Animal advocates want every shelter pet to live to find its forever home, and they hope a new tool will help connect people with the animals most in need.
"We're gonna head to one area that's called the "cruelty corridor." There are a lot of stray animals that are dumped in this area," animal control officer Bradi Jamison says. “I had never realized how many stray animals there were in Houston until I started working this job."
Jamison starts her job early in the morning to catch stray dogs, before it's too hot.
When sweeping an area like the "cruelty corridor," Jamison says she and her team can pick up around 30 animals per day.
"It is awful. Most of them are not strays," she says. It's the owners allowing their dogs to be unleashed and roam loose."
Homeless pets are a national problem. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals , approximately 6.5 million of them enter U.S. shelters every year.
From strays and unleashed pets to owner surrenders, Jennifer Barrera Wandrey says BARC Animal Shelter in Houston, Texas intakes up to 27,000 animals each year.
"Over 100 animals per day. So it could be anywhere from 130, 150, 180… per day," Barrera Wandrey says.
That's more than the facility can physically hold. Any more, and there would be a risk for the spread of disease among the animals.
"There is such a need for spay/neuter," she says. "People don't have access to low-cost or free spay/neuter services."
Even though the shelter offers many opportunities for people to get low-cost services, it's still not enough for the demand. And in Texas, warm temps encourage pets to breed all-year round.
"A male dog can smell a female dog in heat for over a mile," Jamison says.
Texas is known as one of the states with the largest homeless pet population. According to Holly Sizemore with Best Friends Animal Society, it stands alongside California, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
"First off, they're large states; some of them with big human population," Sizemore explains. "And there is a link between socioeconomics and animal homelessness."
Sizemore says more homeless pets often means more animals are having to be euthanized. That’s why the animal welfare organization is trying to solve the homeless pet problem.
"Best Friends Animal Society has one main goal: to end the killing of cats and dogs in U.S. shelters by the year 2025," she says.
That may seem like a lofty goal, but the nation has seen tremendous progress the past few decades. Thirty years ago, 17 million animals were being killed in U.S. shelters every year. Today, that number is less than 1 million.
But to ultimately reach that goal, people need to be aware of what's going on in their own backyard. Best Friends spent years collecting data directly from shelters, state and local coalitions, government websites, and requests through the Freedom of Information Act. It used that data to create a new national tool called the Community Lifesaving Dashboard .
"Any member of the public can go in, and they can look at their community and see how they're doing in regard to sheltering," Sizemore says.
After years of limited data in animal welfare, these community maps are the first of their kind.
This is how it works:
First, click on a state you want to know more about. Then find your community. The map is color-coded based on how many shelters in the area are "no-kill". When every shelter in a community achieves a 90 percent save rate for all cats and dogs, it will be designated as "no-kill".
The hope is that the transparency will allow people to know which shelters in their area are in need.
"Animals dying unnecessarily really is a tragedy that we need to stop in this country," Sizemore says.
In order for all shelters to become no-kill, Sizemore says more people need to adopt from shelters and pet rescues. People like Lauralee Fangmeyer, who adopted Ollie two years ago.
"It was totally love at first sight,” Fangmeyer recalls. "Every day that he snuggles up to us. I think about, ‘where would you be if you weren't here? Would you still be alive? Would you have a loving home? Would you have someone to take care of you?’"
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