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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The Candidate Forum focused on sheltering issues was a HUGE success!

Houston, TX – On September 29th, Houston Voters For Companion Animals and No Kill Houston presented a Candidate Forum focused solely on animal sheltering issues in Houston.  It was the ONLY Forum to focus solely on animal welfare and No Kill topics and there was a great turnout.  More than 300 people registered to attend, and more impressive was the 15 mayoral and city council candidates who participated.

Some of the candidates at the Forum on 9-29-15

The high kill rates in Houston’s 5 kill shelters are a serious issue; one that has been mostly ignored by politicians in the past.   In fact, the first time I went to speak at the public session at city hall about problems at Houston’s taxpayer funded city pound, I looked up from my speech to find that then mayor, Bill White and several city councilmembers, had left the room. They didn’t bother to wait the short 3 minutes it took me to finish my carefully written speech.  Several other council members were talking or texting on their cell phones.  No one on city council was listening and it was clear that no one cared that BARC then had an 80%+ Kill Rate and was a complete house of horrors with employees who regularly starved and tortured shelter pets for fun and games.  

So, for so many candidates to attend a Candidate Forum focused solely on this issue, is a 180 degree about-face from a few years ago.  

And not only did they attend, it was obvious that most of the candidates there were honestly concerned about this issue.  I could tell that many had done research on the topic and had great, thoughtful answers.  It was obvious that many were ready, willing and able to work on ending shelter killing in Houston. 

I had timed the questions and answers and thought that the Forum would actually end 15 minutes earlier than the 1 1/2 hours that we had alotted.  But the candidates were so interested in many of the questions that they wanted to jump in and add their comments to questions to other candidates.  They WANTED to talk about this issue.  I actually had to exclude 3 planned questions because we just ran out time. That is the kind of Forum that I absolutely LOVE!

Randy Wallace, a reporter with Fox 26, was the Forum Moderator and he did a wonderful job.  Randy has reported on a lot of animal sheltering issues over the years and has been a great animal advocate. Considering the loud applause and cheers that erupted when I introduced him, he is also a favorite among animal lovers.  

Fox 26 also livestreamed the entire Forum on their website.  I hadn’t known that they were going to do this, so it was another wonderful surprise.  

A great Houston photographer, Jack Opatrny, volunteered to tape the Forum for us, so we can post it online for those who were unable to attend.  That should be uploaded to the web this weekend.    

There were so many animal lovers who came together that night in order to make positive changes for shelter pets in Houston.  I cannot find words that fully express how wonderful it was to witness.       

Ending shelter killing is a very solvable problem.  So many communities have already ended the killing of healthy and treatable shelter pets and I have no doubt that Houston can do it too.  We literally have a step by step guide in our hands, and we can follow the examples set by so many successful communities.  

What we now need is leadership who truly cares about the issue and who is willing to work to implement the programs that are already working across the country, and there were really GREAT choices present at our Forum Tuesday night.


We will soon be posting a Voter’s Guide rating the candidates’ responses at the Candidate Forum and to our Candidate Survey, so make sure that you check our website before you vote; or register for our e-Newsletter so that you will receive a notice when the Voter’s Guide is posted.

A few people have commented to me that they are confused about which races they can vote in, so I wanted to clarify.   If you live in Houston (and are registered to vote), you can vote for the candidates in running in the District race that you live in i.e. Districts A through K.  Click here to find your District, if you do not know it.  

In addition, all Houstonians can vote in ALL of the At Large races i.e #1 through #4.    You can also vote in the mayoral race. 

For instance, I live in District K, so I can vote for a city council candidate in the District K race and I can also vote for city council candidates in all of the At Large races, positions 1 through 4.  And I can vote in the mayoral race. 

Vote for candidates who will protect shelter pets

If you have not yet registered to vote, you have until October 5th to register in order to be able to vote in this November’s election.  Click here to register.  

Make your vote count this year!   Vote for the candidates who will protect shelter pets!


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