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HAPI Tails

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New animal advocacy group helps find homes for abandoned pets.

By Marene Gustin  Feature photo by John Conroy

Cover_Nov09.inddYou could call James Oxford and Lance Marshall animal lovers. But they’re so much more. 

“If you’re going to do something, just do it!” says Oxford. “Make a difference.” 

Which is what they’ve been doing since January. The couple moved back to Houston just about a year ago, along with their two lovable dogs Holly and Penny. Marshall, a film and stage actor, was working with Karen Derr, a Heights–area realtor and city council candidate who first took him to the city’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, otherwise known as BARC. 

“I’d never even heard of BARC,” Marshall says. Several years ago when the couple was looking to adopt a dog, they went to the SPCA facility to find Holly, their corgi-terrier mix, because neither of them knew about BARC or that it had pets for adoption. 

“The first thing we saw was a starving dog in a cage with a fat one who ate all the food.” Marshall asked the attendant to move the dog so she could eat, but the attendant ignored him. First, he moved the dog and her paperwork to an empty cage and fed her. Then, he went home and told Oxford they couldn’t just sit there on the couch watching TV with their two dogs and cushy lifestyle while other dogs were starving. 

BARC guys
Lance Marshall and James Oxford with BARC foster dog, Charlie.

“So we started volunteering at BARC,” Oxford says. “We went every weekend and walked all the dogs and played with the cats.” Pretty soon they had a cadre of volunteers helping them, but even that didn’t seem to be enough to put a dent in Houston’s notorious abandoned pet problem and high euthanasia rate. So the idea for Houston Animal Partnership Initiative was formed. “I wanted a serious name for a serious problem,” says Oxford. “But one with a happy acronym, so it’s HAPI.” 

There are dozens and dozens of nonprofits in Houston aiding animals, from Friends of BARC to breed–specific rescue groups and spay and neuter groups. But until now there hasn’t been one organization to bring them all together. HAPI works as an umbrella group, hosting adoption events where rescues can bring their animals and raising funds for spay and neuter organizations. 

“How can we get less animals into BARC and how can we get more out?” asks Oxford. Adoption and neutering are the answers. 

In just a few short months HAPI has hosted three adoption events and a candidates forum at BARC where 20 political wannabees showed up to talk the issue and their ideas for bettering BARC. But what the couple really wants is a citywide adoption fair similar to the ones they saw in New York sponsored by Broadway Barks, the group founded by Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore. Oxford envisions a day of pet adoptions, live music, and face painting, maybe held at Eleanor Tinsley Park along Allen Parkway. Sort of a Bayou BARC day with all the shelters and rescue groups participating. 

“But first we have to raise a lot of money,” Oxford admits. “I want all the groups to just show up with their dogs and not to have to pay for anything.” 

Fostering a spirit of cooperation among all the animal groups and the city is a big part of HAPI’s mission. And Oxford aims to keep everything positive. “I don’t show up at city council and yell and show photos of dead dogs.” 

Continuous politics has been the norm for the past several years as volunteers have battled the understaffing, overpopulation, and frequent deadly outcomes at BARC, which this year was removed from the health department for more strenuous oversight. But both Oxford and Marshall are hopeful that HAPI can be part of the solution, bringing all the groups together and helping fund them. 

“We just need to stop the infighting and fit all the pieces together,” Oxford says. “I think we can all make a difference.” 

For more information on HAPI and how to help, visit www.hapi.wetpaint.com

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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