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INTERVIEW: GLORIA MEDINA ZENTENO

(PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF BARRIO DOGS, INC.)

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By Amanda Hart

Photo courtesy of Barrio Dogs, Inc.

 

Houston has a notorious homeless animal population and, over the years, this problem has only become worse. Although homeless animals seem to wander all over the city, the problem appears to be of particular concern in Houston’s East End. Barrio Dogs, a grassroots nonprofit, was started by the concerned citizens of the neighborhood. The organization is not only feeding and housing these helpless animals but also reaching out to the community through education about proper animal care and the importance of spaying and neutering our pets. FPH caught up with Gloria Medina Zenteno, president and founder of Barrio Dogs, to discuss the critical and important work they are doing in Houston.

 

HOW DID BARRIO DOGS COME TO BE?

 

I moved back to the East End in 2003 after living away for several years. As I traveled through the neighborhood, I began to see homeless dogs everywhere: pregnant mamas, dogs that were sick and starving, dogs that had been injured. I made the terrible realization that there was no one out there to help these animals. I started working with rescue groups but soon saw that rescue would never end. Also, rescue work did not begin to address the roots of the problem like residents who were too poor to afford to spay and neuter their pets or didn’t make it a priority. In 2010, I founded Barrio Dogs for the purpose of providing education and raising awareness.

 

WHAT SERVICES DO YOU PROVIDE TO THE COMMUNITY?

 

We’re not a service organization–our mission is community education.  Through education, we hope to transform our community’s attitudes about proper animal care and the importance of spaying and neutering their pets.  We talk to residents about why there are so many homeless and unwanted animals around them, which we think are: 1) people who are not able to or don’t know how to take proper care of their pets, in particular the importance of spaying and neutering them, and 2) a lack of accessible, low-cost or free spay and neuter resources.

 

Our educational work takes place throughout the community in area parks, ice houses, community centers, and schools. Our message is consistent: the only solution to animal overpopulation is to spay and neuter pets. To that end, from 2010 to 2012 we spayed, neutered, and vetted approximately 400 animals, including many rescued and sick homeless dogs, free of charge.  Our fall 2012 FixIt East End Spay Neuter project fixed an additional 205 dogs and cats belonging to low-income residents free of charge and we plan to repeat FixIt in 2013 and spay and neuter even more animals.

 

Our Youth and Paws (YAP) programs where we go into area schools or community centers, often with a therapy dog, are crucial to improving the future for the animals around us. We hope that teaching children to respect and take proper care of their pets and the animals around them will make them responsible pet owners later in life. Also, in many cases the lessons children learn at school about proper pet care are passed on to their parents and siblings at home.

 

Our Barrio Watchdog program educates residents about animal protection laws and encourages them to report animal abuse or neglect in their neighborhood to the authorities. Our goal is to empower residents to take action when they see animal mistreatment.

 

Finally, while we are not a rescue group, we have rescued some dogs that were in especially bad physical condition, nursed them back to health, and found them foster or permanent homes. We have a few dogs living in a boarding facility and are always trying to find them and our foster dogs permanent homes. We have implemented a program called “A Home for All” to bring volunteers in to work with our boarded dogs since animals living in boarding become less adoptable the longer they live there.

 

WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE OF HOUSTON’S HOMELESS DOG POPULATION?

 

I can give you an idea of how bad it is by quoting some facts and figures. However, facts and figures don’t show the suffering these animals must endure or how terrible it is to live in an area where you see homeless and unwanted animals, many of which are sick or injured, on a daily basis.

 

·  In 2012, 13,226 dogs and cats were euthanized at BARC, the city animal shelter¹ (figure does not include thousands more euthanized at the SPCA, Houston Humane Society, CAP, and Harris County Animal Control).

 

·   Approximately 1.2 million homeless animals live and suffer on Houston’s streets.²

 

·  Over 60 percent of residents surveyed in the East End, Near Northside/Fifth Ward, and East Houston/Settegast think stray and loose animals are a problem in their community.³

 

·  Only 5,000 dogs were spayed and neutered free of charge by the City of Houston in 2012.⁴

 

WHAT HELP DOES BARRIO DOGS NEED FROM THE COMMUNITY?

 

First, we need for the broader Houston community to be aware of and understand the situation and encourage their local elected officials to come up with a better solution. We think the City of Houston’s current animal control strategy, which relies on euthanizations and adoptions, isn’t working. We need a better plan for Houston that focuses on community education and free and low-cost spay and neuter for pets belonging to residents living in areas hardest hit by overpopulation. Secondly, we need for people to donate to FixIt, our free spay and neuter project, or to Barrio Dogs. We do not have a steady source of income and have to work hard to raise all the money we spend on vetting and fixing animals. We have many kind and generous supporters but if we had more money, we could do so much more for the animals in our community.

 

¹houstontx.gov/barc/pdfs/asilomar2012archive.pdf

 

²BARC statistic reported in “A chorus of help for homeless animals in the Houston area,” Fox26 Houston, 9/21/12

 

³Health of Houston survey 2010, sph.uth.tmc.edu/research/centers/ihp/health-of-houston-survey-2010

 

⁴ “Don’t look the other way: Houston’s homeless and abandoned animals need help now,” CultureMap Houston, 2/04/13

Our programs: FixitYouth and PawsTherapy DogsWatch DogBetter CommunitiesTales to Tails ReadingA Home for All

Barrio Dogs, Inc   •  P.O. Box 230677  •  Houston, Texas 77223-0677