Council Hears Updates on Animal Control, Downtown Plaza

By George Slaughter

Katy city leaders Monday heard a presentation on several proposed changes to the Katy Animal Control Department, which has been the subject of recent public and social media scrutiny for its animal control practices.

The police department oversees the animal control department. At Monday’s Katy City Council meeting, Police Chief Noe Diaz presented an overview of department activities and changes going forward. The most significant of these changes is the creation of a seven-person advisory group to oversee the shelter’s activities.

Diaz said the group expects to hold its first meeting next week. However, because the group is an advisory group and not an established city board, the meeting will not be public. Diaz leads the group, which also includes Dr. H. Shannon Hicks, a Katy veterinarian who has worked with the shelter, and Katy Police Detective Efrain Salazar, who has previous animal control experience. Others in the group include Rob Lawler, Aaron Reece, Lynn Sullivan, Ashley Wagner, and Cynthia Washburn.

Diaz said he is editing a department policy manual that Mayor Bill Hastings and City Administrator Byron Hebert will soon review and submit for council review. Other changes include:

  • The shelter now follows Harris County standard operating procedures. Previously, the shelter followed state procedures.
  • The shelter now keeps animals up to seven days, and then those animals not returned to owner or picked up by rescue will be taken to the Houston Humane Society. Previously, the shelter kept the animals for up to 72 hours.
  • Disposal of dead animals is done through Bridge Pet Memorial Pet Aftercare Services. Previously, the shelter kept dead animals in cold storage.
  • Veterinarians oversee euthanasia of sick or terminally ill animals. Previously, shelter staff performed such activities.

Diaz said the department plans to purchase a new chip-reading device and install additional cameras where people have been leaving, or in some cases abandoning, their pets. Earlier this year, the city installed a camera at the Katy Dog Park in an effort to reduce stray and abandoned dogs in Katy.

Ward B Council Member Rory Robertson, who has taken a leading role in promoting the animal control shelter issues, said in an interview Thursday that volunteers have gotten involved and made sure no animals were euthanized in February.

“That’s the goal,” Robertson said. “The volunteers have really rallied and supported the animals and lining up to rescue the animals.”

Left undiscussed Monday was the possibility of personnel changes at the shelter. Chelsea Gerber, a part-time animal control officer, took notes and video of alleged animal abuses at the shelter, and those were shared both with city officials and social media.

Gerber, who is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into her complaints, said Monday the investigation is ongoing and she has heard nothing official from the city. She said she submitted her second complaint to Diaz three months ago, and that no conclusions have been reached shows “either a lack of competence or something else.”

Meanwhile, some citizens, first at a February 2 animal control council workshop and again Monday, expressed dismay that David Brown, the longtime shelter director, was still in his role following disclosure of Gerber’s complaints. Sean Fitzsimmons, who just outside the city limits, said Monday that he was “baffled” why Brown remains a city employee.

Robertson said he, Mayor Pro Tem Chris Harris, and Ward A Council Member Janet Corte will be touring the Rosenberg animal control facility next Wednesday to get ideas of how Katy can improve its animal control shelter and practices.

Robertson said with the changes in policies and practices, Katy can be proud of its animal control department as it is the fire and police departments.

“It’s not hard, and it’s not expensive,” Robertson said. “Let’s institute a no-kill policy. All we want is a no-kill policy.”

Other Actions Taken

In other action Monday, the council:

  • Heard an update on the downtown plaza project.
  • Approved closing Avenue C between 1st Street and 3rd Street for the City of Katy Baskets & Bunnies Hop-Along Drive-Through Event, set for 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 27.
  • Authorized the sale of $3 million in City of Katy permanent improvement bonds to the lowest bidder, and issued those bonds.
  • Awarded a $1,091,170.74 bid to Cooley Construction, of Magnolia, Texas, for downstream channel improvements at Riceland Terrace Subdivision. Total project cost is $1,247,170.74, which includes engineering, surveying, and inspection.
  • Authorized the auditor’s engagement letter with Whitley Penn, LLP, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020.
  • Authorized $3,450,000 in Fort Bend-Waller County Municipal Utility District No. 3 Unlimited Tax Road bonds.
  • Authorized the hiring of Rolf Goetzinger, LLC, to paint a mural on the 500,000-gallon elevated storage tank at 29800 Kingsland Blvd. in Brookshire and authorized $56,000 in water and sewer reserve funds to pay for it.