Whatever Their Number, Stray Animals Cry Under Houston Skies

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In the weeks before Hurricane Harvey struck the gulf coast and surged inland, a scientific survey was underway to count the number of stray dogs in the 600-square mile Houston area.

Using field surveyors, GPS tracking software and camera-mounted drones, The World Animal Awareness Society (WAAS), painstakingly counted homeless canines in the now rain-soaked region. “Homeless” dogs were considered those without collars and ID tags who were never observed to have human contact. It is unclear whether this survey was completed by the time Harvey hit.

For years, estimates of one to 1.2 million homeless dogs wandering the greater Houston area were bandied about. However, critics of this estimate charge that the data upon which it is based is unscientific. Houston’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC) has not had the budget to conduct a physical survey. Rather, BARC has relied on figures of nationwide animal birth and survival rates extrapolated by The North Shore Animal League.

Whatever their numbers, Houston’s stray dogs and cats have been dealt a double blow: discarded or neglected by humans, they have been left to face the “thousand-year-flood” alone - and unloved.

Thousands of companion animals in homes and shelters along the Texas gulf have either been evacuated or rescued along with their families. However, the number ofrescued strays remains unknown. The awful carnage left behind by torrential rain, storm surges and levy breaks may not be fully unveiled until flood waters recede.

We don’t need possibly conflated statistics to garner sympathy and mobilize support for companion animals. In fact, this could work in reverse. If the results of the WAAS survey of Houston’s homeless dogs is appreciably lower than BARCs estimate, people may minimize the very real problem of animal homelessness and divert their altruistic efforts elsewhere.

Efforts needed on behalf of animal companions require nothing less than a tectonic shift in consciousness. Stats compiled by DoSomething.org, reveal that many strays are lost pets that were not kept properly indoors or provided with identification. Others were simply left to the elements because their owners stopped caring or could no longer afford to care for them. TheDogRescuers.com sites the most common reasons for people not spaying or neutering their pets as not wanting to strip a dog of his “manhood,” having their children witness “the miracle of birth” or wanting to pick up a few bucks via backyard breeding.

Since human and wolf collided in the primordial garbage heap some 14,000 years ago, companion animals have had the distinct disadvantage in their relationship with humans. In return for their unconditional love, we have often shunned them, treated them like chattel, genetically engineered them to suit our whims and blamed them for the very natural catastrophes we helped to create.

It’s time for us to pay back what our companion animals have selflessly offered us all along.

In this case, pay back’s not a bitch - it’s a blessing.