Should all pets in San Antonio be sterilized? This is one question Animal Care Services (ACS) staff have been asking during public hearings on potential changes to the City’s animal ordinances.

ACS Director Heber Lefgren said all of the changes being discussed were generated by public demand.

Potential changes involve limits on tethering, noise abatement, changes to the number of animals an individual may own, and ways of dealing with animals who have attacked people or other animals. Proposed changes to local ordinances will be submitted to City Council in September, and Lefgren said ACS staff will integrate any changes into its revised strategic plan to be completed in 2018.

At a public hearing at the Claude Black Community Center on March 9, Lefgren and ACS Assistant Director Shannon Sims fielded questions while two ACS employees gathered paper surveys alongside Public Relations and Outreach Manager Lisa Norwood. Notably absent were members of the ACS Advisory Board.

The next public hearings on potential ordinance revisions and the strategic plan for Animal Care Services will take place Wednesday, March 15 at Animal Care Services, 4710 State Hwy 151, and Tuesday, March 28 at the Central Library, 600 Soledad St. Both meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.

In April and May, additional hearings will be held at the Phil Hardberger Park Urban Ecology Center, Miller’s Pond Community Center, Harlandale Community Center, and Melendrez Community Center.

Public demand for more regulations on tethering has catalyzed consideration of more local restrictions. Lefgren said Texas animal laws prohibit tethering for more than 48 hours, but enforcement is difficult. Possible ordinance changes would prohibit tethering between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to make enforcement easier. In addition to a minimum length of 10 feet of tether, which is the current ordinance, proposed additions may include requirements for a minimum amount of space for an animal to move in while tethered. It makes no sense for an ordinance to require 10 feet of tether if the dog only has two feet of space to move around on, Sims said, adding that it is difficult to remove animals who are in bad situations because “animals are considered property in the state of Texas.”

Lefgren said there has been an increase in public demand to expand current ordinances that require spaying or neutering pets that are returned to their owner to mandating sterilization of all pets captured in San Antonio. However, compulsory spay-neuter requirements usually don’t work because they are not perpetually enforced, he added.

Some public demand calls for increased restrictions for dangerous dogs – those proven through an affidavit process to have bitten humans without provocation; and aggressive dogs – those who have attacked other dogs without provocation.

Other potential changes include linking the maximum number of animals to space available. The current allowance of five animals is too much for people living in apartments, Sims said. Increases in number of animals allowed before obtaining an excess animal permit might be targeted to specific species such as chickens. Another change may mandate that failure to have a litter permit will result in mandatory sterilization of the entire litter.

Recent positive changes at ACS include two spay-neuter facilities, mandatory microchip identification of cats and dogs, restructuring responses to calls by priority, financing buildings at the Animal Defense League to be used solely for rescuing animals from ACS, increased focus on compliance over punishment, responsible pet owners classes, and trap-and-return program for feral cats, Lefgren said.

“Catch-and-kill mentality does not work,” Lefgren said. “We acknowledge that we still have a long way to go. We have to go through a culture shift in San Antonio.” He said that if people stop violating laws and tell their family members and friends to stop violating laws, then abusing animals will no longer be considered socially acceptable.

ACS is poised to respond to the public hearings with proposed changes to City ordinances, which will be posted online to allow for comments. All comments will require submission of home address and zip code so ACS can take into account how much of the community is represented. ACS will propose the changes to City Council in September.

Lefgren, who previously served as assistant to ACS Director Kathy Davis and then as assistant director to Interim Director Xavier Urrutia, took the helm in October 2016. Former Director of ACS Field Operations Shannon Sims transitioned to become assistant director at year-end. Sims’ vacancy was filled by ACS veteran Aimee De Contreras.

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Rachel Cywinski

Rachel Cywinski lives in San Antonio because she wants to and advocates for a sustainable future.