HOUSTON - At Houston’s City Council Tuesday, residents came with stories.
“It’s a big problem” said Second Ward resident Liliana Aguirre through a translator. “A lot stray dogs in the neighborhood.”
She was just one the homeowners who say their neighborhoods are often overrun with stray animals.
“I work with community members trying to improve public safety in our neighborhood and this is a chronic concern,” said another speaker at the meeting.
It’s also a concern shared by city of Houston officials.
Chris Newport of the city’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, or BARC, said the estimates are there could be more than 1 million strays on the streets on any given day. He said, “The needs outstrip the resources by all accounts.”
Newport is referring to figures that show his division receives 138 calls per day on average about strays.
However, the city’s six animal control officers working at a given time can only answer about 36 of those requests a day. That means about more than 100 calls to pick up loose animals simply go unanswered.
That’s why BARC came before city council on Tuesday.
It requested about $3.4 million additional funding be added to its budget.
The city said that would allow the department to expand its spay and neuter programs and hire more animal control officers to answer residents’ calls for help.
“There are very real public safety consequences about the decisions we make when we talk about how we’re going to allocate resources,” said Newport.
Houston council members seemed responsive.
“It’s public safety, quality of life, public health,” said Councilman Ed Gonzalez. “It cuts a lot of different sectors.”
“I’m particularly concerned that if we do not significantly increase the budget and give you the tools to do what you need to do,” Councilman Mike Laster told Newport, “that neighborhoods will take the steps to begin to self-protect themselves and that will play itself out in ways that we may not want to talk about in public.”
However, even if city council approves an increase for BARC, there will still be a wait: Increased funding won’t be available until the next fiscal year and Houston’s next budget.