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Barrio Dogs

Barrio Dogs is a Houston-based educational nonprofit organization that officially launched in March of 2010.   Their primary focus is to educate both children and adults on the devastating effects of animal overpopulation, abuse and neglect. The group concentrates their efforts in the lower income, inner-city neighborhoods of Houston, TX where there is an overwhelming amount of animals who could use an advocate.  While Barrio Dogs consider themselves an educational organization and technically not a “rescue”, providing for the homeless animals goes with their territory and they usually have numerous dogs in foster care looking for permanent and loving homes. These dogs are literally picked up off of the city streets, vetted and saved by Gloria Zenteno, founder of Barrio Dogs as she comes across them working on the front lines of this crisis.  Unfortunately, like many other rescue organizations, for every one dog that is eventually adopted, Gloria will receive numerous emails from people that want to surrender their personal dogs for various reasons. While she naturally wants to save every last one, she must stay focused on her task at hand which is always education.

Barrio Dogs mission – Educate, empower and transform via an animal educational organization – zeroed in onHouston’s less fortunate communities.  They hope to see a change not only in Houston, but eventually in low-income neighborhoods all over the United States where individuals are better prepared to care for their beloved companions.  Gloria, a Houston native, is the sole founder and President of Barrio Dogs and lives with her husband, musician Javier Zenteno, in the greater east end of Houston.  Becoming increasingly disheartened while driving through the city and witnessing numerous homeless dogs roaming the streets daily, she decided to become proactive and turn her frustration and sadness into something positive.  With Barrio Dogs she has created something that will have a vast long-term effect on the lives of both humans and canines as well as immediately providing adoptions and spay and neuter assistance to animals in need. Gloria believes that you should take care of your surroundings, helping build a better community by taking care of your neighbors and always be able to be proud of where you live!

Gloria’s mission to start this organization came to her years ago with the vision of educating people, especially children, on the importance of treating animals with love and respect. Hoping these lessons will serve to improve the quality of life for all animals in the years to come, Gloria believes that education is the key to a permanent understanding. With various programs, including several youth programs, she’s already saved countless animals simply by spreading the word and making people understand that they can make a difference.  She also plans to join forces with SNAP (Spay-Neuter Assistance Program, inc.) and other organizations to help bring awareness on these issues in order to help lower the staggering animal overpopulation numbers facing us daily.


Barrio Dogs main agenda is their Barrio Dogs Youth Program.  Concentrating on Houston’s inner-city schools, Gloria and Education and Therapy Coordinator, Jennifer Washam, visit classrooms to help shine a light on the various issues that arise when animals are not given proper care.  Topics include: animal overpopulation, how to properly and humanely take care of a pet as well as how to recognize and report animal abuse.  This team provides educational presentations and literature for the children to take home to their families.  For many of these children this is the first positive contact with a dog they have ever experienced.  Perhaps not too surprising, many of these children have never even heard the words SPAY and NEUTER, making it impossible for them to understand the importance of it.

Another youth program with extremely positive results is their “Tales to Tails” reading program which encourages children to read by giving them an opportunity to interact with a Rescue Education Ambassador Dog (R.E.A.D.). These story-telling sessions and animal interactions help to increase the confidence in these kids by providing them with an intimidation-free zone to read and also improve their reading skills.  Going back to my childhood, I remember holding full-blown concerts in my bedroom by singing to my dog, reading bedtime stories to her and just being whoever I wanted to be.  Of course, I am still very unlikely to participate in public karaoke, but I know I gained confidence from my biggest fan’s wagging tail. . . knowing that I would not receive any negative feedback. My dog was happy to simply be my audience and to be snuggling in a nice warm bed. There is no pressure on these children when they are with the Barrio Dog therapy dogs. They can be who they truly are and not worry about being judged.

The Barrio Watch Dog Program teaches people of all ages how to identify animal abuse and how to report it when witnessed. Sadly, to some people, seeing a homeless, caged or tethered animal is normal.  Unfortunately too many animals everywhere, especially in the barrio, are treated as if they do not matter and with no appreciation whatsoever.  Barrio Dogs believes and wants people to know – this is NOT right and should NOT be accepted! Animals are our companions, and often our best friends; they feel pain just like we do and want to be loved just like each of us wantsand deserves.  They do not deserve to be chained to a tree every hour of their life hoping that their owners will not forget to feed or water them this time.  Nor do they deserve to be locked inside a small cage for hours on end, sometimes never allowed to come out. Barrio dogs reaches out to the caretakers of these animals and educates them on the importance of meeting their dog’s needs.

Another very important program is their Therapy Program.  They take kind-natured and rehabilitated dogs into homeless shelters, nursing homes and hospitals to bring not only animal awareness into the community but happiness to those who are visited.  This has been shown to help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and has many other health benefits for people of all ages that are lucky enough to have these rescued dogs visit.  Listening to the animal’s stories and the hardships they endured often gives people hope.

Barrio Dogs recently visited a childhood development center that is dedicated to homeless children named the House of Tiny Treasures. (Part of the SEARCH program.)  This center provides an educational start to children under the age of six in homeless families.   They also visit schools such as Browning Elementary and YESPrep North Central.  More schools and visits will be added in the future since education concerning animal welfare is their main priority.

Another one of their impressive programs is known as “Freedom Fence” which gives homeowners who do not want to chain their dogs another way to keep them from roaming.  This begins when a homeowner submits an application for the consideration of a dog friendly fence.  Once they are selected and meet all criteria, Barrio Dogs, along with the help of many much-appreciated volunteers, provides materials and labor to the resident and builds a solid, secure fence so their pet no longer needs to be tethered.  The owner must agree to be educated on proper animal care, sterilize the animal, consider the possibility of turning their animal into an indoor pet and of course must agree to follow-up visits to insure they are following the requirements.  Once the “Freedom Fence” is built, the dog is able to run freely in their own yard, safe from the streets and free from the constant weight of a chain.

Gloria and the other Barrio Dogs volunteers are constantly on the front lines of this overwhelmingly large crisis facing Americans everywhere. Through education on the importance of spay and neuter and the benefits of a positive relationship with your companion animals, Barrio Dogs is working towards a world where animal abuse and overpopulation are a thing of the past.


I was recently able to spend a day in the Greater East End with Gloria Zenteno– “homeless dog trenches” you could say.  It was just Gloria, LIFE+DOG photographer Mel Hammonds and me.  We set out on a Sunday morning looking for homeless dogs to help, people that we could talk with about the importance of spaying and neutering, chained dogs whose owners we should speak with about why their dogs should not be chained 24/7, and whatever else we may find along the way.  Not too long after stepping out of the car, we started to see dogs in almost every direction.  Chained dogs were in almost every back yard, loose dogs roamed the streets and most unfortunately many of those roaming dogs had obviously just had a litter.

There were several dogs inside a somewhat-fenced area with large gaping holes throughout the fence, where a trucking business was located.  I could tell that one of the dogs had recently had puppies.  When I asked the man working there where her puppies were, he responded in broken English that she only had one. Only one?  What happened to the others?  (I assume they were not healthy enough to make it but that’s my pessimistic animal-cruelty mind working overtime.) We asked him why his animals were not spayed or neutered.  He didn’t really give an answer and looked a bit confused as to what we were asking him and why.  So Gloria told him that she would be back with a translator to speak with him further and sure enough she was back the very next day for a follow up visit with that translator.  After speaking with the owner as to why taking care of your animals is important he decided to take three of the six dogs to the vet that day and planned on taking the other two and the puppy the next day!  All are scheduled to be spayed or neutered this month and Gloria plans to do a follow-up to insure that they are.  It’s incredible to see the action people want to take for their animals when given the education and opportunity.

Throughout the morning, we saw many more dogs living in conditions that were hard to see and had the opportunity to speak to several other dog owners about proper care for their companions. Even though I was nervous on my way to the area thinking about the sad things that I knew I would see that day, it turned out to be entirely worth it.  What a difference three ladies made on a Sunday morning by just talking to people about their animal’s welfare.  It was amazing to see Barrio Dogs in action.  I felt empowered knowing what a difference we made in a mere few hours time.  Seven dogs were now vetted and scheduled to be spayed and neutered simply by talking with their owners.  For those who think their one voice will not make a difference – volunteer your time with Barrio Dogs and you will see just what you are capable of.  Gloria believes that people are much more adept at making a difference than they give themselves credit for and that you can be your own hero.  Surprisingly, Gloria never even owned a dog until seven years ago!  Look at what she does for them now and what she has accomplished.  Her compassion to save animals and to be their voice is truly amazing!   So remember that it is never too late to start making a difference. Believe in yourself and make a difference today.

There is a devastatingly large animal overpopulation issue in this country, especially in Houston, and unfortunately the animal abuse rates are heart wrenching.  Barrio Dogs is diving into the root of these issues in neighborhoods where many people will not dare to enter.  Barrio Dogs is focusing on enlightening and educating as many people as possible in the Houston area who are willing to listen and learn.  Running entirely on donations and volunteers, Gloria needs your help today with any contribution you are able to offer.  She desperately wants to increase the educational teams that go into schools and is always looking for guest speakers.  Of course monetary donations in any amount are always greatly appreciated.  Please contact her if you are interested in helping her work towards her ideal world where no homeless animals walk the streets…where there are no barrio dogs.

For more information please visit Barrio Dogs online at www.barriodogs.org and visit them on Facebook.  You can also contact them at info@barriodogs.org

-Kate Smargiasso

Be Passionate.  Be Proactive.  Spay + Neuter.

Nature's Miracle