  With BARC’s measly 1% redemption rate for cats and a 7% redemption rate for dogs, why has absolutely nothing changed in the last 8 months? 

BARC’s “lost pet” bulletin board in September, 2009

If we take Washoe County’s 60% percent reclaim rate for dogs and apply it to BARC’s intakes, it would translate to a staggering 8,100 dogs that are killed at BARC who are actually lost with families who want them back.* 

That is 8,100 cages, that are being used, that could instead be freed up so truly homeless pets would have more time.

This means BARC would kill 8,100 fewer animals which would also save $972,000 because it costs roughly $120 to house an animal for 3 days then kill him/her and dispose of the body.

The only reason that those 8,100 lost dogs (and many more thousands of lost cats) are being killed each year is because BARC has not instituted an effective program that would reunite these animals with their owners even though instructions for an effective program are literally sitting at BARC and at city hall.




So, when shelter directors or city politicians tell people that there are “too many pets and not enough homes” or claim that shelters “must” kill because irresponsible people have caused pet overpopulation, remember this story.  

Remember little Nino, and the other 8,100 dogs just like him, with families who want them back, but who will be killed at BARC this year. 

As I’ve said in previous articles, whether a shelter stops killing depends on the shelter director.  So, I have to ask, when will the Mayor and city council hire a shelter director for BARC who will pursue every avenue that has been proven to save lives?  


Note 07/05/17:  Although the above blog was written more than 7 YEARS ago, BARC leadership still has not implemented an effective Return to Owner program. BARC’s Return to Owner rates have been appallingly low every year since this blog was written.  BARC’s Return to Owner rate was only 6.88% in 2016 — 9.68% for dogs and only 1.1% for cats. 
An effective Return to Owner program would cost little to nothing to implement but could save literally thousands of lives, and would actually SAVE money for BARC/City of Houston because of reduced intakes.  Yet BARC’s leadership has not attempted to implement such a program.  

This is horrendous and inexcusable.  And again, this is a shelter leadership issue.


But, this issue has a solution….. a pink slip.


Please SPEAK OUT for the pets at BARC and demand shelter leadership who will work hard to save lives.   Click here for an easy way to speak out for shelter pets.  It takes only seconds, but could help save thousands of lives.  


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