Local animals shelters reporting higher live-release rates amid Montgomery County investigation

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Over the past decade, Harris and Montgomery County animal shelters have implemented programs and partnerships with rescue groups as a means to increase the number of dogs and cats that leave their shelters alive.

Both shelters report they have more than doubled the live-release rates of animals from 2010-17, although Montgomery County Animal Shelter’s director is under investigation for allegedly improperly euthanizing animals in August.

MCAS reportedly increased its live-release rate—or the percent of animals that leave the shelter alive—from 43.9 percent in 2010 to 92.6 percent in 2017. However, MCAS Director Aaron Johnson and one other employee are under criminal investigation for allegedly euthanizing 78 animals outside of established shelter procedures, according to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

The Harris County Animal Shelter increased its live-release rate from 15.1 percent to 78.8 percent from 2010-17.

“We try to do everything we can to not put an animal down,” White said. “But when you have so many animals confined in a small space, you have a larger chance of disease spreading.”
criminal investigation

The Montgomery County’s Sheriff’s Office released an official statement Sept. 20 following the announcement that two Montgomery County Animal Shelter employees were placed on paid leave earlier in the week.

According to the statement, 84 animals—60 cats and 24 dogs—were found at the home of a Conroe resident who could not efficiently care for them. An animal rescue group contacted the shelter, and the animals were voluntarily surrendered by the owner Aug. 17. Six dogs were deemed healthy, taken to the shelter and placed for adoption.

Jordan Gentry, chief veterinarian with the shelter, reported to MCSO the remaining 78 animals were euthanized outside of established procedures after their arrival at the shelter Aug. 20.

According to the MCSO statement, Gentry said he spoke with Johnson following the euthanasia and reported the incident to MCSO on Aug. 24, at which time the investigation began.

Laura McConnell, president of The Woodlands-based animal rescue group Lone Star Animal Welfare League, said the nonprofit has worked with the shelter in the past on spaying and neutering programs and as a rescue group.

“[If true], it would be disturbing that the multitude of animals brought in from a hoarding case were not seen by the vet before euthanasia or if a plea was not put out to rescues,” McConnell said in an email.

Overcapacity

Prior to the investigation, Montgomery County Animal Shelter officials said they struggled with capacity issues. The shelter—which normally takes in 14,000 animals per year—has to house two dogs in each kennel to meet high intake numbers, Johnson said in a July interview before he was placed on paid leave. In July, the shelter housed 900 animals while only having 545 kennels at the facility.

The Harris County Animal Shelter is dealing with its own capacity issues in a facility built more than 30 years ago.

When the Harris County Animal Shelter was built in 1986 in Houston, it was designed to handle 12,000 animals annually. Last year, the shelter handled more than 18,000 animals. White said to make up for the lack of space, the shelter often houses multiple dogs together in one kennel.

“To me, [housing four or five dogs together]is totally unacceptable, but the only alternative we have is to euthanize,” White said.

To address the capacity issue, Harris County is opening a larger animal shelter behind its existing location late in 2019. The facility is being funded by a $24 million bond referendum that voters approved in 2015. White said preconstruction work at the site has delayed the opening of the facility.

Maria Langford, intake director for Kingwood-based nonprofit Twyla’s Friends, said she has seen an increase in stray dogs in Kingwood over the past six years since she became the director. The foster care network does not have a shelter but works with 15 foster homes to shelter stray dogs found around Kingwood. On average, the organization helps more than 120 dogs get adopted each year.

“I think people come here from other areas and dump their dogs in Kingwood, thinking we are a suburban area and that we have all these people who want dogs,” Langford said.

New programs

Both county animal shelters have focused on implementing new programs and developing partnerships to increase their live-release rates over the last decade.

Joe Guidry, animal control director for the Montgomery County Animal Control Authority, said one change Montgomery County has made is instructing officers to scan for microchips in the field to try to return animals to their owners first.

Since May 2016, staffers have used the trap-neuter-return method—the process of humanely trapping, neutering, vaccinating, removing the ear tip and returning cats to their original locations—to decrease the number of stray cats arriving at the shelter.

Since implementing the program, Montgomery County Animal Shelter reported that it returned 20 percent of cats that entered the shelter in 2017 back into the county.

White said a similar program implemented at the Harris County Animal Shelter a few years ago has been instrumental in increasing the live-release of cats from the facility.

In addition to the cat program and other new measures, the Harris County Animal Shelter has increased how often it works with rescue and foster-care groups, White said. One rescue organization the shelter works with is Houston Pets Alive, which pulls dogs and cats from the county’s euthanasia list almost daily.

The organization houses some of these animals in its own shelter, but the majority of the cats and dogs are housed in foster homes until they are adopted, said Suzanne Zutter, Houston Pets Alive director of development.

“People think [animals]can survive on their own, and so if they don’t want [an animal]they just dump it somewhere,” Zutter said. “People dumping their animals is a huge issue throughout the [Greater] Houston area.”

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Zac Ezzone
Zac Ezzone began his career as a journalist in northeast Ohio, where he freelanced for a statewide magazine and local newspaper. In April 2017, he moved from Ohio to Texas to join Community Impact Newspaper. He worked as a reporter for the Spring-Klein edition for more than a year before becoming the editor of the Lake Houston-Humble-Kingwood edition.
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