The number of sworn statements reporting dangerous dogs in San Antonio has tripled in San Antonio since a deadly dog attack in February, city officials said Tuesday, a sign that there’s more community awareness about the ongoing problem.
“Our dangerous dogs are out of control,” Assistant City Manager David McCary told the city council’s Public Safety Committee.
Before February, Animal Care Services (ACS) received an average of 21 witness affidavits monthly for dangerous or aggressive dogs. In March and April, that monthly average increased to 58, ACS Assistant Director Brad Davenport said.
The uptick in reporting is thanks in part to more awareness after the attack about the witness affidavits that are required in order for ACS to launch investigations and impose requirements or penalties for owners, Davenport said.
An increasing proportion of those reports, however, were deemed “unfounded,” Davenport told reporters, meaning the dog under investigation was not at risk of biting or threatening a person again.
Still, he encouraged residents to report dangerous or aggressive dogs.
“People are a little bit more cautious about animals” that they previously wouldn’t have reported, Davenport said. “Which is completely OK.”
More than 60% of calls related to dog bites, of which the city receives about 3,500 annually, are concentrated in City Council districts 2, 3, 4 and 5, covering the east, west and south sides of the city, according to Davenport.
In late April, a pregnant woman experiencing homelessness was struck by a vehicle as she was attempting to escape an aggressive dog, according to the San Antonio Express-News. She was hospitalized and the baby died.
“We received calls for packs of dogs that are terrorizing neighborhoods, running up [on] people’s porches,” Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) said. “That’s another burden largely placed on low-income communities.”
State law gives municipalities the authority to respond to “dangerous” dogs that bite or threaten people and the city further regulates responses to “aggressive” dogs that threaten other dogs or animals through a local ordinance. Every single report of a dangerous dog that includes a witness affidavit is investigated, Davenport said, but ACS only currently has the capacity to investigate about 65% of bite reports, prioritizing the most severe cases.
The city plans to double the size of teams that investigate reports of dog bites and otherwise dangerous or aggressive dogs by training 15 new ACS cadets this year — if the funding for them, $848,000, is approved by City Council as part of its mid-year budget adjustment.
“We have 40,000 roaming dogs in San Antonio,” Davenport told City Council. “We do not have the capacity to pick them all up. We do try to prioritize dogs that are aggressive, dangerous and injured.”
The city also aims to increase capacity at animal shelters, as well as within various spay-and-neuter programs, while increasing investigation capacity as part of the department’s five-year strategic plan.
This week, council is slated to approve $372,000 in contracts to subsidize free and low-cost spay-and-neuter clinics and services. ACS supports about 40,000 spay-and-neuter surgeries in San Antonio per year.
If the lease and service agreements are approved, Spay-Neuter Assistance Program, Inc. will start operations at the Brooks Veterinary Clinic, the Spay Neuter Network will continue to operate out of the Brackenridge Veterinary Clinic — and those organizations, in addition to San Antonio Wellness Spay and Neuter Clinic, will receive additional funding for free surgeries.
Since 81-year-old Ramon Najera was killed in a mauling by two dogs on the city’s West Side, ACS officers started issuing criminal citations if a dog bite occurs while the dog was off-leash and not on the owner’s property, rather than giving the officer discretion to issue a civil citation.
“We have to do a better job [at] more aggressively holding all owners that are irresponsible with these pets more accountable,” McCary said.
Simultaneously, the state legislature is considering two bills related to dangerous dogs.
House Bill 4759, submitted by State Rep. Liz Campos (D-San Antonio) would increase penalties for violations statewide and protects the personal information of witnesses from open records requests.
It would not rule out the possibility of witnesses being called to testify in court, but it could reduce the hesitancy some witnesses have about possible retaliation, Assistant City Manager Jeff Coyle told the committee.
The bill, which was approved by the House, would also remove the requirement of a witness affidavit and “allow officers a little bit more flexibility to make a dangerous dog determination,” Coyle said.
House Bill 3439, submitted by House Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston), would allow cities to provide veterinary services for low-income pet owners.
It’s unclear why San Antonio has such a significant stray or roaming dog problem, ACS spokeswoman Lisa Norwood told reporters after the meeting, but she argued that a significant piece of the solution is clear.
“If people kept their pets on their property, we wouldn’t have the issues of roaming dogs, we wouldn’t have the issues of dangerous dog attacks, we would not have aggressive animal-on-animal bites,” she said.