Driving down Stevens Street on Houston’s Northside one afternoon, the only dogs to be seen were wearing collars and hanging out in someone’s front yard.
But Andrew Green, who lives on the corner of Stevens and Lorraine, said that’s not typical.
“I’m surprised there ain’t some of them here right now,” he said. “I guess it might be a little bit too hot for them right now. But in the evening time, you can see a lot of stray dogs up and down the street.”
He said they’re usually in small packs of two or three and disappear whenever animal control shows up.
Ashtyn Rivet with BARC, the city department charged with animal control services and operating the shelter, said there are up to 1.2 million stray pets in Houston.
That’s why BARC, together with partners, is expanding its free spay and neuter program. The Healthy Pets Healthy Streets coalition was started last year.
“Before, what we were doing was focusing on an area within a specific neighborhood that consisted of about 900 households or so, and we would go into that area and provide the spay/neuter services,” Rivet said. “But now we’re able to provide for the entire district, which is a 150,000 to 200,000 constituents.”
That’s Council District H. It encompasses parts of the East End, the Fifth Ward and the Northside.
Future events will be expanded to four more districts — all areas where stray animals are most prevalent. The service is free for pet owners and includes a one-year pet license, a rabies vaccination and a microchip implant. Just spaying or neutering normally costs up to $500 at a private veterinarian.
With this year’s budget increase for BARC, there are more animal control officers who can respond to calls, Rivet said.
But that’s not what is going to make a significant dent in the city’s stray animal population.
“For many, many years animals have been able to breed and recreate over and over and over, and so the problem is now overwhelming,” she said. “It’s going to take an entire community to come together to decide that spaying and neutering is indeed the most important thing that you can do, not only for your pet but also for the entire community as a whole.”
Back in the Northside neighborhood near the BARC shelter, Andrew Green said it never occurred to him to call animal control to pick up some of the free roaming dogs, because they’re not threatening him. And he said he doesn’t think his neighbors who have pets think about having them spayed or neutered.
“If their animals have babies that they don’t want, then quite naturally they turn them out, you know, because they don’t want to be bothered with them,” Green said. “That creates more animals in the neighborhood.”
It’s those people that BARC wants to reach.