A local animal welfare group today will launch an ambitious effort to stop the euthanasia of dogs and cats at area shelters by the end of 2013.
Sean Hawkins, president of Saving Animals Across Borders, said Harris County could be turned into a no-kill area if advocates are able to spay and neuter 50,000 animals a year for five years.
"The shelters don't want to be destroying healthy animals," he said. "And we don't need to be building more shelters to warehouse these animals. We've set a lofty goal."
Last year, about 125,000 cats and dogs were taken into the Houston area's five main shelters -- the city Bureau of Animal Regulation and Control, the county animal shelter, the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Citizens for Animal Protection and the Houston Humane Society. About 80,000 of those were euthanized, Hawkins said.
About 25,000 of those animals were adopted. Owners picked up the remainder.
The goal of Saving Animals' program, called Fix Houston, is to reduce the number of animals taken into the shelters by 50,000 a year.
To kick off the program, Savings Animals will open its first Fix Houston spay-neuter clinic, which will offer inexpensive sterilizations, near the Katy Freeway in west Harris County today. Four more clinics are to open by the end of 2008.
"What he is trying to do can be done. It's not going to be easy. But if anybody can do it, it's Sean Hawkins," said Merritt Clifton, editor of the Animal People, a newspaper that covers animal protection issues. "He's worked in a lot harder areas than Houston, such as Mexico and the Navajo reservation."
Cindy Shaw, shelter operations coordinator at Citizens for Animal Protection, a nonprofit shelter on the Katy Freeway, said she hoped Fix Houston succeeds.
"We all want to eliminate the wholesale euthanasia that we have seen in Houston for so long. I think it is a wonderful initiative," Shaw said.
Even if Fix Houston fails to turn the shelters into no-kill operations by 2013, it should increase the number of animal sterilizations in the area significantly, she said.
[PetSmart Charities director Susana] Della Maddalena said Fix Houston may take longer than anticipated to attain its no-kill goal, but PetSmart will be satisfied if the program makes significant gains in eight to 10 years.
About 70 percent of cats and dogs must be sterilized in a region that wants to run no-kill shelters, Clifton said. Della Maddalena put the number at 80 percent.