HOUSTON – The numbers are staggering: As many 1.2 million stray animals roam the streets of Houston on any given day.
But what’s even more sobering? Houston Animal Control says it ignores the majority of residents’ calls to pickup those strays.
The reason? It’s necessity according to officials from that department.
To see just how bad the stray animal problem is, the I-Team spent the afternoon with the rescue group “Forgotten Dogs of the 5th Ward.”
“We can see on a given run, 50 to 100 dogs in a few hours,” explained Kelle Mann Davis, who founded the group in November, 2011.
Twice a week the citizen’s group drives the streets of the Fifth Ward feeding and caring for animals running loose.
In some cases the dogs are just hungry.
In others, like the case of a puppy found wandering with a severe case of mange, the situation is worse.
“We’re picking this one up,” Mann Davis said looking at the dog. “She’s in really bad shape.”
But while you’ll see plenty of strays in the shadows of the city’s skyline, most of the animals will never see the inside of an animal control truck.
“I think it’s a crisis,” admitted Chris Newport, chief of Staff of Houston’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Division. It oversees Houston’s Animal Control.
“Of course stray animals are important,” said Newport. “Of course they can turn into a more dangerous situation. We know that. We just can’t get to it.”
He said that’s because animal control averages 138 calls each day, but officers can only handle about 36 calls. That means 102 of those daily calls, about 74 percent, go unanswered – calls from people like Lana Hayes.
Her cat was nearly killed when it was attacked in her backyard by three dogs last fall.
“She was just barely moving,” Hayes recalled. “I thought she was going to die any minute.”
Hayes and her neighbors reported the animals roaming the University Oaks neighborhood even before the attack.
“I really hope that they can start to be more proactive,” Hayes said. “To prevent a terrible incident rather than waiting for someone to get mauled.”
The I-Team asked Newport if it was acceptable for people to feel like they are prisoners in their homes because of packs of stray dogs.
“No, it’s not acceptable,” said Newport. “I don’t think you’d find a reasonable person that lives in the city that thinks that is a reasonable outcome.”
But he says the situation comes down to dollars.
Right now, Houston can only afford six animal control officers on the street at a time. That means calls have to be prioritized. Investigations of animal bites, and attacks, like the one that killed a woman earlier this year in the Fifth Ward, go to the front of the line, while calls about strays roaming the streets often go unanswered.
Meaning dogs, like the ones Mann Davis cares for on the streets are left waiting.
“There’s not a one of us that hasn’t left here before and gone home and cried,” said Mann Davis.
The city’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, or BARC, estimates it would take 15 more animal control officers just to meet 50 percent of the daily calls for service.
The cost of the additional officers along with supplies and support staff would be an additional $3.3 million a year.
BARC plans to take its case for additional funding to Houston city council members later this week.