The uproar continued yesterday, August 27, over a set of dog kennels belonging to San Antonio Animal Care Services (ACS) at Brooks City Base. These Brooks kennels are supposedly for use to hold overflow dogs from the main facility when all kennels there are filled. Yet, advocates for Brooks dogs claim the kennels at Brooks are used every day, even when there is no overflow because there are empty kennels at the main ACS facility.
The volunteers claim Brooks dogs do not get the exposure needed for adoption. These Brooks advocates have been very vocal and now they claim they are being banned for speaking up for the underdog.
Some volunteers were told they will no longer be allowed to volunteer unless they sign a statement that they will not be critical of ACS. The statement is not new, but it appears the enforcement is a change in policy. The volunteer rules state:
At all times, all volunteers are required to provide positive press (via social media, blogs, emails, news releases, etc.) regarding the ACS facility, staff, fellow volunteers, rescue partners and visitors.
a. If concerns arise, it should first be brought to the attention of the Volunteer Coordinator, secondly the Live Release Manager, and finally the Director's Office.
b. Negative press from a volunteer may be cause for terminating the volunteer relationship.
Volunteers must now choose between publicizing what they see as unequal treatment, which leads to the dogs' deaths, or being banned from helping the animals. These volunteers claim the Brooks dogs never have a chance to seen by the public, are not always scanned, and are treated so carelessly that their photos sometimes never makes it online. After 72 hours, the majority of the dogs travel back to the main facility where they are taken from their crates and killed.
A banner saying "Brooks Dogs" hangs over a few dogs in crates at the ACS facility. These dogs have a few hours until they die. The banner was donated by volunteers who used to be able to stand by the crates and pitch the dogs to potential adopters. The volunteers are no longer allowed because their marketing of Brooks dogs is implicit, if not explicit, criticism of the job ACS is doing.
The required code of silence extends beyond volunteers who are required to speak no evil. Anyone making critical remarks about ACS will be banned from the Animal Care Service FaceBook page. This might seem natural, but it is a city run site paid for by taxpayers. Critics have found they are unable to post remarks critical of ACS on a local media site (KSAT), on Mayor Julian Castro's public FaceBook site, and on FaceBook sites of some non-profits with contractual agreements to ACS. Many animal lovers claim to have been disillusioned and disheartened by this curb on free speech.
Last week this writer wrote about the questions as to whether the Brooks City Base kennels were open to the public. ACS claims the facility is closed due to the lease agreement. An e-mail this writer received from Brooks City Base makes it clear that the decision to close the facility to the public, whether in the lease agreement or not, is entirely at the discretion of ACS:
"Brooks City-Base has received your communication regarding the operation and limited accessibility of the San Antonio Animal Care Services kennel on the campus. The kennel is run entirely by the City of San Antonio and all operational procedures for visiting are determined by ACS. Brooks City-Base began leasing the former military K-9 holding facility to ACS in October 2010 at no cost in an effort to help the city achieve its “no kill” goals.
Their lease states that public access is restricted and that only “adoption, rescue services, or other services that have established relationships with ACS” may have access to the facility. While the former military kennels are not designed to be a public adoption center, Brooks City-Base does not actively prohibit the public from accessing the facility. Any member of the public who desires to visit the kennel is welcome to do so by contacting ACS directly."
The controversy over the Brooks facility is likely to make for a lively City Council meeting tonight. Animal rescuers intend to show up for their chance to be heard. The public is allowed to speak at city council meetings, although ACS volunteers who speak will risk being banned from further volunteering.
One thing is certain, dogs languish unseen at Brooks marking the few hours until their death, while kennels where they might be seen are empty. San Antonio is blazing a unique trail to becoming a No Kill facility. Turning away volunteers and hiding adoptable animals goes against all expert advice.
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