Houston’s Pet Problem

March 1, 2002 by  
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Giving Animals a Voice

Houston’s pet problem not news to Lisa Foronda

When she’s not on television finishing one newscast and preparing for another, KHOU Channel 11 anchor/reporter Lisa Foronda likes to spend some time with her friends – among them, Indy, Bailey, Gabby and Katy.

“People are important, but pets are important, too,” says Foronda, who grew up in Tampa, Fla., surrounded by pets. “Pets are the greatest friends you can have because they give unconditional love. They’re not going to criticize you, and if you have a horrible day at work, you can go home, and they’re just happy to see you. They love you no matter what. They don’t nag. They just want to come up and lick your face.”

Her tone is lighthearted, but for Foronda, responsible pet ownership is a serious matter. She is a vocal advocate of spaying and neutering, and she donates her time generously to organizations such as the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (HSPCA) and the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP). Additionally, she can be seen Saturday mornings on “Pet Project,” a news segment promoting pet care and adoption.

“Not everyone in this country at this time has the financial resources to donate (to these organizations), but you can always donate your time, or, at the very least, if you?re a pet owner, you can spay or neuter your pet,” says Foronda. Through her involvement in these organizations, she sees the effects that irresponsible pet ownership has unleashed – the unwanted, abandoned animals that roam the city, existing on what they can scrounge up and perpetuating an already bad situation through unrestricted breeding.

“There are stray animals all over this town. You can’t even count them all,” she says. “There’s a problem everywhere, all over the world, with animals that are just left to multiply.”

Of her two dogs and two cats, all but Indy, a golden retriever (posed with Foronda on the cover), are from animal shelters. For Foronda, it’s simply about educating the public about how to be responsible pet owners and to have their pets spayed or neutered. “Those are the two main things – pet owner education and spaying and neutering,” she says. “Of course, that’s true of education for just about anything. The more educated we are about any subject, the better able we are to make good decisions about it.”

Foronda first became involved in animal welfare when she moved to Houston a little more than four years ago. “I just kind of fell into it here. I guess it was just a natural extension of my love for animals,” she says. “I’ve always been around (animals). I’ve always had a pet of some sort.”

While Foronda and other advocates see some of the effects of the pet overpopulation problem, people such as Patricia Mercer, the HSPCA’s executive director, have seen the ugly side of it – sights and scenes that would make most recoil in disgust.

HSPCA: the victims’ voice

She chooses her words thoughtfully as she speaks about the horror of animal abuse and what must be done to bring the violators to justice. “They (animals) are not only the victims, they are the evidence,” says Mercer of the many investigations that must be conducted each year when people abuse or neglect animals. Mercer has spent 18 years at the helm of the organization and has seen it all.

The HSPCA receives nearly 40,000 animals every year, or about 100 a day, including dogs, cats, horses, goats, cattle, pigs, small mammals, exotic animals such as tigers and monkeys and wild animals such as wolves. For the majority, the agency and its many devoted associates bend over backwards to try to find responsible homes for these displaced creatures.

Additionally, the HSPCA responds to more than 4,000 calls annually of animal abuse, cruelty and neglect. Its investigations department is staffed by six full-time cruelty investigators. These dedicated professionals are responsible for covering more than 2,664 square miles with a total human population of about 3.2 million. Combined, they drive more than 7,000 miles each month.

The HSPCA cruelty investigators work closely with other humane organizations and with law enforcement officials, both locally and nationally, to provide specialized training and assistance for cases involving animal cruelty, as well as manpower for coordinated rescue efforts. Demand for the organization’s services is tremendous, and all reports of animal cruelty, neglect and abuse are taken seriously and handled professionally. “The mission of the HSPCA is to promote respect for all animals and free them from suffering and abuse,” says Mercer.

And the suffering and abuse is not always limited to animals, suggests the FBI. The nation’s top crime-fighting agency has stated that there is often a link between animal abuse and human violence. Violent offenders, according to the FBI, regularly start with pets. Jim Boller, chief investigator for the HSPCA has helped train Houston police officers in the identification and handling of animal cruelty and neglect for exactly this reason. When Boller goes to the scene of a suspected cruelty case, he collects evidence – bloody carpet, photos of decaying animal carcasses and, often, the animals themselves.

He, like Mercer, sees the ugly side of pet overpopulation and abuse, but slowly over time, these two, Foronda and many other dedicated people are making a difference in the quality of life for those who cannot speak for themselves.

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