RPOA Jul 22

>From RPOA Texas Outreach and
Responsible Pet Owners Alliance
Crossposting is encouraged.
July 22, 2013

San Antonio, TX, is the most anti-pet city in the U.S. with an onerous
ordinance requiring fees, fines and permits for owning almost all pets and
livestock, including more than 3 feathered friends. The SA Express News has
an excellent report on the stray animal problem (below) and their No Kill
Initiative. The city has misinterpreted “No Kill” to mean “No Intakes” so
the animals are dumped to roam the streets breeding, biting, and spreading
disease. All this in spite of having 6-7 free and low cost pet spay/neuter
programs for the past 6 years in the city and spending millions on multiple
adoption and spay/neuter facilities citywide. Pet sterilization does not
solve all animal problems evidently. Nor does excessive city bureaucracy.
All animal problems lie in low income neighborhoods and San Antonio is the
7th most populous city in the U.S. with one of the highest poverty rates.
While we’re still studying what “will” work, we already know what “won’t”
work! SA Animal Care Services plays a shell game, taking credit for what
the nonprofit animal groups do in a united effort to save impounded animals.
San Antonio Express-News
City’s massive stray problem despite no-kill goal success!
By Vincent T. Davis, Staff Writer
July 21, 2013

(Subscription not necessary to access story)

In one neighborhood northwest of downtown, stray dogs roam the streets and
chase bicyclists. On many South and West side roads, they often are seen
trotting after cars, kids and joggers. And on the East Side, packs of strays
have been a part of the landscape since before A.J. Kendricks moved there
more than a dozen years ago.

Kendricks, 65, said he finds droppings on the front lawn of his home on
Center Street every day and has to hose the waste away when it’s scattered
across his sidewalk. In the summer, when the temperature rises, the stench
is overwhelming.
“Just like an outhouse,” he said.

A few miles away, Alfredo Luna, 67, said strays have taken over his
neighborhood, just northwest of downtown.
Pointing to the nearby intersection of San Francisco Street and Michigan
Avenue, Luna recalled where dogs attacked him last year as he rode his bike
home. He said the pack tore a hole in his jeans and knocked him to the
“The more you fight, the more they keep coming at you,” Luna said, adding
that he now avoids the area.

According to Animal Care Services, an estimated 150,000 dogs and 187,000
cats roam the city’s streets. And each day, an untold number of pets are
dumped in and around San Antonio. Cases of cruelty to animals are all too

While ACS has been touting that it has averaged a live release rate of 79
percent since January – surpassing its no-kill goal of 70 percent by 2015 –
the number reflects only the animals that make it to a shelter.
Hundreds of thousands remain on the streets, including many that have owners
but are allowed to roam wild.

“It’s kind of tragic that we don’t have a stronger connection with our
pets,” said Kathy Davis, ACS director. “They depend on us for everything.
… We … should be protecting them.”

ACS and its rescue partners are tackling these issues by waging an education
and prevention campaign, offering free and low-cost spay/neutering surgeries
in targeted areas and filing more animal cruelty cases with the Bexar County
district attorney’s office.

Mayor Julián Castro said he’s confident the community is moving in the right
“The fact that we’re knocking on the door of the no-kill goal is
phenomenal,” Castro said. “At the same time, we still have too many folks
who think animals are discardable. There’s a lot of education that still
needs to be done.”

Living with strays
Stray animals aren’t just a nuisance and hygiene concern. All too often,
loose dogs turn aggressive, threatening the safety of the city.

Veterinary technician Joshua Chronley carries a dog into surgery at the
city’s Animal Care Services department. The facility performed about 100
spay and neuter surgeries on Tuesday, July 16, 2013. The procedures are done
as part of the process to getting the animals adopted from the shelter.

According to a United States Postal Service report in May, San Antonio tied
with Seattle as having the second-highest number of dog bites in the
country, behind Los Angeles.
According to ACS, so far in fiscal year 2013, there have been 2,924 animal
bites, mostly by dogs.

Jesus Ramon, 51, still is recovering from a loose pit bull attack outside
his home on the Northeast Side in 2011 that required 250 stitches and two
skin graft surgeries.
He’s lost a third of the range of motion in his right Achilles’ tendon. Now
when his ankle swells up, he takes medicine that eases the pain, but not his
wariness of the many dogs that wander his neighborhood.

The dog that bit him had an owner.
“I believe people need to stop making excuses about their animals,” Ramon
said. “It’s just being careless. I don’t know if anyone can do anything for
their mindset. You don’t understand until you’ve been there.”

Alice Barnett, 84, has been there. She was bitten in May by a shepherd mix
while standing near her mailbox at her East Side home.
Barnett said she’s been bitten five times over the past four years,
including twice by the same shepherd mix. That dog was deemed dangerous by
ACS, which cited the owner for the attacks. The owner now keeps the dog

For the first bite, Barnett received seven stitches in her right ankle, and
every bite after has been in the same place – the last wound had so much
trouble healing she had to consult a bone specialist. “It got to the place
where we had to call the police and everything else to keep the dogs from
coming over here,” she said. “For so long I lived with these bites; I wasn’t
the only one.”

Lisa Norwood, spokeswoman for ACS, said it’s difficult to fight an
all-too-common mindset that it’s OK to let pets wander the streets. But she
said ASC hopes its education campaigns help significantly bring down the
number of strays.

“One of the things we see here at ACS is animals that have collars, tags and
some semblance of training,” Norwood said. “You have to wonder, why would
they allow their animal to roam and take their chances on the street? How
impactful would it be on the number of pets roaming the streets if owners
kept them on their property?”

Thousands of animals, too, die on the streets and are collected by the
city’s solid waste department. Last fiscal year, the department said 34,107
animal remains were picked up, including nearly 16,000 dogs and nearly
12,000 cats.

Culture of disposability
On Sunday mornings, staff members at Missions Espada and San Juan often find
animals dropped off outside their respective churches. The workers also
report seeing occupants in cars every weekend toss out animals in plastic
bags as they drive by at dusk.

Local animal experts said incidents of people dumping animals in and around
the city are too numerous to track, and many more go unreported.

State and city laws prohibit the dumping or abandonment of animals. If
caught, violators could face hefty fines and penalties, as well as a
two-year stint in jail and up to a $10,000 fine.

Animal advocates estimate there are more than 60 area dumping sites,
including city and rural parks.
“Any area that’s rural, that’s what people look for,” Norwood said. “I think
there’s a built-in shame. People know it’s wrong, so they look for places to
do it surreptitiously.”

In the face of overwhelming numbers, some residents who live near dump sites
have created groups to deal with strays through spaying and neutering or

Two years ago, Amanda Evrard created a Facebook page, “The Cemetery Dogs,”
to find homes for the packs that roam the San Jose Burial Park graveyard at
8235 Mission Road. Since then, the page has garnered 1,131 likes and a
network of volunteers who post photos of stray dogs in need of homes.

In 2009, Christine Hetherly-Thigpen created Protecting Animals Within San
Antonio when stray dogs started coming onto the Harlandale High School
campus every week and she was concerned for the students’ safety.

A former reading teacher, Hetherly-Thigpen wanted to promote responsible pet
ownership among students and a more compassionate change of attitude toward

The group works with students and the community to educate San Antonians
about proper pet care and to provide veterinary care for animals without

“It’s tragic that people are so irresponsible that they see animals as just
a piece of trash they don’t want anymore,” Hetherly-Thigpen said. “It’s an
ongoing daily struggle.”

Hetherly-Thigpen said her club works with no-kill rescues such as Katie’s
Roadside Rescue and Roxy’s K-9 Rescue to find new homes for strays.

“It’s an unfortunate culture of disposability,” Norwood said. “That’s kind
of the thought, and sometimes people apply that to their animals.”

Norwood said that although ACS doesn’t encourage such community groups
because of safety concerns, it does partner with several groups to help with
trapping services. And ultimately, what they do is a good thing.
“Any help is just that: help,” she said.

Acts of cruelty
High-profile animal cruelty stories have abounded this year and do not seem
to be abating.

In May, a man surrendered his dog, Frank, to ACS after his neighbors
reported the man for performing surgery on his pet. The injured dog had
orange twine stitched through his wound, with silver duct tape covering the

That same month, a witness called ACS about a man who chained Buddy, a pit
bull puppy, to a highway guardrail at the Interstate 10 East access road at
West Avenue. The chain was anchored to 35 pounds of barbell weights.

In June, George the duck, a longtime River Walk mascot, was strangled and
killed by two men, receiving national coverage and outrage. A $15,000 reward
is being offered by ACS and the Humane Society of the United States for
information about the men’s identities.

And earlier this month, ACS officers rescued two puppies found on a West
Side curb, tied in garbage bags inside a cardboard box, and a pair of pups
was found in the bed of a pickup at Woodlawn Lake Park. One died of heat
exhaustion, and the other, named Ginger, was been taken in by a local foster

In fiscal year 2012, ACS recorded 1,144 cruelty calls and 7,452 neglect
calls. From October 2012 through May 31, ACS has received 601 critical
cruelty calls and 5,133 neglect claims – a pace that is on track to surpass
last year’s totals.

ACS cruelty investigator Audra Houghton said she believes the uptick is due
in part to people being more alert and reporting more cases.

“I think it’s just that people are more aware of how to report, who to
report to and what the process is,” she said. “And that the outcome is
someone might go to jail for what they did.”

The animal care ordinance was revamped and toughened in 2007, increasing the
severity of animal abuse charges and their penalties.

When an animal cruelty or neglect call comes in, ASC investigators respond,
calling police when needed.
If someone is charged, misdemeanor cases go to Judge Daniel Guerrero at
Municipal Court No. 4 aka Animal Court. Higher-level misdemeanors and
felonies go to the district attorney’s office.

“The goal is compliance,” ACS Assistant Director Vincent Medley said.
“Enforcement is the last resort. However, we are going to hold people
accountable when those situations become so severe that the animal suffers
and the law requires us to take action.”

In fiscal year 2012, ACS filed 18 cruelty investigation cases with the
district attorney’s office, including charges of cruel confinement, pitting
one dog against another, torture and abandonment. Since January, ACS has
filed more than 75 cases of animal cruelty with the district attorney’s

First Assistant District Attorney, Cliff Herberg, said anyone who tortures
animals will be prosecuted.
“We take these cases seriously,” Herberg said. “These are the kinds of cases
that touch hearts. The public is rightly outraged about that kind of

How to solve
When Cathy McCoy drives to work on the West Side, she scans the neighborhood
for the strays on which she’s keeping tabs. It’s a welfare check of sorts
for McCoy, executive director of SpaySA, located at 5357 W. Commerce St.

The nonprofit works with the San Antonio Humane Society, Animal Defense
League of Texas and Poquita Paws Rescue to find homes for the dogs that come
to their building, where veterinary staff perform 40 to 100 spay/neuter
surgeries each day.
McCoy said she’s excited to hear about the city’s live release rate, but
wishes other percentages would also increase.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have a 90 percent no-kill rate and be 90 percent
free of strays?” McCoy said. “Strays on the streets, (now) that’s cruelty.”

Norwood said increasing spay/neuter operations is the solution to truly
solving the stray animal issue in San Antonio.
“We will never be completely successful,” she said, “if we don’t get a
handle on the number of unintended litters born here everyday.”

A major part of the city’s strategic plan hinges on a new $5 million
multipurpose pet adoption center across from the San Antonio Zoo scheduled
to open this fall. It will house both a clinic that’s projected to provide
an additional 7,000 spay/neuter operations by its third year and a pavilion
for educational workshops and family gatherings.

The current ACS veterinary clinic performs an average of 60 spay/neuter
operations a day and 1,400 a month. Recently, the clinic completed 115
operations in one day, a record for the department.

ACS also upgraded its dispatch system in June. The new $30,000 system
outfitted each vehicle with a GPS unit so dispatchers know who the closest
officer is to a new call. It also upgraded the call prioritization feature
on each officer’s laptop.
Officials say already they’ve seen an improvement in response time.

ACS Director Davis said the department, too, has a neighborhood sweep
initiative to educate residents about the importance of keeping pets secure
on their property.

Norwood said that last year, the department focused its campaign for
responsible pet ownership by targeting neighborhoods in high-risk, high-bite
areas with bilingual ads on billboards with messages such as “Leash ’em, Fix
’em and Love ’em,” and spots on radio and TV stations.

The initiative targets ZIP codes with high stray populations to spread the
word about protecting animals and how to access free and low-cost
spay/neuter surgeries.

Another component of the program is reaching out to children and their
parents. For the past three years, ACS has held Animal Allies summer camp,
where youths work with shelter pets and learn about responsible pet
“What you put in to them is what you get out,” Davis said. “It is a
responsibility issue and education is the way through that.”