Officials at the Houston Humane Society said rising living costs and the current heat wave are contributing to a surge of stray animals across the Greater Houston area.
The shelter also faced controversies in 2022 when unauthorized euthanasias led to the removal of five staff members and the shelter’s director.
To combat the challenge, city officials are exploring shelter regionalization, or collaboration with adjacent cities and Fort Bend County, which conducted its own study this year on a partnership between the Sugar Land Animal Shelter and Fort Bend County Animal Services.
“Regardless of what we would end up doing, we would need some type of new facility and new agreements, new partnerships,” said Jennifer Brown, Sugar Land director of special projects who oversees the shelter’s operations. “Nothing’s been decided yet.”
If the shelter remains over capacity, it could close to accepting new animals, stopping the flow of dozens of new cats and dogs taken in each month. High temperatures have prevented the city from hosting outdoor adoption events to help manage the intake.
Shelter and city officials are calling for foster care support and are preparing adoption events to alleviate the facility and continue operations.
The shelter has grappled with capacity challenges this year, being several dogs and cats over its capacity in several of its monthly reports.
- The shelter was designed to house 31 dogs and 56 cats.
- As of Aug. 15, the shelter was holding 48 dogs and 107 cats.
The shelter is utilizing every available space, including mobile enclosures placed in rooms, hallways and the shelter’s lobby.
If the shelter continues to operate in its critical state of overcrowding, the city could be forced to close it to new animals, according to an Aug. 9 city news release. The shelter normally takes in dozens of animals monthly, taking in 98 just in July.
Brown said shelter staff constantly asks for fosters and adoptions on social media. She said even temporarily fostering an animal can allow it to become more socialized and adoptable while providing relief to the shelter.
“I wish we had as many homes as we had dogs available, but unfortunately, it’s not always the situation,” Brown said. “It’s really heartbreaking to see the situation that we’re in now.”
Due to shelter overcrowding, trapping operations for stray animals have been suspended, and animal services officers will only respond to calls involving sick or injured animals in the field, according to the release.
Brown said the shelter’s situation has improved since early August, but the situation is being closely monitored.
Sugar Land is not the only city facing animal shelter overcrowding, Brown said; a “very concerning trend” of overwhelmed animal shelters started after months of quarantine caused by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she said.
“A lot of people adopted animals when they were at home all the time; they wanted a companion,” she said. “Now they’ve gone back to work, or their living situation has changed because of the inflationary pressures.”
The ongoing heat wave has drawn attention to the plight of stray and street animals, prompting more individuals to become concerned for their well-being, said Macey Cohn Sanchez, Houston Humane Society assistant marketing manager.
An Aug. 18 release from HHS stated the Houston-based shelter is over capacity, holding 500 animals at the time of the release. Sanchez said from Aug. 1-22 the HHS shelter took in 304 animals, most of the intakes being:
- 114 owner surrenders
- 88 strays
- 46 cruelty victims
The Sugar Land Animal Shelter has reshuffled its staff after an investigation into the shelter’s operations last year revealed the unauthorized euthanizing of 38 dogs and cats.
The investigation, which concluded in September 2022, found that necessary steps before euthanasia were not taken, verbal instructions were ignored, and employees knowingly disobeyed direct orders. According to the city’s report, employees said the animals were euthanized due to “aggressive behavior” or medical diagnoses.
After the report was released, five animal services employees were terminated, and Shelter Manager Don Specks resigned.
In March, the Sugar Land Animal Advisory Board adopted new policies on euthanasia and sterilization stating the shelter won’t consider euthanasia based on alleviating shelter capacity.
By the numbers
Sugar Land Animal Shelter officials said the shelter saw an influx of kittens starting in April. However, officials said cats are easier to hold than dogs, which take up more room.
- 1 out of 3 total dogs taken in were adopted.
- 1 out of 2 cats taken in were adopted.
- 28% of taken animals are still in the shelter.
Brown said shelter staff is preparing for a series of large-scale adoption events in October once the weather cools. Staff are still determining the details for some of the upcoming events.
Oct. 15: Adoption event
- 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
- Constellation Field, 1 Stadium Drive, Sugar Land
- Time TBD
- Pawm Springs Dog Park, 15300 University Blvd., Sugar Land
- 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
- George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida De Las Americas, Houston
- Time TBD
- Fort Bend County Fairgrounds, 4310 Hwy. 36 S., Rosenberg