Animal programs

Why San Antonio could fall below the ‘no-kill’ standard

San Antonio officials are seeking to expand the city’s animal care services as the shelter warns it will miss its euthanasia goal for the first time in five years.

Based on projections, the city estimated that 88% of all animals brought to the shelter were released from October through July in fiscal year 2022.

Ninety percent or more is the accepted standard of “no-kill” that shelters across the United States use. The release rate is the number of animals adopted, rescued and transferred to another shelter or lost animals returned to owners.

Lisa Norwood, spokeswoman for the ACS, said the department is doing more outreach at the start of the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The shelter reached out to residents through strategic planning engagements and surveys used at town hall meetings. Norwood said feedback from the sessions helped frame next year’s budget request.

“The intention is to put in place proactive measures to help us get back on track,” Norwood said. “And not just hit 90%, but exceed it. There is always room to do more, to be better, and that is what we intend to do.

The department is expected to receive $21.4 million in the city’s next budget, up 15.7% from $18.5 million last year. About $1.2 million of the funding would help ACS make improvements and hire 14 new employees. The additional positions are nine veterinarians and five staff to expand the customer service team that responds to 311 and ACS calls.

Some staff at the San Antonio Animal Care Services Center are taking in dogs and keeping them with them in their offices at work, as seen Friday afternoon. (Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Contributor)

KAYLEE GREENLEE BEAL 2022

The rest of the additional funding will go to vaccination clinics, with the goal of vaccinating 2,400 pets per year; spaying and sterilization surgeries, with a target of 12,455 free procedures per year; and improvements to three playground structures.

Regardless of budget, ACS is expected to secure a new $17.3 million animal hospital through San Antonio’s 2022 bond program.

District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez represents the East Side, where many residents are frustrated with stray animals. During a staff presentation on Tuesday afternoon, he expressed concern that the city is not increasing the ACS budget at the same rate as other departments.

“When they want to walk around their neighborhood, or when they try to walk their dog, they get attacked by packs of strays,” McKee-Rodriguez said of the residents he represents.

While he wants to see the live release rate increase, he also wants to be sure the ACS looks at other measures of success that would determine how well the city cares for the animals.

A national trend

Some staff at the San Antonio Animal Care Services Center are taking in dogs and keeping them with them in their offices at work, as seen Friday afternoon.  (Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Contributor)

Some staff at the San Antonio Animal Care Services Center are taking in dogs and keeping them with them in their offices at work, as seen Friday afternoon. (Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Contributor)

KAYLEE GREENLEE BEAL 2022

Norwood said that due to veterinarian shortages, ACS has conducted nationwide outreach and worked with nonprofits and private practices in San Antonio and Texas to bring more veterinary services. community pet sterilization.

She said this exercise, 17% of the 21,000 animals brought in were owner abandonments, the highest percentage of such intake in five years. Fifty-six percent of pets surrendered by their owners to ACS were abandoned due to job loss or eviction.

Norwood said there is currently a four to five month wait for people to make an appointment to return a pet. In the meantime, she said, ACS provides access to trainers, free and low-cost veterinary resources, and additional tools for finding placement for pets outside of the shelter.

Large-scale pounds of six or more pets have increased from 333 in 2021 to more than 400 in 2022. In 2021, ACS brought back 56 pets from evictions; in 2022, it brought in 239.

Norwood said ACS has historically had a harder time finding placement for big dogs and this year is no different. One of the ways ACS has addressed this concern is by allowing staff to foster, including keeping pets in the offices, with several large dogs housed on campus. At the end of the working day, some cats and dogs return home to their ACS foster families and some spend the night in crates in offices, depending on their needs.

During this fiscal year, from October to July, 2,377 animals were euthanized. This is an increase of almost 37% from 2021, when 1,741 people were euthanized during the same period. The shelter’s highest live release rates were in fiscal year 2018, at 91.6%, and fiscal year 2020, at 92.1%.

Big dogs fill the kennels at the San Antonio Animal Care Services Center on Friday afternoon.  Many puppies were left at the center still wearing their collars bearing their owner's address and phone numbers.  (Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Contributor)

Big dogs fill the kennels at the San Antonio Animal Care Services Center on Friday afternoon. Many puppies were left at the center still wearing their collars bearing their owner’s address and phone numbers. (Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Contributor)

KAYLEE GREENLEE BEAL 2022

Bethany Colonnese, ACS’s chief operating officer, said factors that led to the declining release rate include a large number of animals being retrieved during evictions, a nationwide shortage of veterinarians and a slowdown in the ‘economy. She said the shelter received more unspayed and neutered dogs and cats, a higher rate of unhealthy pets and fewer adopters. In fiscal year 2022, from October to July, there were 3,783 adoptions; there were 4,380 adoptions during the same time period in 2021. Since fiscal 2018, the ACS reported a 61% increase in injured animals brought to the shelter.

“Unfortunately, when those things don’t line up, we’ll start to see a decrease in the live stream rate,” Colonnese said. “As a shelter, we have to make a decision on how we are going to react to this.”

Shelters across the country have reported similar issues. According to the Best Friends Animal Society, 83% of the 4.6 million dogs and cats in shelters were released alive in 2021. Best Friends’ mission is to end the euthanasia of cats and dogs in shelters. country shelters.

In January, the company reported that issues at shelters had become more difficult during the pandemic. A survey of 150 animal agencies and shelters said the coronavirus contributed to shorter hours, fewer adoption events, less support for animal care and fewer in-person volunteers.

Holly Sizemore, mission manager for Best Friends Animal Society, said COVID has changed how shelters operate. She said during the pandemic there were a lot of safety net programs that don’t exist now.

“Clearly staffing shortages have made it difficult for shelters,” Sizemore said. “Animals are not adopted. Admission is up from last year and adoptions are slowing, putting many in a moment of crisis.

According to a Mars Veterinary Health study, approximately 2,500 to 2,600 graduates enter the workforce each year, with approximately 2,000 veterinarians leaving the field.

Sizemore said the shortage in the United States is making it difficult for pet owners and shelters who depend on veterinarians to keep operations running smoothly.

“It’s daunting,” Sizemore said, “but we find that with the right program in place, we can alleviate the problem.”

Writer Megan Stringer contributed to this report.

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