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More complaints surface: City of San Antonio Animal Care Services

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More complaints are surfacing today about the City of San Antonio's Animal Care Services. Residents sent this author new stories about what they say is shocking shelter mismanagement and miscategorization of dogs. Last week we told you how the City put more than 4,000 dogs to sleep in 2013 and many people are now calling for big time changes.

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This weekend San Antonio resident and community leader, Lori Beth Rodriguez, Ph.D., came forward with a story about Animal Care Services (ACS) she says is tragic. "I'm heartbroken and angry." Rodriguez founded the organization, Westside Dog Initiative, which aims to help strays in the Westside. Earlier this month, she says, she found this very sweet stray dog in a Pizza Hut parking lot and named her "Sandy". (More pictures of Sandy in the slideshow attached to this article.)

Rodriguez says she contacted ACS director Kathy Davis who convinced her to bring the dog to the City's shelter. "I told her that I was looking for a foster (home) and would be willing to foster and adopt her myself if she didn’t find a home. She encouraged me to surrender Sandy to ACS and assured me that, should a foster not be found for her, I would be able to foster her and receive medical treatment for her until I found her a home."

Feeling good about this arrangement, Rodriguez even snapped a picture of her driving Sandy to the shelter. Rodriguez says when she dropped the little pooch off she made sure everyone at ACS knew she would take the dog if a temporary or permanent home could not be found and Sandy should NOT be euthanized.

Days later, when Rodriguez got word no one was interested in Sandy, she says she was told if she wanted to foster the dog she needed to fill out an application. Rodriguez jumped on that immediately, sent in her information and was in the midst of finalizing any questions ACS had when she got this email stating: “I’m sorry this animal is no longer available for rescue, adoption or foster through ACS.”

Shocked, Rodriguez says, "Sandy had been put down and I had no notice or warning of this. I was heartbroken and immediately called an emailed Kathy Davis indicating my anger and sadness in how ACS handled this situation. She responded via email with an apology indicating that she would investigate this incident with her staff. I have yet to receive a response on this investigation."

Rodriguez is livid and started spreading the word about this via social media and is calling for a sweeping overhaul of ACS. "And I am not the only one. The people are tired of the city's ineffective practices and lip service. Individuals of good moral conscience should not condone this long-standing city-wide practice of animal cruelty. We are tired and are not going to take it anymore."

Longtime San Antonio animal volunteer Jenn Studley calls this yet another tragedy from inside the pound. "I am outraged and disgusted that ACS killed Sandy even though they knew the day she was brought in that she had someone willing to foster her. This kind of carelessness is inexcusable when these poor dogs are paying the price for their mistakes!"

Studley is also outraged about another dog which she says was miscategorized as vicious by ACS workers. This pooch, named Hunter, had this sign hanging on his kennel door warning: "Do Not Approach!!!", dog "Will Bite!!!" Studley says she glanced down at the tiny Chihuahua mix and she just didn't believe it. As her pictures prove soon after she entered the dog's kennel Hunter jumped into her arms and was not mean or aggressive. "All I could think of was, 'What would have happened to this very sweet and gentle soul had I not come down to the shelter that day? Would he have been euthanized because his time time ran out or would the no-kill shelter that ended up taking him after his family failed to pick him up refuse to even take him back since he was deemed aggressive?'"

Hunter is currently up for adoption.

Many residents and volunteers are planning to attend the next ACS board meeting on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 6:30pm to call for changes. Others are calling and emailing the Mayor's office, where Rodriguez just sent a four page letter outlining what happened to Sandy and demanding an investigation. "Rarely do you find a dog so playful and happy to be alive as Sandy. This is why I wanted to make sure I could foster her if no one else was willing to. You can only image how very upset when I received the cold email telling me Sandy had been euthanized while I was right in the middle of the foster application process; after the Director, Kathy Davis herself assured me that Sandy wouldn't be euthanized if I was willing to foster her. Someone needs to be held accountable for this."

The full text of her letter is at the bottom of this article.

This author reached out to the Mayor's office and to Kathy Davis for comment.

See related article: "Allegation of Animal Mistreatment at San Antonio Animal Care Services"

Letter Lori B. Rodriguez, Ph.D. wrote to San Antonio's mayor:

March 15, 2014

Mayor Julián Castro City of San Antonio P.O. Box 839966
San Antonio, TX 78283
RE: Urgent Issue Regarding Animal Care Services

Dear Mayor Castro,

My name is Lori Beth Rodriguez and we have met on a few occasions through various work I do in the community. I currently work with the National Hispanic Institute and previously served as an administrator at the Henry Ford Academy: Alameda School for Art + Design. We met and took a photo during Generation Texas’s college sign-up day at St. Mary’s University last year. I also serve as board president of San Anto Cultural Arts and we most recently met during your visit for the Paleta bicycle sculpture unveiling for the National Bike Month kick-off. I thank you for your support of meaningful work impacting our community members.

Today, however, I am writing to you as a concerned citizen and animal advocate. I am a proud OLLU graduate and Westside resident. In 2011, I founded the community organization, Westside Dog Initiative, and have been working with community members through education and awareness efforts in addressing the rampant stray dog overpopulation problem in our Westside neighborhoods while and also helping to improve the overall quality of life of the animals in this area. I have been doing this grassroots volunteer work since 2011 and since then WDI has independently rescued and adopted out over two dozen animals. All of this work has been done through community donations and volunteer time and effort.

Due to the overwhelming need of this work and committed community support, I am in the process of developing WDI into a non-profit and, in these efforts, have recently met with both Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales and Animal Care Services Director, Kathy Davis to see how we can work together toward more effective, community-based efforts in addressing this issue. I met with both individuals on Thursday, February 27, 2014 and both showed their overwhelming support of WDI’s efforts.

In my conversation with Kathy Davis about my work in rescuing animals on the Westside, I mentioned that I had recently rescued a stray from the Pizza Hut parking lot located on the corner of W. Commerce and 24th Street, near my home. I told her that “Sandy” or “Sandy Bear” (as I began calling her) turned out to be a sweet and loving dog despite being neglected for so long. I told her that I was looking for a foster and would be willing to foster and adopt her myself if she didn’t find a home. She encouraged me to surrender Sandy to ACS and assured me that, should a foster not be found for her, I would be able to foster her and receive medical treatment for her until I found her a home

As per Ms. Davis’ personal suggestion, I surrendered “Sandy” (ID# 285533) on March 5, 2014 and made sure that the intake staff member wrote my name and contact information with a note on Sandy’s file that I was interested in fostering should no other foster be found, as I did not want her to be euthanized. He did so and was sure to confirm my contact information with me. Then on Monday, March 10 I received a voicemail from ACS staff member Johnny Gonzalez indicating, in reference to Sandy, that:

“Nobody is interested in this dog,” that “it” had kennel cough, and that I needed to call him back “ASAP.” Gonzalez’s choice of words and demeanor in this message were quite insensitive. I called him back immediately and was assured by Gonzalez that he would make a note on Sandy’s file and was assured that he would “hold on to her” as I went through the foster application process.

Laura Long, ACS Rescue-Foster Coordinator also called on the same day (Monday) indicating that there was a note on the rescue’s paperwork stating that I was willing to foster if no other foster was found and asked that I submit an application as soon as possible.

I submitted an ACS foster application that day via email with the following information in the message:
“I received a voicemail regarding a stray that I had left off last week and that I indicated I would foster if need be. Her ID number is 285533. I am attaching my foster application to this email. You can call me at (210) xxx-xxxx for follow-up.

On Tuesday, March 11, I received an email from Laura Long stating that I needed proof of my current dog’s vaccinations prior to approval of my application. When I responded that day via email indicating that I could provide this within the next few days, the next response I received from Ms. Long was on Wednesday, March 12 simply stating:

“I’m sorry this animal is no longer available for rescue, adoption or foster through ACS.” Sandy had been put down and I had no notice or warning of this. I was heartbroken and immediately called an emailed Kathy Davis indicating my anger and sadness in how ACS handled this situation. She responded via email with an apology indicating that she would investigate this incident with her staff. I have yet to receive a response on this investigation. I have also reached out to Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales’ office and asked for her support in investigating this situation through communication with ACS. I have yet to receive a response from her personally; only an email from her Chief of Staff, Choco Meza, stating that they would investigate the matter.

This was the first time that I had surrendered a dog to ACS due to its high euthanasia rates. I instead would utilize our WDI network of community members to foster and adopt out these animals. I did so this one time only because Ms. Davis was so reassuring and seemed genuinely concerned for the well-being of these stray animals. Unfortunately, I have found my first and only experience in surrendering a dog to ACS very unpleasant and disturbing.

I am mainly concerned with: 1.) the lack of communication that occurred in this situation resulting in the death of an animal that had an interested foster, and 2.) the seeming non- compassionate manner with which staff members communicated with me, a potential foster who genuinely cared for the life of this animal.
Does euthanizing a rescue who had a willing foster sound like an effective practice for a city that is supposedly working hard toward “no-kill” status?

The next day, I went back to the location where I rescued Sandy to rescue a second dog that had accompanied her in the parking lot. I met a woman who lives next to the parking, Alicia Navarro, who told me that this area was a regular dumping ground for strays and that she would do her best to try to care for them on her own even though she had no money or transportation.

I told her about what had happened to Sandy and she was very upset. She teared up and kept saying, “She was such a happy dog.” She had named her Daisy and said that when she didn’t see her around in the past couple of days, she had hoped someone had rescued her. Despite not having a car, she even thought about going to a local shelter to see if she could find her. I felt so guilty for what I had done. I told her what had happened at ACS and she said, “That’s why I try to take care of them myself and don’t call the city because they just kill them.” Sadly, this is the community’s perception of our city’s efforts in dealing with stray animals, a perception that has unfortunately been confirmed for me first-hand.

In my conversation with Ms. Davis, she was very happy to announce that ACS had received a $100,000 grant for their new program called Pets for Life, which is to work with community members in District 5 to address the stray animal problem. She told me that the program was being restricted to the neighborhood just north of Elmendorf Park. And that they would have their kick-off event on Saturday, March 8 at Elmendorf Park, which I was unable to attend because I was out of town.

Incidentally, this is exactly the area where I rescued Sandy. And in my conversation with Ms. Navarro, I had mentioned this new program and the community event at the park. She had no awareness of this event, even though you can literally see the park from her house. My question is: If this grant is supposed to fund a program focused on community awareness, how did this woman who lives right next to the park not know about this event? What are the practices being used to engage community members and make real change in this area?
In my meeting with Councilwoman Gonzales, she invited me on one of her early morning walks with ACS officers to “pick up strays.” My question to her is: What happens to those strays once they are “picked up?” And is this really a humane and effective solution to this problem? Neighborhood sweep-and-kill practices are not the solution.

Our city can do better.

With San Antonio on the national stage as a “model city” of the future, we should not condone these types of inhumane and negligent practices and need to work toward effective, community-focused and humane methods in addressing this issue. The city needs to work harder to change its negative image among community members who simply see ACS as animal killers.

In sharing my experience with friends and colleagues on Facebook, I have received overwhelming support and have been encouraged to contact the media to shed light on these inhumane and negligent practices. Friends who are attorneys have also volunteered to assist in any legal action I might be willing to take. Before doing either of these, I wanted to contact you to explain this incident within the larger context of a long-standing and serious issue in our city.

Mayor Castro, I am reaching out to you asking for your help. I request a serious investigation on ACS’s practices; specifically their Rescue-Foster program so as to ensure that this type of miscommunication and negligence is not a regular practice at ACS. I am also requesting a mayoral commission on the status of the city’s stray animal population and the methods and practices being used to effectively and humanely address this prevalent issue both in its rescue/foster and prevention efforts.

I know that you are very busy and do much for our community and I am sorry to have to report this incident to you. I just want this situation to be rectified so as to prevent future incidences such as this and to ensure more humane methods in caring for the well-being of our animal community members who deserve, at the very least, to be treated humanely.

I hope that Sandy’s death won’t in vain and that there will be some justice that comes out of this experience. I hope that you can provide me with some reassurance that this formal complaint to you will be handled in a responsible and timely manner. I would also welcome a meeting with you about this issue.

Thank you in advance for your consideration,
Lori B. Rodriguez, Ph.D.

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