Game Changer Wants to End Pet Homelessness and Suffering

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance

  • Tena Lundquist Faust and Tama Lundquist are co-presidents of Houston PetSet, which is working to end homelessness and suffering of companion animals in Houston, Texas
  • They were nominated for a Healthy Pets Game Changer Award by Jill A.
  • Houston is a “perfect storm” for animal homelessness due to its mild climate, rural areas where street animals roam and decades of overlooking the problem
  • Via partnerships, research, events and grants, they’re targeting animal cruelty, community outreach, spay and neuter, rescue and adopt programs and more to end animal homelessness in their area
  • Houston PetSet envisions a world in which dogs and cats are not suffering and have a valued place in society

Tena Lundquist Faust and Tama Lundquist are co-presidents of Houston PetSet, which is working to end homelessness and suffering of companion animals in Houston, Texas. They were nominated for a Healthy Pets Game Changer Award by Jill A. Originally, the organization just raised funds for other animal nonprofits, but it wasn’t enough to really tackle the massive problem with animal homelessness in Houston.

“We joined the board of Houston PetSet in 2007 and we were raising funds and loving what we were doing. We're meeting wonderful people. These rescue groups on the front lines are really doing heartbreaking and backbreaking work. And it was wonderful to see all the work that they were doing and all the progress they were making,” Tama said.

But after doing it for a few years, we realized that the problem was getting worse and not better and so we had to dive into that. Why was it getting worse and not better? With all the efforts going into it, the millions of dollars, the tens of thousands of volunteers … why was Houston different than other major metropolitan cities in the U.S.?

After some strategic planning and joining forces with nonprofits, they’ve been successful in developing programs to solve animal homelessness in their area.

Why Houston Is a Perfect Storm for Pet Overpopulation

While most major cities have problems with animal overpopulation, Houston is a “perfect storm” for animal homelessness that makes the problem especially difficult in the city. Part of the problem has to do with the amicable climate. This is compounded by rural pockets where street animals easily breed, along with decades of neglect in addressing the issue. Tama said:

“Coming from Minneapolis where the winters are very cold and an outdoor animal will not survive, that's different in Texas. We have a year-round survivable climate and so animals tend to breed year-round. Additionally, we have a very spread out city. There are a lot of rural pockets where animals can hide, breed, live.

And we have a very diverse demographic and so that also contributes to street animals or community animals and that just doesn't work in a major metropolitan area. Street animals or community animals tend to breed, they tend to run, they tend to get hit by cars and it just, it doesn't work.

… Additionally, the problem has gone unchecked for decades. Houston has been very far behind in terms of addressing this issue systemically. And so, when you look at cities like San Francisco or New York they started years ago on working on this problem and Houston is still playing catch up.”

Hurricane Harvey and COVID-19 have taken a further toll on the area’s animals, but provided a launch point for many of Houston PetSet’s programs.

Raising Awareness and Targeting Six Impact Areas

One of Houston PetSet’s greatest accomplishments to date is raising awareness of the issue. “In some areas of Houston, people aren't even aware of this problem,” Tama said. “So, our greatest success was making this a part of the conversation when you talk about quality of life in a city and moving the needle that way.

Because we know not everyone cares about animals the way we do but they do care about economic development, they do care what their city looks like, they do care about just being a civilized society.”

Not only are thousands of animals living on the city’s streets without food and shelter, but in some neighborhoods children and the elderly are afraid to go outside over the fear of being attacked by a stray dog. They envision a world in which dogs and cats are not suffering and have a valued place in society.1 Via partnerships, research, events and grants, they’re targeting six main impact areas:2

Spay and neuter — Increase the number of accessible and high-volume spay and neuter programs.

Rescue, adopt and transport — Improve capacity among rescue, foster, adoption and transport organizations.

Community service and education — Implement and support outreach efforts to inform the public and provide resources for proper treatment of animals.

Cruelty prevention — Decrease animal cruelty and fund agencies that protect neglected and abused animals.

Research — Build and leverage their collection of qualitative and quantitative data to inform lasting solutions.

Advocacy — Increase engagement to influence public policy and affect legislation at local and state levels.

Mitigating Suffering, One Heartbeat at a Time

Through their work with Houston PetSet, Tama and Tena have created a model that other cities may be able to emulate to help animals in need. They’re tackling the animal overpopulation problem as a social issue that needs to be addressed as an ethical issue to care for creatures in the community.

As Tama said, “When you see suffering and you can't do anything it's very hard,” but “if you see suffering and you can do something, it's rewarding.” It’s the desire to mitigate suffering that keeps the team going. Tena explained:

“When you see suffering it's really hard to look away and knowing that you can make a difference is rewarding. I got a Christmas card this year from one of my foster doggy’s moms and he was a little pit bull mix that had lived on the streets probably most of his life — skin missing on all of his elbows, had probably never lived in a house, skinny and now he's living a great life.

And those examples demonstrate what is important about what we do. We want to solve the problem and we look at this strategically but it's also those individual heartbeats that are so important to us.

And every time we do a transport and the transport is moving animals from the south to the north we say, ‘God bless the bus and God bless all the heartbeats on it.’ Because that's what they are, they're all beating hearts. And there's not a one of them that we don't love no matter what.”

If you’d like to learn more about Houston PetSet’s initiatives and get involved, you can find them at



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