Houston, TX – I recently sent a Public Information Request (PIR) to the City of Houston for several years’ worth of minutes of meetings of Houston’s Animal Shelter Advisory* (ASA) committee. I was curious about what this committee actually did for shelter pets. I assumed that the purpose of this “Animal Shelter Advisory” committee is to come up with ideas to help Houston’s shelter pets; as in how to save more of them from being killed at Houston’s five kill shelters.** At the very least, I expected the ASA committee to work on programs and services to help save more lives at Houston’s high kill pound, BARC .
As an example of what other cities have accomplished, Austin’s Animal Advisory Committee worked with their city council to create ordinances which mandated that their pound save at least 90% of the animals…. a Save Rate that Austin’s pound has met or exceeded every year since the ordinances were passed. However, as I was reading through the minutes of a January 2013, Houston ASA committee meeting, I came across information that was shocking beyond belief.
The Minutes state that Houston ASA committee member, Chris Souders (Associate Medical Director-Houston Fire Department), requested an “arrangement” with BARC to allow Houston Fire Dept. personnel to practice doing intubations on cats at BARC.
And as utterly appalling as that agreement is, it is equally appalling that not one Houston ASA committee member had any objections to Souders’ ghoulish request. In fact, the Minutes say “Action: Neil [Sackheim] will get back with Chris Sounders re: numbers of euthanasias and the general schedule so HFD can see if it can be incorporated.” (AnimalShelterAdvisoryCommMeeting2013-01-30). So, another member of Houston’s ASA committee thought this idea was just peachy and even offered to help make arrangements. Not one person on Houston’s Animal Shelter Advisory committee actually stood up FOR the cats at BARC. Not one.
Houston Fire Department memos indicate that, after that January ASA committee meeting, HFD-EMS personnel then discussed the shelter pet experimentation arrangement in meetings on at least 6 occasions. On December 20, 2013, an HFD memo states “The department will support a program to allow paramedics (both interns and veteran) to intubate recently euthanized feline as a proxy for pediatric intubation”.
So the program to experiment on BARC cats was approved by HFD. (See HFD-Memos here)
Let’s think about this scenario. Imagine that your pet accidentally got lost. Imagine searching frantically for your pet for days, maybe weeks or months, but you could not find your pet. (Considering the fact that there are five Houston area kill shelters spread out over 600 square miles and a lot of people would have no idea where to look for their lost pet, never finding a lost pet is not an uncommon occurrence.) Imagine discovering that BARC had had your pet, but because you did not find your pet at BARC within Houston’s measly 3 day stray hold period, BARC killed your pet. (Believe me, it happens. With BARC’s low 7% Return to Owner Rate, it happens A LOT.)
Now imagine that you discover that not only did BARC kill your pet, but BARC’s director allowed his cronies to experiment on your pet. This scenario is repulsive and literally makes my skin crawl, but that is exactly what BARC, Houston’s Animal Shelter Advisory committee and HFD have been planning.
The experimentation agreement between these people is beyond repulsive. Instead of working to try to save shelter pets, like Austin’s Animal Shelter Advisory committee did, Houston’s Animal Shelter Advisory committee uses shelter pets for their own personal unlimited supply of bodies.
Also, not only is this agreement reprehensible, but this type of animal experimentation is entirely unnecessary as there are non-animal alternatives which are far superior. Dr. John Pippin, with Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), said that “Using cats is an antiquated and discredited practice that persists in fewer than one percent of training programs in the U.S. and Canada. In the past, cats have been used to teach neonatal and pediatric intubation, but this has been replaced by simulation and using animals is now considered substandard training.” [Emphasis added]
Two hundred and fifteen (215) facilities currently have non-animal simulators which can be used for intubation practice. 2 of those facilities are right here in Houston and 1 is in Galveston. (See “Pediatrics Survey Results 2014-11-13”).
Besides being heinous and entirely unnecessary, I believe that this ghoulish experimentation agreement also violates Houston ordinances. Section 6-138 states “Under no circumstances may an animal be sold or donated for research or teaching purposes to a medical school, licensed hospital, or nonprofit university or college. It is against the law because the animal loving public does not want shelter pets used for experimentation.
Dr. Pippin also sent a letter to BARC, HFD and ARA Dept personnel informing them of far superior non-animal alternatives in 215 facilities in the country. (See Dr. Pippin’s letter here DrPippinLtrToHoustonFD) To date, no one from the city of Houston has responded to Dr. Pippin. If those experiments never took place, why didn’t any of these people immediately respond to Dr. Pippin and say so?
This arrangement is also a huge conflict of interest on the part of Chris Souders and Greg Damianoff. Since BARC continues to kill thousands of pets year after year, Damianoff can provide a never ending supply of pets to Souders to be used for HFD experiments. There is no incentive for Souders, as a member of the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee, or Damianoff as BARC Director, to do anything that will lead to the end of killing pets at BARC.
Are you are curious about the rest of the members on Houston Animal Shelter Advisory committee? According to the City of Houston, below are the names of the people who were on the ASA committee at the time the January 2013 meeting took place. All of these people, except Ms. Gebhardt, are still on the Houston Animal Shelter Advisory Committee today.
The below information was online concerning these members:
* Taffi Tippit – Veterinary, Bissonnet Southampton Vet Clinic
* Chris Souders – Associate Medical Director-Houston Fire Department
* Kappy Muenzer – Director of Citizens for Animal Protection
* Neil Sackheim – Board Member, SNAP
* Michelle Mantor – Publisher/Editor at Houston Pet Talk magazine
Looking at these names and positions of these people, it is simply mind boggling that not one of them stood up to protect BARC pets. .
Reporters have recently begun asking the City of Houston questions about this ghoulish agreement. Not surprisingly, personnel at HFD now claim that they have not actually done experimentations on BARC cats. (At least, not yet.) However, IF they have not begun their experimentations, it is not because Greg Damianoff, or anyone on the Houston ASA committee has ever attempted to stop it.
In fact, Damianoff told Randy Wallace with Fox 26 news that he had no idea why HFD didn’t follow through with the experiments.
And, if all of that isn’t bad enough, BARC i.e. Greg Damianoff has lied about the existence of documents in connection with this grisly agreement. In February, 2015, I sent a PIR to BARC asking for “all documents between the City of Houston and/or BARC and the Houston Fire Dept. and/or Chris Souders and/or any other Fire Dept personnel or city personnel, in connection with any agreement, plan, proposal or discussion to allow paramedics to practice intubation techniques on any animal in the possession of BARC and/or located at BARC’s facility.”
The reply? “BARC does not have any responsive information”.
But, that statement is a lie because I have the January 2013 meeting minutes in which this very agreement is discussed. BARC should have produced that document in response to my PIR, but they instead lied. I’m sure there are more documents which BARC is legally required to produce, but city of Houston employees continue to lie in an attempt to hide the details of their experimentation agreement from the public.
More attempts at coverup: I sent anther PIR to the Houston Fire Dept. asking for additional documents concerning HFD’s use of animals for training purposes. The city attorney has written a letter to the Texas Attorney General claiming that documents that I requested should not be produced to the public and the reasons are beyond ridiculous. The city attorney claims that the records that I requested are “highly intimate and embarrassing, such that its release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person, and it is of no legitimate concern to the public”. The city also claims that documents responsive to my request contain “medical requests of a patient”. See the city attorney’s letter here. COH-ReqToWithholdDocs
Again, my PIR concerned only HFD’s use of animals for training purposes. I’m sure that since reporters are now asking questions about their experimentation plans, the city is trying to keep this ghoulish, and possibly illegal, agreement hidden from the public.
Houstonians, sadly this is what is running Houston’s taxpayer funded “shelter” and this is who is making decisions affecting the lives of shelter pets.
Even Annise Parker’s campaign promises that “Houston can do better than this” and after all of BARC’s claims of “transformation”, BARC still has a director who would actually agree to allow shelter pets to be used for experimentation.
BARC still has a director who is obviously satisfied to “save some and kill the rest”.
With this type of person as the shelter director, I do not believe that BARC will ever stop killing pets.
The type of person, who would make such a heinous agreement, should NOT be running an animal shelter. Damianoff should be moved to another city department, just like Austin’s regression pound director was moved to another dept. (After she was moved, the Save Rates at Austin’s pound skyrocketed)
If you are sickened and outraged about Greg Damianoff’s agreement to allow shelter pets to be used for experimentation and if you are sick of the continued killing of thousands of shelter pets month and month, year after year, then please speak up for the animals of Houston. Their lives are in your hands.
Please call or send a letter or email to the mayor and city council and tell them you are an animal lover, a taxpayer and a voter and Enough is Enough. It is time to hire someone to run BARC who actually cares about saving lives….. not someone who would make such a grisly agreement.
It’s an election year, and the city council members who are running again, will need your votes. So make sure you tell them exactly how they can get your vote. Click here for their contact information.
It has come to my attention that BARC’s director, Greg Damianoff, and Houston’s Animal Shelter Advisory committee, made an agreement to allow Houston Fire Dept personnel to experiment on BARC pets. Not only do I find this ghoulish agreement absolutely heinous, but I believe it violates Houston ordinances and federal animal welfare laws. This does not represent the type of person that I believe should be managing the care of shelter pets in Houston. After five years of killing thousands of pets, and macabre deals to allow experimentation on shelter pets, it is clear that Greg Damianoff is NOT the type of person who should be running an animal shelter.
BARC’s Save Rate was only 61% in 2014, while hundreds of Open Admission facilities and communities across the country are SAVING 90% to 100% of all animals. BARC’s 61% Save Rate is ludicrous.
BARC killed or lost 10,050 animals in 2014. That is 838 pets KILLED BY BARC every single month in 2014.
BARC KILLED 28+ pets every single day in 2014 under Greg Damianoff’s management.
Enough is enough. BARC’s continued killing of healthy and treatable shelter pets, under Greg Damianoff’s management, is not acceptable. I expect a shelter director who is willing to work hard to save all animals; not a director who is satisfied with saving some and killing the rest, or someone who would allow shelter pets to be used for experimentation;
I ask that you work to hire leadership for BARC who is dedicated to saving all lives, and who is willing to work hard to rigorously implement ALL of the programs and services of the No Kill model of sheltering so that BARC can stop killing shelter pets.
This is an election year, and I vote!
If you can’t call or write an email or letter, I have created a petition which will send an email to the mayor, all city council members and the director of the ARA Dept (over BARC) every time someone signs.
Please sign the petition, then forward it to all of your friends and family. Click here for the petition.
* An animal shelter advisory committee is mandated by both Houston city ordinance and Texas state law. Members of Houston’s Animal Shelter Advisory committee are appointed by the mayor and city council.
**When Houston’s ASA committee was first being formed five years ago, under Annise Parker’s direction, I contacted several city council members asking to be nominated for the committee. But, I got the run around from several council members saying that another council member was going to make the nomination even Houston ordinances state that any of them could nominate for that committee position. It was quite clear that the mayor and city council did NOT want a person on that committee who would actually advocate FOR the lives of shelter pets. And considering the experimentation agreement that these people made. Mission accomplished.
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