Houston, TX – The Houston Chronicle recently published an article talking about Annise Parker’s “legacy” after 6 years as Houston’s mayor. The article was filled with a lot of “inaccurate” statements, especially concerning BARC.
If we are going to talk about legacies, it is important that we look at actual history. And since it appears some people have conveniently forgotten what has taken place in the last 6 years, I’d like to recap.
First, Parker claims in the article that she loves animals. Really? This is the person who admitted to trapping feral cats and taking them to BARC at a time when BARC killed ALL feral cats (or any cat that BARC claimed was feral even if he/she was just scared). When Parker trapped the cats, she knew that BARC killed all feral cats, because she was part of the 2005 Mayor’s Task Force report which reported on BARC and Houston’s other kill shelters. Yet, Parker took those cats to their deaths anyway.
What kind of “animal lover” does that?
Second, the article claims that Parker started BARC’s “transformation”. Actually, BARC’s “transformation”, if you want to call it that, began in Bill White’s last term in 2009. After many, many demands from animal lovers, Bill White hired the “change agent” who fired 75+ truly horrendous, animal abusing, employees at BARC. At the same time, citizens demanded that the city hire international, No Kill expert, Nathan Winograd to assess BARC. After the public donated the money to hire Winograd, he wrote a nearly 200 page, assessment, telling the City and BARC how they could stop killing healthy and treatable pets.
All of this took place before Parker even took office.
So, the day Parker took office as Mayor, BARC was perfectly poised to stop killing shelter pets. They had better employees, and a step by step guide showing them exactly how to do it. But, Parker did not require her employees to actually implement what Winograd recommended.
Therefore, BARC kept killing huge numbers of animals every year:
At least 15,088 killed in 2010;
13,060 killed in 2011;
14,530 killed in 2012;
12,596 killed in 2013; and
10,050 killed in 2014.
That is 65,324 pets killed, or who died in BARC’s “care”, during Parker’s first 5 years in office. (Of course, the total number killed during her entire 6 years in office is much higher with 2015’s numbers that I don’t have yet).
In fact, BARC’s Kill Rate INCREASED every year for the first 3 years that Parker was in office.
And all this happened after she promised voters to do “everything in her power” to transform Houston to a No Kill city. If Parker had kept her promises, and if she had actually required that her employees rigorously implement all of Nathan Winograd’s 2009 recommendations, BARC would, no doubt, be a No Kill facility by now. But, she didn’t. Instead, she left the same management in place, year after failed year, doing the same failed jobs over and over…. and the results were disastrous.
Parker waited 5 years and 11 months to even require that her employess save at least 90% of BARC pets for just 1 month. A nice little PR stunt, but what kind of “legacy” is that?
Parker also kept Greg Damianoff in charge over BARC year after year, even though he totally failed to even try to end shelter killing. He does not even work at BARC full time. He shows up once a day for an hour and goes back to city hall. You cannot turn around a facility like BARC by not even working there all day. But, Damianoff and Parker were not trying to end shelter killing.
And let’s not forget that Damianoff, and the Houston Animal Shelter Advisory Committee, that Parker appointed, made a deal with HFD to allow them to EXPERIMENT on BARC cats.
And Damianoff is the person who allow(ed) his employees to violate city ordinances and kill pets before the city mandated 3 day stray hold period expired.
In addition, over the years, I have received numerous emails from people saying that they offered to foster pets that were at risk of being killed by BARC, but they were turned down. BARC management i.e. Damianoff, chose to kill those pets even though people offered to save them. Click here and here.
Another great “legacy”. Not.
Many people will never go to BARC to adopt. 1) Because of the horrible location and inconvenient hours — Houston is 600 square miles and it simply is not convenient for a lot of Houstonians to go there; 2) People know that BARC is a kill shelter and they simply cannot stand to go and stare into the faces of animals that they know will be killed.
That is why offsite adoptions are CRITICAL to ending shelter killing. Parker knows this. BARC management knows this. Nathan Winograd told them this in 2009. In fact, BARC experienced how successful offsite adoptions can be in 2011. The one, very successful, offsite adoption event that BARC organized was located in a HIGH TRAFFIC, HIGHLY VISIBLE location. This event was so successful that BARC had over 400 adoptions that weekend alone. As a comparison, BARC had only 343 adoptions during the entire previous MONTH.)
So, considering how many lives were saved at this successful offsite adoption event, logic would dictate that BARC leadership would organize many more just like it. But, logic does not come into play when BARC leadership makes decisions. That event took place in July 2011, and I have yet to see a similar event.
Another failure on the part of BARC management and Parker who left him in charge for 6 years.
And who can forget Keiko, the horribly injured dog that entered BARC in 2010. She had serious head/eye injuries that so obviously needed specialized care, that BARC was not equipped to handle. (At the time, BARC was doing x-rays in a closet and had no specialized equipment for anything other than spay/neuters). Rescuers raised thousands of dollars to have Keiko cared for by a specialist, but BARC management refused to release Keiko to rescuers. BARC and ARA Dept employees lied many times about the state of Keiko in order to keep her there. This was not done in Keiko’s best interests. This was all done as a PR stunt. Despite not having adequate diagnostic or operating room equipment, BARC choose to operate on that poor dog. Not surprisingly Keiko died.
Big, fat, horrendous failure/legacy.
Under Parker and the ARA Dept, BARC illegally banned volunteers because those volunteers spoke up about problems at BARC. The last ARA Dept Director also threatened to ban volunteers who were trying to network and save death row pets, because he didn’t like words like “last chance” posted on the volunteers’ own Facebook page.
And BARC ticketed rescuers who spent their last dime trying to save homeless animals.
And BARC killed animals even when alternatives were literally standing right in front of them.
And Parker claims to have done a good job at BARC just because she took some pictures with BARC pets? She does not mention that she did not bother to require her employees to actually market those pictures to the adopting public. Personally, I have never once seen them marketed publically in a place where a large number of potential adopters would actually see them. The only time I’ve seen the pictures is when I have been searching the city’s website or when they rarely turn up in one of my Google searches. But how many other people are doing this? Very, very few from the results…
What Parker conveniently did not mention is that many of those same pets ended up on death row at BARC. RESCUERS then saved those pets. Not Parker.
And let’s talk about that white elephant, multi-million dollar, “shelter” that she built with our tax dollars. She did not decide to buy some land “right after she took office” as she claimed in the article. Bill White had already designated a horrible piece of property off of Wayside for more kennel space. There were many problems with that property. 1) it was on the same property as a sewage treatment facility; 2) it was in a flood plain; 3) endangered birds were nesting in the trees there; 4) the neighborhood is in a zip code where BARC picks up the most strays i.e. that location is not conducive to high volume adoptions when there are so many strays already there.
People from that neighborhood told me that they met with Parker and asked her to build the facility somewhere else, but she told them that she couldn’t. She told them it was a done deal. But, miraculously after thousands of people complained and no one wanted to donate to build in that foolish location, THEN Parker decided to build kennel space right next to BARC’s old facility. This did not occur “right after she took office” and it was not of her own volition.
And, let’s remember that when she was trying to sell people on donating to build that sewage treatment adjacent facility on Wayside, she said that BARC’s current location DETERS adoptions. So why did she then turn around and spent millions of dollars to build in the exact location that she had earlier said deters adoptions? More revisionist history at work.
BARC’s current location does deter adoptions. So, building more kennel space/an adoption facility there is a waste of tax dollars and donor dollars because few people will go there to adopt. That means fewer adoptions, so more animals losing their lives as well as fewer adoption fees (i.e. smaller return on that investment). And it means higher costs (it costs MORE to kill animals than to save them). That facility will waste money and hamper life saving efforts for decades to come. Thanks for that “legacy”.
And it gets worse, if you can believe it. After the white elephant was built, BARC/city of Houston can’t even use it fully because Parker failed to budget money to actually pay employees to work there. Dogs are taken to the new facility during the day, but have to be taken back to the old facility at night, if they aren’t adopted. This means BARC has to leave the kennels in the old building open, in case the dog has to come back.
And cats were completely forgotten during any plans. They aren’t housed in the new facility at all.
Parker spent $12 million on a facility and it essentially added NO additional kennel space. Not only that, but before that thing was built, she said it would cost $12 million to build. That $12 million is gone and in the last report that I saw, she said it will cost another $20 million to finish. How can anyone be off by $20 MILLION dollars?
So let’s recap: tax payers and donors are supposed to spend $32 million to build more kennels in a horrible location that DETERS adoptions and adds that no new kennel space.
In addition, in 2009 Bill White set aside millions of dollars that were supposed to be spent to renovate the horrendous North Kennels. Click here to see pictures of the nightmarish, dungeon-like, North Kennels. Architects were paid hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to come up with plans yet, 6+ years later, those kennels still have never been renovated. What did Parker do with all of those millions that were dedicated to BARC?
And let’s talk about BARC’s recent claimed 80%+ Save Rate. I’ve caught BARC/COH lying about their Save Rates at least a ½ dozen times over the 6 years of Parker’s terms. Here is must one instance. So, I absolutely do not believe their claims now. BARC management uses a lot of “fuzzy math” to come up with their Save Rates.
In addition, a new “program” that BARC recently started includes dumping friendly cats in BARC’s parking lot. This is a perversion of a program that was created to save more cats’ lives at kill shelters i.e. the shelters are supposed to spay/neuter friendly, healthy, adult, free roaming (non-feral) cats and return them to the location where they were picked up. If the cats look healthy/well fed, they are most likely someone’s pet and will find their way back home. If not owned, the cats are obviously finding food somewhere in the area and should be returned.
But, BARC does not return the cats to the location where they were picked up. BARC is dumping them in their parking lot. Two cats were attacked and killed by dogs a few months ago in BARC’s parking lot. I believe that these were most likely indoor only cats that didn’t know to be afraid of dogs and didn’t know how to survive “in the wild”.
And an email was recently forwarded to me about a group cats that were friendly, perhaps indoor only cats, that had been up for adoption at BARC. But the BARC employee said the cats were “out of time”, and they were going to “ear notch” them and release them. If they are released in BARC’s parking these cats would never find their way home, nor would their owners ever them. I supposed this is better than killing them, but it is not a good solution for these cats and this is not how this program is supposed to work. If BARC had leadership that actually cared about saving lives, this program would never be perverted in this manner.
This is just a way to count “Saves” instead of “Kills” so Parker could claim that 94% Save Rate last November. They are risking cats’ lives just to make a better Save Rate claim to the media.
In addition, BARC/COH is paying a group literally millions of dollars to ship animals other communities. The problem is that those communities also have kill shelters. This means that even if those BARC pets are going to No Kill rescue groups in those communities, pets on death row there will not be saved because the rescue groups are full with BARC pets.
Causing the death of pets in another communities is not a “Save”. It is just transferring the killing somewhere else to make BARC “look” better. It is trading one life for another. This is not a solution.
Further, a 94% Save Rate is not “unheard of” in a big city as Parker claimed. Animal control in Austin and Williamson County, both very large communities, have been saving over 90% for years now. And, there are hundreds of Open Admission animal control facilities doing the same all over the country and have been for 15 years. Click here for a list of those communities.
There were Open Admission, No Kill facilities when Parker took office. In fact, the number of Open Admission, No Kill communities increased from about 5 to hundreds after Parker took office. The only thing she had to do was require that BARC management copy their successes. But, she didn’t. For six long deadly years, she didn’t. And BARC is still killing thousands of pets.
Yea, that is quite a “legacy”.
And Parker did absolutely nothing to try to end shelter killing in the other four kill shelters that are located in Houston’s city limits either. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. In fact, she did the exact opposite. She fought others’ efforts to end shelter killing…
In 2011, No Kill Houston got the Companion Animal Protection Act filed at the state level. This was lifesaving legislation that would have done the following across the state of Texas:
1) abolish the gas chamber;
2) abolish “heart sticks” as a method of “euthanasia” except under certain specific circumstances;
3) ban “convenience killing” (killing when there are empty cages);
4) mandate collaboration by requiring shelters to work with non-profit rescue organizations to maximize lifesaving;
5) mandate transparency by requiring shelters to report how many animals they kill;.
6) ban the killing of animals based on arbitrary criteria such as breed, age or color;
7) prohibit selling shelter animals to research labs;
8) protect feral cats and feral cat caretakers; and more….
Yet Parker opposed the bill.
And true to form, BARC management fought life saving, shelter reform legislation again in 2013. Click here and here.
Parker’s opposition against state wide, shelter reform legislation is worse than her failure to act. She actively fought against those life saving efforts.
That is nothing short of an atrocity.
And during Parker’s terms, BARC and the other kill shelters in Houston, killed tens of thousands more pets than all of the cities with larger human population. When it comes to animal shelters, Houston is literally the Biggest Loser.
Here are some more of Parker’s promises to animal lovers the first time she ran for office. She has totally failed to do most of what she promised voters.
Considering the above, I’d say that the word “legacy” is accurate only if we use the dictionary definition which is “associated with something that is outdated or discontinued” and perhaps if we add the description “complete and utter failure“.
Parker’s legacy does not include an attempt to push Houston into the 21st century of sheltering. She did little to nothing to “transform” BARC and she allowed it stay in the dark ages of catch and kill sheltering for 6 long years. And she made irresponsible and wasteful use of taxpayer and donor dollars to build a facility that has not, and will not, measurably increase life saving vs. had it been built in an intelligent location.
That is Parker’s legacy. And it is a “legacy” that Houstonians will be stuck with for decades.
You might wonder why I bothered to recap some of Parker’s failures. After all, she is term limited out and Houston recently elected a new mayor and some new city council members.
The reasons are:
1) It is important to remember history accurately. Revising history to suit one person’s agenda, does nothing to help the rest of us in the future.
2) Like Bill White, Parker may run for another office. The Chronicle article stated that she was considering running for Harris County Commissioner or County Judge. We need to remember the true history of Parker’s 3 terms so we can make wise decisions at the polls in the future.
I hope that Houston’s new mayor and city council members are forward thinking and will be willing to think outside the traditional sheltering “box” and that they are willing to make decisions, even the difficult decisions, that are required to move Houston into the 21st century.
If they are, then Houston will truly have a legacy that is worth boasting about.
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