Benji faceThe “No-Kill” Advocate Issues A Report Showing All’s Still Not Well At BARC

By Craig Malisow, Houston Press, Sep. 15 2009

​Hair Balls has just been making our way through “no-kill” advocate Nathan Winograd’s just-released assessment of the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, and we have one question for city officials: When are you going to sue this guy for libel?! We ask that because the BARC described in this highly detailed, photo-laden 196-page analysis is not the same BARC we’ve been getting vague “attaboy!” reports of since Gerry Fusco was brought on as interim bureau chief.

Now, we don’t really know what all Fusco has done so far — the line we’re getting from some council members and other city officials is that he’s too busy kicking ass to actually issue any written memoranda.

And we’ll have to take their word for it: after all, how does a guy like Winograd — for absolutely no cost to the city/taxpayers — write an amazingly thorough (although he calls it a “snapshot”) assessment, complete with pages of recommendations, after a simple two-day visit? It just can’t be! And we know certain volunteers aren’t going to fall for this. We hope they’ll take enough time away from those long “kumbayah” campfire sessions they’ve been engaged in to leave us comments about how ridiculous it is that Winograd’s talking about problems when everything has been so dang positive lately.

Now, Hair Balls isn’t exactly on the Winograd rah-rah wagon. The guy operates from the extremely bizarre foundation that animal overpopulation is a “myth.” So when you’re living in that universe, the “no-kill” mentality is a lot easier to swallow — in fact, if you really believed that there were all these homes out there just aching to take in an old pit bull and a few Siamese, you’d have to be downright evil not to propogate “no-kill.” (Well, you also might be a puppy-mill pimp, so those folks are all about “no-kill” as well). But heavens to Betsy, Winograd’s report touches on basic things — like simple sanitation issues — that we thought Gerry’s Kids had pretty much eliminated by now).

So we’ve e-mailed Fusco and some folks at the Mayor’s office, to ask their take on Winograd’s report, which includes BARC visits on August 14th and 15th. (Here’s where it might be necessary to point out the lip-service the city has paid to this “better communication” stuff MCV Consultants and others have bandied about for some time now: Dudes, if you know a critical report is going to be released, and you know it’s so much more detailed than anything the potentially $135,000 interim bureau chief has released, and you know that those asshole reporters who only like to concentrate on the negative — like dumb-ass ex-convict staffers beating dogs — instead of ejaculating paeans to BARC’s Magical Unicorn & Rainbow Kennel, which is lovingly overseen by fluttering pixies and Keebler freaking elves — then just cobble together a statement that says something like: “We value Winograd’s report and we have already implemented some of the suggestions, and have already made improvements to the areas he has cited” or some such nonsense, just to make it look like you care.)

Frank Michel, spokesman for Mayor Bill White, did issue this statement just before we posted: “Most of [Winograd’s] findings are not new and Mr. Fusco has already been working on a number of them in the five weeks or so since he arrived,” he said. “The issues outlined in Mr. Winograd’s report are exactly the reason why we’ve asked the Council to approve Mr. Fusco’s contract, to allow him the time necessary to address and correct as many of those problems as he can. ”

We’re still waiting to hear from Fusco. In the meantime, let’s look at some of Winograd’s doozies…

— “The dog kennels in the North Ward are some of the most poorly designed I have seen. it is impossible for large dogs to stand tail-to-nose in a straight, normal posture, and many of the dogs…are forced to live, sleep, eat and lay in their own waste. None gets any socialization. During my stay, they also received substandard care.”

— “New mats which were installed to improve conditions were not cut appropriately, resulting in a puppy falling into the trench drain and drowning. In addition, all of the drain covers in the medical care kennels were missing. According to staff, dogs have gotten their paws caught, and staff has killed dogs in their kennels because they could not extricate them. The covers have not been reinstalled.” (Added emphasis ours.)

“There is no hot water in either ward for use in cleaning animal spaces, which makes thorough cleaning and sanitizing difficult, if not impossible, and contributes to the spread of disease.”

— “Employees were asked to wear gloves during cleaning and handling and to replace them between each animal. But neither the attendants, nor most of the veterinary technicians who should know better by virtue of their medical training appeared to do so.”

— “…a couple brought in a very sick — dying — puppy and were held up at the security counter. They then were admitted to speak to the staff at the front desk. But the two staff members were having a conversation and ignored them, even though I could clearly see that the woman had been crying and the puppy appeared to be very sick. A supervisor came in and told the staff to please assist the clients. It appeared they were going to finish their conversation before assisting them.” (Winograd goes on to say the employees were talking about wanting more security, and were upset that city officials had removed some bullet-proof glass).

— “Although BARC official policy mandates it, animals are not receiving a thorough, or even cursory, physical examination at intake.”

— “Except for supervisors, I never once saw a staff member go out of their way to assist a member of the public. Just as often, staff is nowhere to be found. In one case, a gentleman came in looking for his lost cat and was told to ‘go back and ask someone for help.’ But there was no one to ask and he began randomly open doors. (I retrieved a volunteer to help him.)”

Make sure to read the part about the guy who took time off from work to bring in a stray dog, and, after getting no help from the automaton security guard, was about to release the dog back onto the street until Winograd actually spoke to him like a fully sentient being.

After reading that — and no knock on Fusco here — we can’t help but wonder: how low is the city setting the bar for Fusco, or anyone, for that matter? Seems low enough for thousands of dollars to change hands, and just an inch or too high for the animals to get a goddamn break.