City of San Antonio could fall below ‘no-kill’ standard for animal shelters for first time in five years

San Antonio officials are seeking to expand the city’s Department of Animal Care Services as the shelter warns it will not meet 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” shelters use across the United States. The rate is the number of animals adopted, rescued and transferred to another shelter or lost animals returned to owners.

Lisa Norwood, spokesperson for the ACS, said they did 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.

She said there were requests for nine additional veterinary staff, an expansion of community vaccination resources and a dedicated customer service team to interact with customers in person, by phone and online.

The demands include funds to revamp enrichment areas that staff and trainers can use to assess shelter dogs. Another proposed initiative is funding for an auxiliary building that can provide short-term housing for pets with confirmed placement and emergency housing for pets dislocated during natural disasters.

This year, from October to July, 2,377 animals were euthanized. In 2021, for the same period, 1,741 people were euthanized, an increase of nearly 37%.

The shelter’s highest live release rates were in fiscal year 2018 at 91.6% and fiscal year 2020 at 92.1%.

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 2022, from October to July, there were 3,783 adoptions; in 2021 for the same period, there were 4,380 adoptions. Since fiscal 2018, 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 had contributed to reduced work hours, reduced adoption events, reduced animal care support 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 study by Mars Veterinary Health, each year about 2,500 to 2,600 graduates join the workforce and about 2,000 veterinarians retire.

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.”

Norwood said that due to vet shortages, ACS has been conducting nationwide outreach and working with nonprofits and private practices across Texas and San Antonio to bring more services. pet sterilization to the community.

She said that in fiscal year 2022, 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 owner to ACS were abandoned due to job loss or eviction.

Norwood said currently there is a four to five month wait for people to make an appointment to return a pet. She said that in the meantime, ACS provides access to trainers, free and low-cost veterinary resources, and additional tools to find placement for their 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 brought back 239.

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

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Jennifer R. Strohm