San Antonio animal shelters and rescue organizations are seeing a bumper crop of kittens and puppies this summer, and the city’s network of pet fosters and adopters have been feeling the strain this month.

Last week, San Antonio Pets Alive (SAPA), a group that works closely with San Antonio’s Animal Care Services, put out an especially urgent plea via social media and email begging residents to help with the influx of puppies, some of whom were at risk of being euthanized.

“We were extremely pleased with the response that we received last week,” said Alexis Moore, SAPA’s marketing director. “The community really stepped up and we received hundreds of applicants for both fosters and adopters. Those puppies really pulled at people’s heartstrings.” 

With all the new applicants, SAPA was able to adopt 53 dogs and cats last week and now has 713 pets in foster homes.

While the risk of puppies being euthanized may have grabbed the attention of San Antonio animal lovers last week, facing the possibility that pets will be euthanized is just a daily reality for SAPA staff.

“We are the last chance for many of these animals that come into the Animal Care Services,” Moore said.

Kaitlynn Diezel, placement transport coordinator at SAPA, said the organization’s purpose is to prevent the euthanizing of animals in the shelter due to lack of space, fosters, or adopters. Diezel said SAPA receives an email every morning from ACS with the list of dogs at risk of being euthanized that day, and with usually just a few hours to work, SAPA staff immediately begin searching for a foster or adopter for each pet. 

Jessica Travis, the live release manager at ACS, said she works hard to keep the live release rate for pets brought into the shelter at 90%. That means only about 10% of the animals are put down and, only then, as a last resort.

Moore said SAPA helps lower the rate of euthanasia by taking the sick dogs and cats that almost no other organization can or would be willing to help. The SAPA medical clinic accepts and treats puppies with parvovirus, distemper, and heartworms, diseases normally considered a death sentence for puppies. Moore said the clinic has a fairly good success rate at helping the puppies recover and get adopted.

It’s not always sick or injured animals at risk of euthanasia, though. Travis said each decision is made on a case-by-case basis, and since new animals are always coming in, ACS must have kennel space and tough decisions must be made.

“We’re an open admission shelter, one of the largest in the country,” said Lisa Norwood, a spokesperson for ACS. “We can’t just say, ‘No, we can’t take any more animals.’ We can’t do that.”

Finding space for the constant stream of animals is always difficult, but during the busy summer season, finding placement for each animal is even more challenging, Travis said.

“It’s just that time of year for us,” Travis said. “This month alone we’ve taken in just over a thousand [animals], and we’re halfway through the month.”

Because spring starts early in South Texas, and there are so many warm summer months, Norwood said the puppy and kitten season is always extra long for San Antonio.

“It lengthens the breeding season for most animals to almost year-round,” Norwood said. “For San Antonio, it really doesn’t stop.”

The biggest need during this season is for fosters, especially for kittens, and most especially for those who still need to be bottle-fed around the clock.

Norwood said that a lot of times the slack has to be picked up by staff at ACS, who end up fostering many of the kittens, even if it means keeping them in their own offices during the day.

“I’ve got three kittens in my office right now looking at me as we speak,” Norwood said during a phone interview from her office.

Adoptions are, of course, the permanent solution that all animal rescue organizations are always looking for, and Norwood said during the pandemic there was a significant uptick in adoptions that helped relieve some of the overcrowding in the shelters during the summer last year.

This year, ACS has not seen the same surge in adoptions as it did last year, Norwood said, but the good news is, unlike reports coming from other Texas cities, San Antonio animal shelters are not seeing pandemic pets being returned. In fact, Travis said, the number of owner surrenders is very low at ACS.

Travis said some of the intake at shelters comes from pets ending up there accidentally, and that’s something she’d like to see change.

“People need to keep their pets restrained,” Travis said. “Pets do not make good decisions on their own.”

About 30% of all the pets that come through ACS turn out to be microchipped, Travis said.

“The perception that there’s all these stray animals out in the community is not correct,” Travis said. “The microchipping has really brought that point home for us.”

But right now in this busy season, the best way the community can help relieve the burden on the shelters is by volunteering to foster, Travis said.

ACS relies on the help of SAPA and many other local animal rescue organizations to find homes and fosters for the incredible number of pets that are brought in every year.

“Fosters are the heart of our organization and make it possible to save hundreds of lives each week,” Moore said. “Typically, we save over 200 lives, dogs and cats, each week.”

Without fosters, ACS would never be able to take in all kittens that are brought to the shelter every year, Norwood said.

“Our fosters help create a shelter without walls,” Norwood said. “There’s only so many kennels that ACS has or that San Antonio Pets Alive has, but who knows how many untold numbers of people in our community could help us? Even if it was just one litter, one dog, one kitten.”

Jennifer Norris has been working in journalism since 2005. She's a native Texan, but a new San Antonian who is excited to get to know the city.