What shocked me about Houston’s Animal Shelter
If you had asked me if I thought we’d still have a kitten from that ridiculously adorable litter we’ve been fostering, I would have laughed. Sadly, Apricot has now had two adoptions fall through and is still waiting to be adopted. Don’t worry, we’re enjoying him while he’s here. At least, most of us, Roni is not convinced. If you’re interested in adopting Apricot, fill out an application!
As you may remember, a few weeks ago I was in Houston visiting friends (crazy, I have those, I know). While we were there, we stopped by the local animal shelter (doesn’t everyone do that on vacation?) It’s something I enjoy doing as you’ve seen with Maricopa County. Visiting other shelters always gives me ideas and inspires me to bring back programs that are working in other parts of our country.
Before I went to BARC, the municipal shelter in Houston, I prepared myself for the worst. Texas is one of the toughest states in terms of the save rate of animals entering the shelters. As a whole, Texas has one of the lowest save rates in the country at 72.7%. For comparison sake, Illinois has a save rate of 80.1%. A major difference, of course, is the number of animals entering our shelters. Texas had 661,000 animals enter their shelter last year vs 151,000 in Illinois.
When I researched the city of Houston, I found quite a bit of relief. I was comforted by the fact that in 2018, BARC had a save rate of 81.2% (a Live Release Rate of 86.6% in FY 2019). Chicago Animal Care & Control had a Live Release Rate of 91.2% in 2018. With this information, I wasn’t nearly as worried to visit BARC. While there is always room for improvement, the overwhelming majority of their animals make it into their forever homes.
When we were driving to BARC, we started noticing huge paw prints in the middle of the road close to the shelter. They acted like a little path leading us to the facility. It was our first impression of BARC and it was a good one. How cute that they went and put paw prints on a big road? It instantly felt heartwarming and like we were visiting a facility that cared for and loved its animals.
When we pulled up to BARC, I laughed. It’s true, everything really is bigger in Texas. The shelter was massive, new, and didn’t remind me of an animal shelter at all. I still prepared myself for the worst, because this was Texas and everything I had read told me how sad and hard it was to rescue there.
Walking into the facility, I am fairly certain my jaw fell to the floor. It was bright and friendly and maybe even somewhere you wanted to be, or at the very least, didn’t feel sad there. After signing in, we were greeted by a volunteer who gave us a handout with a map and a breakdown of the adoption process. At this point, I had about 19203 questions, most of which I asked the kind volunteer who handed me the map.
At Chicago Animal Care & Control, we don’t have any sort of greeters. There is a mandatory check-in desk and an administration desk beyond that, but otherwise, there’s no direction. Having someone greet me, answer my questions, and hand me something to guide me through their facility felt like an obvious way to instantly welcome people to adopt an animal. I immediately took notes and wondered if we could implement something similar in Chicago.
Another thing I noticed was how organized everything seemed. All the volunteers were wearing matching volunteer shirts, making them easily recognizable to the public. At CACC, we all wear whatever we can that we don’t mind getting dirty. We all have lanyards with little name tags, but with everything going on, I usually tuck mine into my pocket so it doesn’t break or get caught on a dog’s appendage. Again, this is something the general public wouldn’t think about, but as a volunteer, these things were all so wonderful to see and gave me ideas to bring back to CACC.
Of course, beyond these small things, there were also big differences. First, staff. There were a lot of them, enough staff that every dog is walked 2-3 times per day. At CACC dogs are only walked by volunteers and we’re lucky if half of them get out once per day. I tried to imagine if we had enough staff to walk dogs once a day and then volunteers could give them their second walk. It sounded way too far fetched (see what I did there?) but one can dream.
Obviously, more staff would require more money and that’s another difference between Houston and Chicago. Houston has an annual budget of $13.2 million which is more than double Chicago’s budget of $6.4 million. To try our best to compare apples to apples (animals to animals?) if we ignore all other costs and divide the budgets by the number of animals that are cared for, we get a clearer picture. Using this type of breakdown, Houston spends an approximate $550 per animal vs Chicago’s $400 based on budget and number of animals alone.
This is just further proof that Chicago is severely underfunded and doing so much with so little. Of course, it’s Chicago and we’re already facing a huge funding crisis so I won’t hold my breath for a budget increase. Instead, I’m trying to find creative ways to get more animals out of CACC.
The last thing I noted was the transfer partners of BARC. In Chicago, we’re extremely lucky for our extensive rescue partners. Similarly, BARC has a lot of rescue partners and even a program where dogs are sent to Colorado to find homes. One of their partners is Houston Pets Alive which we stopped by after BARC. They only pull animals from euthanasia lists. I met one sweet girl who was slotted to be euthanized only for Houston Pets Alive to pull her just in time. It was wonderful to see the whole process of homeless pets in Houston.
Upon returning to Chicago, I reached out to the Kelley Gandurski, Director of CACC, and asked her thoughts of implementing a map/handout, a “greeter,” and a t-shirt for volunteers. Kelly was more than receptive and we’re working on getting these things together with the help of Rescue Chicago.
Sure, these things may seem small and insignificant, but it’s these details that often change a person’s perception. Plus, they don’t add much (if anything) to our budget. If we can make more people feel welcome and have an easy-to-navigate shelter, then perhaps we will see more animals leaving our shelter. I’m all for trying creative solutions if it means there’s a chance it will help our animals.
If you want to volunteer to be a concierge – you can fill out this survey here and we will be in touch with upcoming opportunities!
A huge thank you to BARC and Houston Pets Alive for having us!
All of these babies have since been rescued – you can check out all of the adoptable dogs of BARC here.
I bought this tee and jeans from Emerson Rose while down in Houston! Shop the tee here.