Animals are Not the Public Enemy but the Public's Responsibility
As Crime Stoppers works to integrate all facets of our society in the safest and most harmonious way possible, a recent article targeting animals really concerned me and concerned many in the animal welfare community. While the Houston Chronicle editorial Stray Dogs and Cats Public Enemy No 1. focused on the negative impact animal homelessness has on the public’s quality of life, the piece failed to make the appropriate point that the cause and effect of this issues is ours alone to bear. The solution is also ours to facilitate.
Dependent Wholly on Us
Similar to a newborn child, animals (at all ages) are wholly dependent on us. Their entire well-being is a product of either our action or inaction; that said, how do we still blame animals for the very things that are out of their control? If they are happy and fed, it’s thanks to us. If they are neglected and aggressive, it’s thanks to us. If they are beaten, tortured or killed, it’s thanks to us. If they are homeless on the streets, it’s thanks to us. By our hands they are mutilated, burned, dragged, forced to fight or recklessly dumped. Reviewing the welfare of animals in our area would break even the hardest of hearts.
To place animals in an all-encompassing category (“Public Enemy No. 1”), one that separates them from the responsibilities we have to care for them is unfair.
For the last 10 years, Crime Stoppers of Houston has been working with Houston PetSet, Tena Faust and Tama Lundquist and others to deal with the state of animals in Houston and Harris County. Here’s what we’ve found and what we are doing:
Community Based Solutions are Being Offered: We’ve recognized the need for a centralized hub where animal welfare information can be shared, where cruelty cases can be filed, intake reports can be collected, data can be gathered, law enforcement can respond strategically (working with other partners), the District Attorney’s office can have the information they need to prosecute where necessary and the best interest of the animal is maintained consistently from start to finish. Out of these needs came the creation of the Harris County Animal Cruelty Task Force, led by Constable Ted Heap (P. 5), Houston PetSet and countless other organizations. A first for our city, this Task Force is already responding to and mitigating animal welfare issues across the greater Houston metropolitan area.
Aggressive Animals: We’ve recognized both the dangers they pose and the role we play. In an effort to counteract aggressive behavior by stray dogs (who are exhausted, neglected and hungry), we’ve spent a great deal of time focused on education. This education is executed in many forms. For those with pets, we talk about proper pet maintenance and engagement. For those owners with pets they wish to relinquish, we discuss the proper avenues to do so. And for those who engage with stray dogs/cats, we talk about the dos and don’ts of approaching an animal who is scared, tired, neglected and starving. We bring this education into communities wherever possible and into schools serving kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.
We Get It: A 2010 UT School of Public Health, Health of Houston survey identified the stray dog and cat population as the most frequent neighborhood problem cited by respondents. The results were reported as: Strays as most frequent problem (37%) followed by: Crime (26%), Drinking water (19%), Air pollution/Traffic (17%) etc. A question in the most recent Kinder Houston Area Survey (2018) focused on the stray population and asked respondents whether stray dogs and cats were a problem in their neighborhoods. 54% percent of all Harris County respondents identified the stray dog and cat issue as a “problem.” Over 1 in 4 respondents identified the stray dog and cat issue as a “serious problem.” Houston has a problem and that problem is affecting residents in their neighborhoods. We get it. That said, the aggressive animal who bites is a symptom of a much broader problem, a problem that again, rests squarely on our shoulders.
The Solution and How to Help
- Get involved. Support your local animal nonprofits.
- In an Emergency. If you see a crime in process and it involves an animal, dial 911.
- Houston’s Premier Taskforce. If you see a neglected or abused animal or a dumping ground of animals, call the Harris County Animal Cruelty Task force at 1-832-927-PAWS. This is not a customer service center! This is a law enforcement task force that takes every call and fields every report made. You may not get a call back, but every claim will be investigated! This historic task force is the leading agency handling all animal cruelty cases in the Greater Houston Metropolitan area.
- Don’t Tamper with Evidence. As heartbreaking as it is to see neglected or abused animal, in order to really help them, they must safely be removed from their environment. The only way to safely remove them is through law enforcement. This means they are evidence in a potential criminal case. It’s so hard but DO NOT FEED THEM OR REMOVE THEM FROM THEIR environment. That mitigates law enforcements standing to go in and rescue. Rather, take photos, make notes, take video and report to either 911 (if in the commission of a crime) or the Harris County Animal Cruelty Task Force.
- If you see a stray dog, do not immediately try to rescue. Some of these animals can be dangerous. Call Animal Control or call BARC at 311 to report a dangerous animal running loose.
The Other Story of Us
Animals are not “Public Enemy No. 1”, they are a “Public Responsibility.”
Whether you are an animal lover or not, our treatment of the most vulnerable population is not only a reflection of who we are but also something that directly impacts public safety and the quality of life of all residents. Additionally, this is an issue that will take all of us to recognize and deal with. Join us and the many NGOs, law enforcement groups, media partners, rescue groups and volunteers as we collaborate on a strategy that can address immediate concerns, such as animal cruelty, but also work on long lasting solutions to reduce the stray animal population in our community.
Houston is a city that fiercely takes care of its own. Animals should be no different.