Houston Has Shipped Thousands of Shelter Dogs to Colorado

Dog ID #A1296681 at BARC, as pictured on PetHarbor.
Dog ID #A1296681 at BARC, as pictured on PetHarbor.

This week, the Houston Press took an in-depth look at the issue of transporting dogs from the city’s BARC shelter to CO.  A well funded group called Rescued Pets Movement (RPM) pulled more than 4300 dogs from the Houston city pound in 2013 and shipped them to rescues in CO.  What happened to the dogs later is unknown:

No one can say with certainty what will happen to all of this shipment’s animals, nor can every other animal transferred to the groups be accounted for.


It’s no matter, though, because neither Mayor Annise Parker nor BARC Director Greg Damianoff appears to be concerned where the animals wind up, as long as they’re not Houston’s problem anymore.

Feel notfree to ask questions:

The Press learned quickly that asking questions about Houston dumping thousands of animals on another state is a bit of a sore spot. Neither Parker nor Damianoff would talk to us for this story, and BARC delayed the release of public records for 14 days. We had asked for the names of groups RPM partners with — information we believe the public has the right to see, since the public is footing part of the bill.


If you in any way question RPM’s practices, you are branded a dog-killer.

When the Houston Press contacted one of the receiving rescues to ask for numbers on the dogs imported from Houston, they got the runaround:

[Becca] Orin said she didn’t have exact numbers at the ready for how many RPM dogs Farfel’s [Farm Rescue] received and adopted out in 2013, but that she could probably get them. But, she said, “I’ll have to talk to RPM and see what they want us to say.”

But RPM and BARC are quick to cite numbers regarding the dogs Houston has sent out of state while shining up their PARTICIPANT trophies:

On a recent Facebook post, RPM congratulated BARC — and technically itself — on a January 2015 live release rate of 80.6 percent.


The numbers are impressive. Hundreds of dogs have been saved from death row. Hundreds more will need saving next month. And RPM will transport those to Colorado. Hundreds more will need saving the month after, and the month after that.

RPM will continue to congratulate BARC on those fabulous percentages. And percentages are math — you just can’t argue with them. On paper, those percentages are damned impressive.

On paper, those percentages don’t point out the obvious: Those dogs and cats are going to Colorado because no city in Colorado is suffering animal overpopulation like Houston is. Those cities, like the cities that Rescue Waggin’ partners with, tackled those problems years ago. And they did not tackle them by sending thousands of animals to Texas or anywhere else.

While it’s true that Colorado is not killing as many shelter pets as Texas, Colorado does still kill animals.  And many of them might have been saved had resources not been directed toward animals imported from other states.

If we take a look at the 2013 statistics (the most recent year available at this time) for all of Colorado’s registered shelters and rescues, we see the state started out the year with roughly 5000 dogs already in the system.  Over the course of the year, shelters and rescues took in roughly 79,000 additional dogs and imported more than 17,000 dogs from out of state.  Of the total reported dogs in the system, about 2000 were listed as DOA leaving roughly 82,000 dogs as potentially savable, excluding those imported from out of state.  We know that not every dog is savable but there are a number of open admission shelters in the United States saving 99% of their dogs.  In comparison, approximately 9% of the dogs in the CO system were killed or died in shelter care in 2013, excluding the imports. Instead of saving 99%, CO only saved 91% of its own dogs (and that’s including roughly 4000 dogs listed as “missing, stolen, etc.”), and then imported 17,000 more from other states.

I asked Davyd Smith of No Kill Colorado how both the importation of dogs and breed specific legislation (BSL), the discriminatory practice of banning dogs based on body shape, contributes to the needless killing of dogs in the state:

Colorado imported 17,000 dogs from out of state in 2013 and killed 7,000. Now even assuming that half of these dogs were truly euthanized, that means we passed an opportunity to save 3,500 because we imported too many dogs from other states.

BSL is still a problem in Colorado. Because of BSL there are many communities, including the single metro area of Denver, where Pit Bull types are not legal. 4,800 of the 7,000 dogs killed were Pit Bull type dogs. Clearly, they are not being assessed for temperament or health to land on the kill floor.

By shipping dogs to CO, Houston will not solve its shelter killing problems, which stem not from pet overpopulation (which has been debunked), but from a failure to fully implement the proven model used by successful open admission no kill shelters all over the country.  And Colorado will presumably continue to kill its own dogs who are being displaced by dogs imported from out of state.

Colorado is in a position to help shelter pets in its neighboring states but has no right to take the lives of healthy/treatable dogs already in its shelter system while importing more.  Colorado needs to get its house in order by saving every shelter animal who can be saved statewide, regardless of body shape.  This might mean reducing the number of imported dogs in order to redirect resources toward those already in CO shelters, waiting for help.  And it most certainly means directing resources toward the elimination of breed bans.  Likewise, Houston could redirect the vast resources being spent on transport toward implementing the programs of the No Kill Equation in order to save its own shelter pets.

An unwavering commitment to saving the lives of every healthy/treatable animal in the shelter is the foundation of no kill.  Start there.

(Thank you Clarice and Davyd for the links.)

27 thoughts on “Houston Has Shipped Thousands of Shelter Dogs to Colorado

  1. The numbers you quote do not take into consideration that some of the dogs in those Colorado shelters are not going to be adopted no matter what. Not long ago, a rescue in a northeastern state was complaining about dogs being shipped from southern states to shelters and rescues in the northeast. My local dog rescue friend, who has sent animals from shelters here to shelters and rescues there, looked at the web site for the northeastern rescue. Almost every dog on the site had behavioral issues, medical issues, or was a pittie. My friend here sends healthy, adoptable dogs and puppies (including pits if they are requested), and she follows up on those dogs. As a condition of her involvement, she gets photos and emails and PMs from the rescues and from the eventual adopters. While more accountability is needed on both ends, not every dog that gets shipped out of state is immediately forgotten, not every dog that gets shipped out of state results the death of another dog elsewhere. The system needs to be refined, and the shelters may very well be more concerned with their statistics than with their animals, but it is the rescue groups, not the shelters, here that pull and ship dogs, and those rescue groups don’t want to kill animals anywhere.

    1. While it may be your belief that some dogs “are not going to be adopted no matter what”, it doesn’t mean killing them is an option. And I would add my own belief that there’s someone for everyone. But setting those sentiments aside for the moment, isn’t it these very dogs we, as no kill advocates, should be working our hardest to save? They require more work and more resources but they have just as much right to live as the dog in the next cage.

      1. THIS. Labeling dogs with “issues” as unadoptable is the easy way out and excuses convenience killing.

        I’m all for moving dogs to where they can get homes, but moving dogs to fudge your numbers is BS.

      2. Absolutely, Shirley. Making the leap from having behavioral or medical issues or being a pittie (heaven forfend) to “not going to be adopted no matter what” is a leap that should never, never be taken.

    2. I think the numbers were taken in account when my quote was used. Although adoptable is a four letter word to me, I believe no more than half the dogs being killed (and a lot more of the cats) are healthy treatable pets. As an advocate in Colorado, I closely watch what is happening in our shelters. We are killing pets because of shelter population. And that is not a justifiable reason.

      We have a small number of excellent shelters and a fair amount of good shelters. And our rescue groups are a great bunch too. But there is still this transfer in from out of state which makes no sense if we are killing pets, already available, and displacing them with transfers in. And it does not take a study to see these transfers affect the outcome of our local pet Shelter population.

      I believe Colorado SHOULD transfer in at least 10,000 plus dogs to help our neighbors. We have that capacity, not 17,000. And frankly, not from a city with the money Houston clearly ahs to address the issue locally in a better more sustainable way. But we should not transfer in one dog if we are going to kill one locally. I would make an exception for a breed rescue or some specific mission where local pets were simply not available (a Rottweiler rescue is unlikely to take in a Chihuahua). The distinction is in valuing these homeless pets as healthy or treatable (Which should be the only criteria for the word “Adoptable”) or irredeemably suffering due to health or temperament issues (Where euthanasia become a possible outcome). The rest we are killing.

      And BARC/Houston/RPM is using wholesale transfer as a solution. It is not. It is treating the symptoms, not the disease. Houston needs to use the hundreds of thousands of dollars spend on transport for the programs and services that will solve the problem locally. Transfer is ONE part of that, but in no way will it work without other activities.

      1. Feral Cat Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) Program
      2. High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
      3. Rescue Groups Transfers
      4. Foster Care
      5. Comprehensive Adoption Programs (including off-site adoptions)
      6. Pet Retention Programs
      7. Medical and Behavior Prevention/Rehabilitation Programs
      8. Public Relations/Community Involvement
      9. Volunteers
      10. Proactive Redemptions
      11. Leadership

      Of 7,000 dogs, and 12,000 cats killed by Colorado in 2013, thousands should not have been killed for the simple lack of a home. Colorado is accountable for that, this transfer madness is not helping our fight here in Colorado to save every healthy treatable pet in our shelter system.

      1. I’m in Houston, which recently underwent severe flooding. This caused me to look up both the group that is transferring dogs and cats to Colorado and also to find your perspective. I agree with you–we should not be sending our animals to your shelters if it results in killing your animals. SHAME ON OUR ANIMAL GROUP AND HER MAYOR!!! We do need to do the things you list above. I won’t be giving money to this transport effort because of what I have read here, and I am sorry that any of our transports have caused your animals harm. One last thought: I think trying to find homes universally for special needs animals (like senior animals and those with disabilities) is always a good idea because there seems to be a lack of folks in any particular place who are willing or able to care for, love and understand them.

  2. “Almost every dog on the site had behavioral issues, medical issues, or was a pittie.”

    So what? The same goes for many of the dogs Austin Pets Alive adopts out on a daily basis, and it’s not like they’re sprinkling them with fairy dust. They’re just doing the work needed to make No Kill work. Most behavioral and medical issues can be either cured or managed. The shelter or rescue can start the process, and if needed, the adopter can continue. Instead of complaining about receiving “unadoptable” animals, why don’t they make them more adoptable and market them better?

    1. I have no idea why that rescue doesn’t make its dogs more desirable to adopters. My point is that it is disingenuous to point fingers at the rescues/shelters that send the dogs. We are always playing catch-up in this small, backward, backwoods Southern area. We would be seeing almost all our animals put down if we did not send them to the people who ask for them, and those people are not here. Nobody here is adopting them. There are FTGH ads every day in every newspaper, on Craigslist, and all over Facebook. Litters of puppies and kittens are everywhere. Adopters don’t have to pay the measly $36 for a dog; they can get one free, assuming they don’t already have a litter in their back yard. “My” shelter makes rescuers wait until all private adopters have first choice (animals have a weekly Tuesday deadline to be adopted, after which they may be euthed, so rescues wait until the end of the day on Tuesday). About 80% of the animals remain unadopted. These shelters are overrun with dogs, and people in other places want them. So should these dogs all die even though they have somewhere to go? The rescue here that sends dogs out of state does not perceive that these dogs are being shipped at the cost of the lives of other dogs. They perceive that they are saving the lives of the dogs here, and they are. Is it worth the cost? I really don’t know. Should my friend refuse to facilitate the transfer of dogs to other states, the dogs here die, What is the benefit of that? Especially given that we see nothing to make us believe that, for every dog sent north, a dog dies there, and nothing to suggest that those Northern dogs wouldn’t be put to sleep anyway. What do you suggest? That all the dogs here die, and maybe whatever dogs are at the intended destination die also? We talk about “no-kill” all the time but before there is a “no-kill” here, there will be “all kill” for a long time.

      1. Wow, you think because I’m suggesting shelters and rescues do the work required for No Kill, I’m saying animals should be killed? I can’t even follow your “logic” there. What I’m saying is that the majority of these animals are NOT unadoptable, and regardless of whether they stay in Houston or get shipped elsewhere, whoever is trying to adopt them out needs to do the work to get them adopted. Behavioral work, medical work, grooming work, marketing work, whatever it takes. Saying that they’re “not going to be adopted no matter what” isn’t true and doesn’t help anyone.

      2. Seems to me it would be a good idea to work on reforming those pounds, shelters and attitudes in the south so that all kill is not even a reality. What are those in charge doing to educate folks about spay/neuter? What are they doing to help folks keep their companion animals? Are they helping to provide food/medical care/behavior help to those who are willing? No kill/low kill has a lot to it other than not killing adoptable animals. What are those communities doing to implement those other pieces? I have very mixed feelings about transporting animals to places where local animals are still being killed. We have a local humane society that is always bringing in puppies and young dogs from the south, they claim to be no kill, and would likely be considered low kill. They also take puppies from other animal controls and shelters in the area. And puppies are adopted quickly. There is a lot of gray area here, but I challenge those in the south to do something about what’s causing so many animals to be killed, other than sending those animals somewhere else.

      3. No, sarahjaneb, I DON’T think you are saying that dogs should be killed. I am saying that they WILL be killed. And yes, efforts should be made to get those animals into home. “They are not going to be adopted no matter what” may not be fair or right, but in many cases it is true. So while the long-term proposals certainly are valid, what are we supposed to do in the meantime with the animals that will not be adopted here but that have a chance elsewhere? I made a lot of points that you have ignored in order to focus on one thing. What about the rest of what I wrote?

        db, work is being done here to try to reform the shelters and the community. We have a s/n program. There are fledgling programs to keep animals in their homes. Grass-roots efforts are made to provide dog houses, bedding, food, and other assistance. But change comes very, very slowly. and in the meantime we have lots and lots of animals that also deserve to live.

      4. “I am saying that they WILL be killed… what are we supposed to do in the meantime with the animals that will not be adopted here but that have a chance elsewhere?”

        But they do NOT have to be killed. I’m not ignoring your points; you’re ignoring almost every tenet of No Kill, and the thing I’m focusing on renders most of your other points moot.

        Stop thinking that there are “animals that will not be adopted here.” The vast majority of those animals are adoptable, whether they stay there or get shipped elsewhere. Again, regardless of where it happens, the work needs to be done to make them as adoptable as possible and get them adopted. I think you’re making the mistake of thinking that if these animals aren’t being adopted then they must be undoptable and/or there must be too many, but that’s not the case. Unadopted does not mean unadoptable. You’re thinking (like many people apparently do) that demand for animals is static, but that’s not true at all. Just like demand for anything else, it can be created through marketing. If the animals aren’t being adopted, it’s because the shelters/rescues aren’t doing the work to get them adopted. If efforts are being made and they’re not working, then do more, try something different, see what more successful shelters and rescues have done. That’s a huge part of what No Kill is – it’s not just “stop killing,” it’s “come up with creative solutions to get animals into homes.”


      5. sarahjaneb I don’t mean that this is immutable, just that it is the case now. They will be killed now because there is no mechanism in place for anything else to happen at the moment. “No kill” requires time to develop and implement those creative solutions. Until that happens, the animals will be killed if they are kept here.

        I will stop posting here now because I did not mean to hijack this thread. I will see you somewhere else where the discussion is more generally on sending animals from one part of the country to another. I apologize to Shirley and the people who do have a direct interest in the BARC/Colorado situation.

      6. “Our community can’t be No Kill until…” is an excuse that enables the killing. It doesn’t take months or years to come up with and implement some creative marketing strategies. The resources that are currently going into transport and followup could instead go into getting the animals adopted locally.

  3. Last year, the city of Houston/pound (BARC) agreed to pay RPM $265,000 to transport pound pets. (And just like the reporter, the city yanked me around and illegally kept documents concerning RPM from me when I sent them a Public Information Request. I had to file a complaint with the Attorney General to get more, and I am quite sure that they did not produce everything that they are legally required to produce).

    RPM is being paid $75 per animal that they pull from BARC. BARC does NOT pay other rescue groups to pull animals. Can you imagine what the local rescue groups could do LOCALLY with that kind of money? How many local adoptions events could that fund? How many free spay/neuters could they fund?

    And I looked up the kill rates in the communities where RPM is shipping animals and found that, although they may have better save rates than BARC, they were not No Kill. For instance in 2013, Colorado Springs pound had a 69.41% Kill Rate; Pike’s Peak had a 28% Kill rate; Dumb Friends League in Denver had a kill rate of about 30%; Longmont Humane Society had about 18% Kill Rate; Boulder pound had a 13% Kill Rate. If rescuers in those communities are taking animals from Houston, they will not be able to pull animals on the kill lists in their communities. So, animals die there. I agree that transferring the killing to a different community is not a solution.

    And while Colorado does have some No Kill communities, so does Texas. There are communities right here in Texas who have save rates higher than the communities where RPM is transporting animals. Why not transport them to those Texas communities? It would certainly be easier to keep track of all the transported animals to make sure that they are being properly cared for, so that they don’t end up with a “hoarding” situation like happened in Colorado Springs, in which RPM-transported dogs ended up confiscated and at a kill shelter. (See pictures of the HORRENDOUS house–where they were also performing spay/neuters–here: http://ananimaladvocate.com/2014/06/27/are-shelter-pet-transports-to-communities-with-kill-shelters-ethical/) RPM paid this “rescue” $50 per animal to take BARC pets.

    I also agree that there is SOOOOOO much more that BARC could be doing to save lives that would not include dumping thousands of animals on other communities. For instance, in 2011, BARC did an offsite adoption event and they did it well. It was in a highly visible location; there were adoption specials; BARC advertised; and they reached out to the public for help instead of blaming them. The result? Even though the temperatures reached over 100 degrees, BARC did over 400 adoptions in a single weekend! Take a look at the picture of people lined up to adopt (http://www.examiner.com/article/the-no-kill-equation-action) 400 adoptions was more adoptions that BARC had done in the entire previous MONTH. It literally emptied the kennels at BARC and at many of the homes of BARC foster parents.

    Considering that BARC experienced first hand how successful an event like this could be, one would expect that they would do more of them, if not every single day, all over Houston’s 600 square miles, at the very least, do them every weekend. But no, I’ve not seen another event like this one since.

    As is the case so often at kill shelters/pounds, BARC leadership simply does not care if BARC saves a few and kills the rest. He does not even work there full time. He stops by once a day and goes back to city hall. You absolutely cannot turn around a facility like BARC by stopping by once a day and throwing some money at it once in a while.

    If Mayor Parker had kept her No Kill promises 5 years ago, and if she had hired leadership who was willing to work hard to implement all of the No Kill programs, I have no doubt that BARC could be No Kill by now or very close to it. But, she didn’t, so it’s not.

  4. True animal lovers and rescuers care about what happens to ALL animals, however, too many of the animal rescues, humane societies, spca’s, and other rescue orgs count on the fact that many/most people in the public have short-memories, short-attention spans, and when the adrenalin-pumping drama from yet another crisis-rescue is done and over with, they couldn’t care less WHERE ALL of the animals end up. And with no accountability from ‘rescues’ being required (yet) its like dealing with the CIA to get the most simple of questions answered even though the blood-suckers in animal rescue sure are quick to always be asking for money from the PUBLIC to rescue more animals when they won’t even account for WHERE all of the animals they rescued in the previous year are, whether they are dead or alive, if dead, how were they killed, if alive, WHERE are they at this exact moment, etc.


    1. Transports to other states has become a BIG SCAM. Both by artificially increasing Save Rates and in getting donations for the animals that they allegedly “saved”. For instance, a few weeks after the city of Houston approved giving RPM $265k for transports OUT of Houston (claiming overpopulation, of course), the Houston SPCA shipped IN a bunch of animals from CA. They do this quite often even though their own Kill Rate is at least 65%. Like I said, it has become a BIG SCAM.

      1. New blog post below.

        Please SHARE the Accountability and Full Disclosure Questionnaire for primarily publically marketed animal rescues, humane societies, spca’s, and those who partner with them and we could stop a lot of this scamming dead in its tracks, keep swindlers from getting FREE money from the kind-hearted public, and would also keep many animals from being killed and treated like broken merchandise that has no use for anyone instead of the precious individuals they are.


  5. I hate that shelters do the to show good results! Government needs to get involved! The problem is too big! /also inspectors need to make regular visits to ensure that the animals are properly cared for!

    1. The USDA doesn’t do a decent job with our feed animals. I’m not at all confident that they would do any better with our companion animals. Too bad that you can’t legislate morality and compassion for all living creatures.

      1. I agree. Texas passed a “puppymill bill” a few years ago that was supposed to be well funded from all the licenses that breeders would have to buy. Problem was that many breeders who were supposed to apply for a license, didn’t. So now there isn’t enough money to pay for enough inspectors to inspect all the breeders or puppymills.

  6. I can see both sides of this issue. While it is 100% true that animals with behavioral problems, bully type dogs, and big black dogs have as much right to live as every other dog, it is also true that some people cannot or will not adopt that type of dog. Some people live in places such as apartments where that type of dog is not allowed, some insurance will not cover that type of dog, etc. In my opinion, it is also true that if you only have the types of dogs I named, some people will not even come to your adoption center and will obtain dogs from elsewhere. Ir seems likely that if you have a larger variety of dogs at your adoption center, more people will show up, and some of those people even may fall in love with a big black dog when they were hell-bent on getting a cute fluffy puppy. If you don’t have any cute fluffies though, the person hell-bent on getting a cute fluffy as I said probably wont’ even visit and will obtain a cute fluffy from elsewhere, an out of state rescue who does their own transport or a breeder.

    1. there is so much to this problem. as Kelly says, certain types of dogs have other things against them in the adoption process, such as the insurance companies who forbid certain breeds, and land lords who won’t or cannot allow large dogs. plus there are some folks, elderly for example, who are not able to meet the needs of a high energy, pitt/shepherd/hound/chow mix!! what i love about dogs is that there are sizes and types that would fit in with every life style if there were a way to match up the people with the dogs. AND if there were not so much restriction on adoption processes, such as shelters who won’t adopt in another state (and won’t reach out to shelter or rescue in other states to do the needed home visits or whatever they cannot do from afar)

      every night i get lists from large New York shelters, of the animals to be killed. there are plenty of “cute fluffies” on those lists also. i have to ask, why are the New York/new Jersey and other Northern shelters not reaching out to those shelters to pull some of these dogs. but the adoption process seems daunting to me. first of all the kill list consists of dogs who have been labeled “new hope” (no hope it seems) for many reason, such as having running eyes or a cough, probably caught from being in the shelter. then “new hope”: means only approved rescues can pull, and that seems like an insanely frantic process to be approved by the rescue.

      In other words, there seem to be a lot of Northern dogs killed, dogs who meet the cute fluffy description, but the process is made to be difficult to adopt.

      So I also do question why imports are happening from the south, when there are dogs being killed down the street. and the fact that many of our southern shelter people quote the concept that the north has “spay neuter laws” just makes me cringe, because it is not the law at all! Otherwise, no animals would be on the proverbial kill lists!

      Animal sheltering makes my head spin.

  7. RPM has saved many Many lives. If left at BARC they would have died. Point Blank. Anyone who argues otherwise is full of it. There is success after sucess story on the RPM website- just like any other repeatable rescue. And the truth is that Houston is a terrible terrible place for animals. FAR more terrible than anywhere in Colorado. Is it a permanent solution for the overpopulation problem (which DOES EXIST) in Houston? maybe not. but no one can say EXACTLY what happens to dogs after they leave BARC either. I would tell each of you who oppose this group to spend one week every day at BARC and tell me what to do. The people dropping off dogs there don’t care. They have never cared and never will. Boxes and boxes of puppies are left on a daily basis and that’s not to mention what we find right here in my very own neighborhood and local groups work together to find homes. Bett S., If you spent half the time you do trying to bring others down who are saving lives on trying to bring actual animal abusers and backyard breeders down, or education for the people who ARE causing an overpopulation problem here in Houston (like Barrio dogs does) you’d be a powerful resource. Give it a rest already.


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