Houston Animal Cops from left to right:
Max Mixson, Debra Turner, Sheila Kennedy, Ernie Angerstein, Charles Jantzen, Barbara Christiansen, Jim Boller and Scott Wernick.
What do an ex-pet store manager, horse trainer, child welfare
worker, border patrol officer, police department employee, veterinary assistant
and an exotic animal handler have in common? On the surface maybe nothing;
however, what drives these individuals is one thing that they all share. They
are all members of the large animal division of the Houston SPCA. Together
they help make up the team that fights for an animals rights when no one else
will. Falling short of wearing a cape and flying through the sky these individuals
rescue those, which have no voice, and sometimes their only savior is the
concerned citizen that sees a suffering animal while driving down the road
or walking their dog.
Recently I had the privilege of speaking with Max Mixson the Cruelty Investigations and Rescue Manager for the Houston SPCA. Mr. Mixson grew up in the country and has been around animals all his life. He primarily worked in pet stores and was employed in such a store in Beaumont, Texas when he heard about the Houston SPCA opening. He later applied and was hired in May of 2000 as a Cruelty Investigator for the Houston SPCA. He told me he was thrust into a world that he thought he understood. A world we all think we understand however the neglect and overall situations he encountered were far beyond what he had anticipated. Until you see it for yourself it is hard to imagine. Maybe we just choose to pretend it does not really exist.
The Houston SPCA was established in 1924 and is fighting a war against animal cruelty in sometimes not very hospitable situations. A war that was taken to another level when Animal Planet got the idea to air a reality show about the injustice done to what we refer to as our friends. This show as well as others in the series like; Animal Cops Miami, Animal Precinct and Animal Cops Detroit have thrust the issue of animal cruelty into the spotlight. Some of the stories presented are beyond believe as to why someone would do such a thing to another living being. Whenever I watch these shows I think of these individuals across the US as animal super heroes.
The individuals that dedicate their time to investigating these reports are just ordinary people however like you and I. Not ordinary in the fact that what they do is not extraordinary however they have a love of animals and a drive to bring those to justice that have committed these crimes. Everyone mentioned above, from fields not so related, share that drive and devotion to animals, which is a primary requirement to work for the Houston SPCA.
There are several variables, which point to if an animal is being neglected. The requirements designated by the State of Texas consist of basic food, water, shelter (windbreak for livestock) and reasonable care that would maintain an animal in a good state of health. If you notice an animal that you feel is being neglected you should not hesitate to report it. Mr. Mixson stated that it is much easier to redirect minor problems than to fix major ones. Sometimes you may feel that things will get better for the animal or that maybe you are over reacting. It is better to make a call of abuse and have it be nothing than to keep it to yourself and let the animal get to the point that the rescue becomes a life and death situation.
Rescued, malnourished horse that does not have the strength to stand on it's own due to neglect. Was adopted to a loving home.
Most animal agencies use The Body Condition Scoring Scale for
horses, which was developed by Dr. Don Henneke. The score ranges from one
through nine with one being emaciated and nine representing obesity. The average
pleasure horse should score around a five. This scoring system uses the six
points around a horses body that are most responsive to changes in body fat
and an average number is obtained to provide an objective overall view of
the horses condition.
Anyone can make an animal cruelty complaint by simply calling 1-713-869-SPCA (713-869-7722). The Houston SPCA routinely covers Harris, Brazoria, Ft. Bend, Liberty, Montgomery, Galveston, Chambers and Waller counties. Outside this area you can contact your local sheriffs department for cruelty investigations.
The time frame of a seizure is dependant on the animal’s condition and the owner’s effort and willingness to improve it. In a situation of eminent danger, the seizure may take place almost immediately. However, if the problem is minor and the life of the animal is not threatened, the owners may be given more time to correct the problem. The SPCA is not in the business of taking animals from their owners if the owners can show that they are willing to correct the problem and take the appropriate steps to do so. Check-ups on these individuals is routine.
Doing a live show in the field has its challenges as well. People can be much more defensive when they see a camera crew standing in the street says Mr. Mixson. They will claim that the only reason we are even there is for the publicity. Also, the addition of more people and the added equipment certainly makes the Houston SPCA more visible and personal safety is always a major concern for the organization.
The biggest seizure to take place to date was approximately seventy-five equine a few years back. A more recent seizure was for 18 live horses; however, 14 other horses were already deceased at the same location. For those deceased 14 horses the call came too late. A dog or cat seizure can easily range in the two hundreds from one location. The bulk of their seizures are much smaller and the Houston SPCA currently has over 50 equines available for adoption to the public.
Mr. Mixson stated that the most difficult seizure to date included four ostrich, nearly thirty feral pigs and numerous fowl.
The location was extremely muddy with some areas causing the rescue crew to sink knee-deep in muck. This particular seizure took place during the nesting season, which is a time that ostrich are breeding and especially aggressive. Ever thought of wrestling with a 300+ pound animal - abused, hormone filled, scared and with legs that could kick you into the next century? Here come the animal super heroes I picture again. Mr. Mixson went on to tell me the feral pigs were almost swimming in mud that was covered in slimy green algae. The animals themselves can certainly present a challenge to the crew however their environment also can be a major factor.
The Houston SPCA has other large animals that help top out their seizure list. They include animals such as; bison, tigers, primates, bears and exotic reptiles. If it is an animal in need the Houston SPCA and its staff is there to help. Size does not matter just the welfare of the animals. During last year alone the Houston SPCA took in a staggering 50,000 animals through both seizures and through the door or voluntarily.
One of the most unforgettable seizures recalled by Mr. Mixson was a grey stallion with a hole completely through his neck. Many of you may have seen this story on the show and it was one that I was in awe over. If you did not see this episode the hole that was in the stallions neck was big enough to put your hand through to the other side. Although they are unsure of the cause of the hole, it was probably a result of an improperly treated wound or abscess. The stallion was found in a dilapidated stall with the carcass of a deceased livestock just a few feet away. After being brought back to the Houston SPCA, he gained weight and was later adopted into a loving home. The hole through his neck is a scar that will be a constant reminder of his prior neglect.
In part two of the interview with Mr. Mixson you will learn more about the Houston SPCA, their large animal vets, Mr. Mixson himself, more heartwarming cases, how you can help the Houston SPCA, requirements for large animal adoption, and also how you can become an animal cruelty investigator. Cape not included!
You can visit them at: www.spcahouston.org/spcahouston
Until next month...
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