“I know, we’ll find, we’ll get you back home.”
The first thing David Atencio does when he gets to work is walk through the kennels to check on the hundreds of dogs and cats at the main BARC shelter in northeast Houston.
“I want to see every dog. I want to get to know them. I want to find out who they are. I usually look at the kennel card and say hello. It’s hard to see them in here.”
The shelter’s intake area, where up to 100 animals are processed in every day, is clean and well-kept, with no sign of the dirty and inhumane conditions that had been rumored just a few years ago.
“We’re pretty wide-open. If people want to come in and see the shelter, if they want to see this area, which I think was one of the concerns, people didn’t understand or know what was going on, I invite them to come down.”
Back in his office where a suit and tie can’t hide Atencio’s California cool, the former health club executive is proud of his work so far.
“We’ve stabilized BARC. It’s what we call Phase One, or what I use from the old Karate Kid, wax on, wax off. I know I’m going to have to change that because there’s a new Karate Kid, but I can say that this team, after six months, really has done a great job.”
The change has started with the basics, things like making sure the facility is clean, not an easy task with more than 1000 dogs and cats to take care of.
“We come in everyday, we do a very thorough cleaning. Every four days, we do a very deep clean on our hold eval, or what was called the north shelter, the “dome”. And these are huge changes that have allowed us to now have a shelter where dogs and cats have a chance.”
The golden words here are “live release”, where an animal is either adopted, fostered, transferred to another shelter or returned to its owner. Live release numbers here have doubled over the past year, from around 550 a month last August to an average of 1100 since January. Mayor Annise Parker has noticed the change.
“It’s never going to be a great place, because it’s a sad place to see all those animals in cages. But it can be as humane as we can possibly make it and it can be a place where we strive mightily not to have to euthanize any
Animals are still put to sleep at BARC, but Atencio’s team has increased its outreach efforts, improving its foster and rescue programs. And money will always be a problem. Houston spends about half the money per capita that other, smaller cities in Texas do on animal control.