Four thousand, eight hundred thirty one. According to our analysis of the City of San Antonio’s own records 4,831 dogs were euthanized by its Animal Care Services department last year. Nearly 2,000 of those dogs were listed in the reports as “healthy".
Those numbers came as a shock to volunteers who try to help find the pound pups new homes, like Laurie Williams, “It is disgusting that so many are killed. That is atrocious!”
More than 2,300 of the dogs put to sleep were listed as “unhealthy and untreatable". Some volunteers have their hackles up about that number, saying miscategorizations and miscommunications within the City’s Animal Care Services (ACS) is causing some animals to die unnecessarily.
There’s no question the San Antonio shelter is dealing with an overwhelming animal overpopulation problem. In fiscal year 2013 ACS took in more than 21,000 dogs. Many irresponsible pet owners don’t spay and neuter their dogs and allow them to roam freely. When those stray adult dogs and their puppies end up in the city pound cages fill up quickly. When people don’t claim their own dog and people don’t offer to rescue, foster or adopt the animal within the time frame ACS assigns, dogs are euthanized. It's something that breaks Texas animal rescue volunteer, Teresa O'Toole Garrone's heart. "Sad. Just so sad. All of those lives lost. And it could have been prevented. If owners would just be responsible."
Complaints about mislabeling and assessment errors
When a dog comes into the shelter city records say ACS employees do an assessment of the animal's health and behavior to see if it would make a good candidate for adoption. That process has volunteers like Jennifer Studley concerned. She complains mishaps and incorrect evaulations in the San Antonio shelter are not helping the already tragic situation.
During a visit to the pound Studley noticed one dog had a “STOP - DO NOT APPROACH- WILL BITE” sign on her kennel door. (See slideshow attached to this article for pictures of the sign and dog.) Studley noticed it was the dog’s last day being held, so she decided to check this pooch out a little closer. “I sat on the floor in front of her and she was not showing any signs of aggression towards me. I placed my hand inside her kennel. I took video of my interaction with her from both inside and outside of her kennel. I took her out on a leash where she interacted with other dogs and people including a 5 year old who gave her a treat.”
Studley says what happened next was very upsetting. “After showing the video to an ACS employee, I was told the best thing she could do was give her a 24 hour hold (a 24 hold from being euthanized) for me.” Studley got to work, spreading the word about this mislabeled dog. A friend of Studley’s ended up adopting her and tells Studley she's the best dog she’s ever had. (Pictures of dog in slideshow.)
And this dog, posted on Studely's Facebook, as she holds the dog in her arms was mislabled as well, she says. This "Will Bite", "Do Not Approach" sign scared away a lot of potential adopters. (Note as of 3/13/2014 this dog still needs a home ASAP.)
Now Studley is now calling for changes in the shelter's assessment process, knowing many dogs react initially out of fear when being placed in the pound. “I feel it is unfair to hang a death sentence on the door of any kennel unless the dog has been properly evaluated, not just written off because of how she reacted to the animal control officer when she was puled from the street by a catch pole and placed in a box in the truck.”
Volunteers post similar types of stories about ACS assessments that were not accurate on social media like this dog, who was also labeled aggressive. Rescuers who pulled her from the pound now describe her as "super sweet".
Social media posters share and comment on what on they say are other heartbreaking stories from inside the San Antonio pound, like this pooch. The post says city animal control officers actually came to her rescue when she was stuck in a drain pipe. When no one offered to rescue, foster or adopt the dog ACS euthanized her.
(For more on these types of cases, please see update to this article dated: 3/16/2014 "More complaints surface about City of San Antonio Animal Care Services".)
Claims of miscommunications
Other Facebook posts about the San Antonio shelter describe shocking miscommunications. Several times volunteers say rescue groups or adopters called or emailed ACS saying they were coming to pick up a dog up from the pound, but word didn’t get through and animals were euthanized, like this dog named "Princess". If you read the thread disheartened posters wrote things like, "This baby had a chance to be saved and they screwed things up..." and "This girl had a rescue, foster and me as (a) transport set up..."
On this social media entry volunteers say a rescuer emailed ACS within the deadline allotted for "Luke", saying they would take him, but Luke was already euthanized. More anguishing comments popped up on the post, like, "RIP sweet baby Luke...so sorry we have failed again...."
Petition: Dogs killed while there was space available at the shelter
We found there’s currently an online petition circulating with more than 1900 signatures asking ACS director, Kathy Davis, to “Stop the shelter from euthanizing animals when there are open kennels!” Volunteers say that's what happened to this dog, Ozzy. A commenter on the Facebook post says, “ACS had 60 open kennels today but not spare one to give this beautiful baby an extra day shame on ACS.”
Elizabeth Barrera created the internet call for action. "I've been told by ACS administration that they need to have kennel space for the incoming animals. But how do they know just how many? They don't know. They kill animals to make room for the unexpected number of animals coming in. Could they think of a better system?Have a tighter control of inventory so that more dogs are spared?"
Barrera's petition is one of just a number of online petitions raising questions and asking for transparency in how San Antonio operates its shelter.
City of San Antonio response
The City of San Antonio mayor’s office and city manager’s office did not respond to requests for comment. When this author made a request for information using public records laws the city provided copies of ACS policies.
In a memo dated May 30, 2013 the city states it’s "Strategic Plan" is, “1) Enhanced Enforcement; 2) Controlling the Stray population; and 3) Increasing the Live Release rate.”
The City also released its euthanasia policy, signed by ACS Director Kathy Davis. It says, “Euthanasia is considered the department’s last option for the disposition of animals. At times it is necessary for ACS to perform euthanasia due to concerns regarding medical condition, behavior or shelter capacity. While the decision to euthanize can be made at any time buy authorized individuals, the decision is primarily discussed by leadership from each division during daily shelter rounds.”
According to more records the city released, if a dog ends up at the shelter as a stray, ACS' policy on holding the dogs says: If there’s no identification on a pooch, like tags, a tattoo or microchip the dog is held for three days. For dog’s that do have identification, their hold time is increased to five days. If an owner surrenders their dog, or brings them to the pound, there’s no mandated hold time. Once a dog’s time is up, it’s up to ACS staff to assess if the animal can be put up for adoption or put to sleep.
Nothing in the policies sent to this author discuss or define “shelter capacity”, or in what instances dogs would be put to sleep if there are open cages or space in the pound.
What you can do to help
If someone wants to adopt but doesn't live nearby, the dogs can be transported across the country. Local rescue groups also work with in and out of state rescue groups in case a group reading this article maybe interested in taking some of the dogs.
If you want to check out animals that need homes urgently check out the city's website, these pictures and this YouTube channel of animals, all whom need to get out of the shelter ASAP. Some will be put down in the next 24-48 hours, so volunteers say if one seems like a perfect fit for your family, or you fall in love with a glimmer in a dog's eye, please act quickly, the situation is dire.
Fostering a Dog
Volunteers say what they need most right now are foster homes. Fostering dogs helps to save lives, it's tax deductible and there are local businesses in the San Antonio area who will give fosters a break on pet services.
If you live within a couple of hours of the city rescue groups plea, please consider fostering a dog, which means allowing a pup or pooch to stay with you for a week or two until they can find "furever homes", or they can be transferred to another rescue group. You're literally saving a dog's life by giving them a temporary home and taking them off the euthanasia list. Volunteers made this video showing all the dogs that could have been saved if there were more people willing to foster.
Here’s some organizations in San Antonio where you can get more information and apply to foster:
CARE—Cressie Animal Refuge and Enrichment
SNIPSA (Spay-Neuter-Inject-Protect of San Antonio)
If you want to see what a difference it can make to a dog and how different they look and act once they get rescued from a shelter please see: "Happy Tails Before and After Photos of Dogs Saved from Death Row Shelters".