News & Events

Houston/Harris County Mobile Clinic Project

Public - Private Partnership

 

The Problem

 
  The five animal shelters in the Greater Houston area admitted
  a combined total of 108,825 homeless animals in 2001.


Houston, Texas is the fourth largest city in the United States.  Greater Houston spans 8,778 square miles with a population of more than 4.7 million residents.  The five animal shelters in the Greater Houston area admitted a combined total of 108,825 homeless animals in 2001.  Recognizing that dog and cat overpopulation has resulted in a crisis for Houston’s safety, health, and environment, both the City of Houston and Harris County have contracted with SNAP to provide sterilization and rabies vaccination services for dogs and cats living in income-qualified families.  Due to the vast territory, SNAP serves its various communities through a state-of-the-art mobile clinic, providing free and safe sterilization procedures and rabies vaccinations for more than 4,000 dogs and cats each year. 

 

Houston Mobile Clinic

 

The Public Safety Issues

Homeless dogs and cats wandering the streets and roadways bite, scratch, and attack people.  Harris County Rabies/Animal Control (HCRAC) documents that every year across the nation twelve people die from dog bites, 900 victims of bites are treated at emergency rooms daily, and insurance companies paid $250 million for dog bite liability claims in 1996.  Intact animals are far more likely to be involved in serious attacks than sterilized animals, especially males.  This is documented by a major Texas Department of Health (TDH) study of the five-year period from 1996 through 2000, in which TDH concludes that intact male dogs were twice as likely to seriously attack a human as neutered males and that male hormones play a significant role in serious bites and attacks; thus, neutering male dogs reduces the risk of serious attacks or bites by half. Moreover, children under eleven were victims in over 37.7 percent of severe animal attacks in 2002, 3.2 times more likely to be victims than any other group (TDH). Furthermore, Drs. Gershman, Sacks, and Wright attest that "[d]og bites are an underrecognized public health problem," that "every year dog bites cause about twenty deaths," and that "children are the most frequent victims" ("Which Dogs Bite?  A Case-Control Study of Risk Factors," Pediatrics 93.6 [1994]: 913).  Witness the child who died in



Animals belonging to income-qualified clients are given a free rabies vaccination along with the sterilization procedure.

Houston in March 2004 from dog bite wounds. HCRAC states in 2002 that “dog bites are the number one health problem of children, outnumbering measles and mumps combined.”  In 2002, there were 546 severe animal attacks reported to TDH, and the 684 from 1999 included the death of a ten-year-old girl (TDH).  Specifically, in Harris County 3,912 dog and cat bites were investigated in 2002.  Kathy Barton of the city health department says the city picks up 17,000 loose dogs picked up annually. The problem is so bad that the city has decided in 2004 to increase the number of days animal control officers pick up strays from four to five—despite its 22 percent budget cut. Reducing the number of wandering homeless animals can therefore contribute significantly to public safety.  Another aspect of public safety affected by animal overpopulation is the traffic hazard they pose.  In 1998, the U.S. Department of Public Safety reported that animals caused 3,316 accidents; eighteen of them were fatal. In Harris County specifically 102 traffic accidents in 2000 involved animals.

 

The Public Health Issues

 
A major Texas Department of Health (TDH) study of the five-year period from 1996 through 2000, in which TDH concludes that intact male dogs were twice as likely to seriously attack a human as neutered males and that male hormones play a significant role in serious bites and attacks.


Public health is at risk not only because of injury but also because these homeless cats and dogs have not been vaccinated, especially against rabies, so they spread disease. TDH reports that 44.9 percent of all reported bite incidents indicating vaccination status in 2002 were from animals that had not been vaccinated; HCRAC says that 78 percent of animal bites in 2001 were from animals that did not have current vaccinations. Consequently, in Harris County in 2002, there were 1,332 suspected cases of rabies, 22 of which tested positive. While none of the 810 dogs and cats tested positive, rabies is still a real threat and is transmissible to dogs and cats and humans. In Harris County, reservoirs for rabies are bats and skunks, who transmit the virus to dogs and cats, who spread it to people. Moreover, Houston’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC) conducted 17,483 rabies investigations in 2002, 2,227 involving children (12.7 percent). According to TDH, "Rabies in Texas is an ongoing state health emergency" ("Statewide Rabies Quarantine Restrictions," 12 July 1998), necessitating statewide quarantines since 1995. BARC quarantined 3,919 dogs and cats in 2002. The last person to die of rabies in Texas was in Harris County in 1997 (TDH), and in 2000 a rabid cat infected a young girl in Dallas. But dogs and cats are the barrier to spreading the disease to humans because we are able to effectively vaccinate them.

 

The Environmental Issues

The effect of animal overpopulation on the environment is horrendous in two ways.  The City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department (SWMD) says that it picks up about 10,000 dead animals city streets a year, and Houston’s shelters destroy about 90 percent of their animals yearly, all taken to landfills.  For example, in 2002, 40,904 dogs and cats were admitted to the city and county animal shelters, and 35,475 were euthanized (86.7 percent). Many thousands more are euthanized by private shelters less willing to make public this information. In sum, Houston area shelters, SWMD, and the company that picks up dead animals from highways send an estimated 21.8 tons of dead animal carcasses to already overburdened landfills each week, truly an environmental nightmare. The possibilities of infection to our soil, water, and pet food supply are multitudinous and even include contamination from euthanasia drugs and flea collars.

 

The Budgetary Issues

All of these problems cost the city money.  Property damage is often the result of roaming and homeless animals.  And Harris County/Houston taxpayers paid $5.1 million in fiscal year 2003 to process, warehouse, and dispose of the animals in the city and county pounds (BARC, HCARC), not including the cost of SWD’s pickup of dead animals.  Another $4 million in private donations for shelters around Houston to deal with this problem could be used in productive ways.

 

The Animal Welfare/Protection Issues

The most heartbreaking aspect of the problem is the fact that healthy, socialized dogs and cats must be euthanized in such huge numbers or abandoned to the streets to fall victim themselves to disease, other animals, or human cruelty and carelessness.  The average age of these euthanized animals is two years old.  Estimates vary from 15 to 27 million as the number of homeless dogs and cats that die each year in animal shelters across the nation. Moreover, looking at it from a different angle, veterinarians attest that neutering dogs and cats is in fact beneficial to their health, longevity, and personality.According to the Humane Society of the United States, two breeding cats with all of their offspring generate 420,000 cats in just six years, and two breeding dogs with all their offspring produce 67,000 dogs in just seven years.



SNAP's Mobile Clinic offers clients reduced cost vaccines, as well as reduced cost heartworm preventative and flea preventative. 


TDH recommends that Texas “[p]romote surgical sterilization for safety reasons as well as the health benefits to the animal and prevention of pet overpopulation.” Each dog and cat that we can spay or neuter matters.