In a battle that measures victory in lives saved, territory claimed and opponents disarmed, San Antonio is winning its “No Kill shelters” fight on all offensive fronts and in record numbers.
Over the last twelve months, more of SA’s shelter animals were released alive, more of the city’s neighborhoods received services and more pets were sterilized than ever before. This year, the city’s live release rate hit a high of 85% and could reach the national standard 90% next year. But, for every captured pet placed in a home, there are thousands of furry fugitives still on the run. To win its larger animal welfare war, San Antonio must enlist more pet owners who contribute to the city’s staggering animal over-population. These residents live in the war zones and take the most hits in the battle. Yet, as community soldiers, they’ve been missing in action.
SIZING UP THE THREAT
This year, Animal Care Services released 25,776 impounded animals to partner shelters, rescues and through public adoptions. This gave it and even higher 91% live release rate among “healthy and adoptable” pets. But, ACS’ shelter took in 29,272 stray and free-roaming dogs and cats; too many to accommodate. As a result, among the animals ACS euthanized, were pets who were fit to be adopted.
Forty-percent of the pets ACS impounded were younger than 4 months old. Animal advocates fear this signals a “puppy boom” and a “stray explosion” in a community already drowning in more than 100,000 strays, most of which were abandoned by their owners.
And, it gets worse.
This year, garbage trucks had to pick up 22,796 pet carcasses from in and around San Antonio’s neighborhoods. That means, nearly six times as many dogs and cats died abandoned on streets and sidewalks than were humanely put down at one shelter.
SNIPPING THE STRAY PROBLEM IN THE BUD
MEDICS ON THE FRONT LINES
Studies show that one of the most effective weapons to combat animal overpopulation is widespread spay and neuter surgery. If you want to save one animal, find him a home. If you want to save hundreds, get your dog neutered. One unaltered pet can have hundreds of offspring. So, ACS leads a coalition of surgical allies who provide low cost pet sterilizations and even free ones for underserved citizens. The surgical allies include ACS, Animal Defense League (ADL), Spay Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP), The San Antonio Humane Society, SpaySA, and Petshotz Clinic.
Together, these animal champions are a force that dwarfs those of bigger cities with stray crises. The Dallas Metro Area’s human population is six times larger than San Antonio’s. Yet, Dallas has only one pet sterilization clinic. This year alone as a team, SA’s surgical allies have performed more sterilization surgeries than Dallas has since Dallas opened its sole clinic in 2012. Dallas’ clinic doesn’t offer free spay and neuter surgeries. In the last 12 months SA’s allied surgeons performed 13,500 sterilizations at no cost to residents living in underserved and high stray population neighborhoods.
TOP REASONS PETS GET FIXED
The free sterilizations are on target, according to the findings of a 2005 study by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy. More than 6,500 owners of dogs and cats- – whose litters weren’t expected – -were asked why they didn’t get their pet spayed or neutered after the unplanned births. Among both dog and cat owners, the top two reasons were, “Could Not Afford It” and, “Did Not Know Was In Heat.” In a similar study, The American Veterinary Medical Association was more blunt in its conclusion. The AVMA said, “The top 2 reasons pets aren’t sterilized are:
1.“Lack of affordability” 2.“Irresponsible ownership.”
THE IDEAL RECRUIT?
For 15 years, Eddie Rodriguez has lived in SA’s 3rd District where more than 1800 dog attacks were reported between 2005 and 2010. He says “Kids can’t play outside because it’s too dangerous.” He wants things to change. Eddie’s story that includes common misconceptions makes him an ideal recruit prospect in SA’s animal welfare war:
He’s angry at pet owners who don’t fix their dogs. (Yet, his own dog isn’t neutered.)
He says, “It should be illegal to just abandon your dog.” (It is.)
- Despite being recently attacked by strays, he was criminally cited and ordered to court.
PROOF OF SHOTS GETS CASE DISMISSED
In August, Eddie was walking his Chihuahua mix, “Snoopy” – -unleashed- -in front of his house. He says, “Suddenly, stray dogs appeared out of nowhere and attacked Snoopy.” As Eddie reached down to break up the fight, it was Snoopy who sank his fangs deeply into his owner’s ankle. Eddie’s wound required medical attention. A doctor treated Eddie’s bite, gave him a tetanus shot and then promptly reported Eddie to ACS for “owning a biting dog who wasn’t rabies-vaccinated.” ACS cited him and ordered him to appear before a judge in SA’s animal court where both criminal and civil misdemeanors are handled. That’s when Eddie finally whisked Snoopy off to get his shots. Armed with vaccination records when he went to court, the judge dismissed Eddie’s case.
COULDN’T AFFORD THE SURRENDER FEES
Krystal Bravo lives in SA’s most “dog-dangerous” neighborhood. Her house is in District 5 just south of Commerce where SA’s highest number of attacks have been reported. In the most recent period on record, an average of six dog attacks a day were reported to ACS. But, it wasn’t until Krystal’s own dog joined those vicious ranks that she jumped to the top of SA’s “ideal recruit prospect” list.
- In August, Krystal’s Pit Bull mix “…suddenly snapped, and kept threatening to bite my family.”
- In a fifth successive fit of aggression, “Peanut” attacked Krystal and bit her hard.
- When ACS ordered her to surrender Peanut she, instead, “concealed” the dangerous dog.
- Her ultimate solution was leaving the biting Pit mix tied to a tree in another neighborhood.
It started the way most dog attack stories do. “We’ve had Peanut for three years. He’s always been sweet-natured and wouldn’t hurt a flea,” says Krystal. “I’ve walked out our front door and watched stray dogs maul my cat to pieces, but Peanut would never hurt anyone.”
Until, he did.
A few months ago, Peanut “…began snarling and getting in his attack stance like he was gonna bite us.” Peanut became unusually aggressive in four different situations. In the fifth incident, he attacked Krystal, “…biting a huge chunk out of my leg.” Krystal says that after her injury was treated, she called ACS to pick up the dog, but says, “ACS was gonna charge me a lot of money to get rid of him.” So, Krystal kept Peanut home. ACS then sent a letter demanding dog quarantine and human contact from Krystal. When she didn’t respond, ACS cited Krystal for “Failing to Surrender A Biting Dog,” “Concealing a biting animal,” and “Failing to Vaccinate Against Rabies.” That’s when Krystal made a decision that underlies the cause of SA’s stray animal crisis.
LEFT TO DIE TIED TO A TREE
Now ordered to face a judge in court, Krystal wanted Peanut out of the house, fast. So, she had her uncle put a rope around Peanut’s neck and drive him just far enough away to prevent him from finding his way home. Krystal’s uncle then tied Peanut to a tree and took off. In court, Krystal was able to say she no longer had Peanut. Because Krystal was the bite victim, the prosecutor dropped the “Failure To Surrender” and the “Concealing A Biting Dog” charges. Only the rabies violation stands. She feels badly about abandoning Peanut and says, “I just didn’t know what to do with him.”
After Krystal’s hearing, we learned Peanut had also never been neutered. “My grandmother wouldn’t allow it because she thinks fixing a dog makes his attitude weak,” explained Krystal. This means that- – if her abandoned Pit mix didn’t die from dehydration, starvation or strangulation while tied to that tree- -the hormonally charged, rabies-vulnerable and biting Pit mix would likely run loose where families with children live.
AN ACS OFFICER LAYS DOWN THE LEASH LAW
HOLDING OFFENDERS ACCOUNTABLE
While it can’t force anyone to help the cause, ACS can stop law breakers it catches hurting it. ACS is the “Police of the animal world.” This year, it has been busy holding offenders accountable. In 2015, the agency issued more than 7,000 citations. A majority of them became court cases.
Pawderosa Ranch examined records of all the ACS-led cases prosecutors filed between January and September of this year. The cases are all misdemeanors and are separated into criminal and civil offenses. This year, there are 4,582 civil cases being heard. These are the less serious charges such as failing to microchip, letting an animal run loose, allowing a dog to become a (non-vicious) nuisance and the illegal sale of an animal.
There are 740 criminal cases. Here’s a snapshot of some of those charges:
With every animal crime committed, the city’s no kill efforts take a hit. It is the neglected and abused pets who – -when picked up- -are most likely to be deemed “so sick or behaviorally-impaired,” ACS is has no choice but to euthanize them. The city of San Antonio, donors and The San Antonio Area Foundation have invested millions of dollars into preventative education and outreach programs hoping to head court cases off in classrooms, community centers and during door to door information walks. ACS’ Lisa Norwood says, “If pet owners would just spay/neuter and keep their pets in their own yards, 70% of our stray problem would be solved.” But, while the combination of education, free surgeries and law enforcement have made important strides, the city’s stray crisis stays a greyhound’s gate ahead.
Municipal Court Judge, Lisa Gonzales presided over the animal court proceedings we observed. We watched her dismiss some cases against defendants who had corrected their violations and who took responsibility for their actions. Inspiring the Eddies and the Krystals of the city to become part of the solution remains the biggest challenge of the war.
There is no draft. Enlistment is voluntary.
But, after observing animal court and talking with a handful of defendants, we wondered if there isn’t an opportunity for a pseudo-draft, here. Currently, if a judge in animal court wants to sentence a defendant, the only option is to impose a fine. The records we reviewed show many fined defendants don’t pay up. Why not add community service as a sentence option? Convicted pet owners could be ordered to specific stray crisis-related duty in their own neighborhoods. Out of the potentially thousands of offenders “judicially-recruited” to these community service posts every year, some might choose to stay with it as home front generals.
Contact: Christi O’Connor firstname.lastname@example.org (210) 872-5907