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Crisis at the Dog Pound

One of the biggest controversies in Houston City government may also be one of the least publicized. It’s over the handling of BARC, the city's animal control agency. Bill Stamps reports — the group is under its third leader this year and his job won’t be permanent.


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Ask three Houston residents about the condition of BARC and you’re likely to get three different answers. An animal welfare activist might call it despicable. Someone in government might say BARC needs improvement, but that will cost lots of money. Ask an average citizen and they may not even know what BARC is. It’s the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, or animal control.

“The perception is clearly much worse than the reality. This organization is significantly better than I thought it was. I think the perceptions are much worse than they are.”

That’s Gerry Fusco, BARC’S interim boss. He takes over for Ray Sim, who was fired a few weeks ago, after just two months on the job. Fusco believes most people are behind him so far.

“I would say 9 to 1 the emails that I’m getting are positive. ‘We’ll stick with you. It sounds like you want to do the right thing’. It’s a matter of communication. It’s not that so much has changed in the last two weeks, but so much has changed in the person in charge communicating directly with them.”

Much of the criticism has come from animal welfare groups like No Kill Houston. Beth Sundermeyer is the leader. She doesn’t support Fusco because she doesn’t believe he has the background to make the necessary changes.

“You must have fosters for the sick animals, for the animals that come in with babies, or sometimes babies come in with no mother and if they can’t find someone to take care of those kittens, they kill them that day cause they can’t leave them there without being hand fed, so you need to increase your foster base dramatically. Which they could do if things improved at BARC. People stay away from BARC, because right now it’s an awful place.”

Fusco says he’s in the process of making the changes. Mayor Bill White supports him and says all the negativity isn’t helping.

“I think we need to do a tremendously better job in some of our public schools. But if I started saying, well everybody at all the public schools aught to be fired, all the teachers and principals. We ought to start from scratch. And I was a leader of a school district—What do you think the odds are of being able to recruit talent to that school district?”

The criticism ranges from how many animals are put to sleep, to the quality of equipment used to catch and transport them. Workers say there are parts of Houston that have so many strays that they’re often simply overwhelmed. But the groups that follow BARC closely aren’t buying it. And so Fusco’s job is to make changes and quiet the barking of the critics before a permanent chief is brought in.

Bill Stamps. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

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