Pet owners who keep animals outside are now required by law to provide them shade.

Before City Council approved the new rule unanimously Thursday, San Antonians could legally leave dogs and other animals outside without any shade as long as they had an enclosed shelter, such as a dog house, and weren’t tethered.

The City’s Animal Care Services (ACS) department gets approximately 3,500 calls about animals in extreme heat conditions each year, Shannon Sims, assistant director of ACS said Wednesday during a briefing for Council members. The new ordinance allows authorities to issue civil and criminal citations to violators that can carry fines of $300 and $2,000, respectively.

The need for this ordinance became apparent when a dog named Molly was dropped off by its owner at ACS’ facility in early June with severe burns on her back. She was left outside without open-air shade, Sims said.

The owner said she had a dog house for Molly, Sims said, but when temperatures approach and exceed 100 degrees, enclosed spaces can be even hotter. Molly stayed out in the sun all day.

It’s like camping, Sims said, where “the last thing you want to be is inside that tent when it’s 100 degrees.”

Animal Care Services Assistant Director Shannon Sims
Animal Care Services Assistant Director Shannon Sims Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

ACS personnel treated Molly’s wounds, and after about two weeks the Animal Defense League took her and continued treatment for another month.

“The owner surrendered her because she thought she had mange and couldn’t afford to treat it,” ACS spokesperson Lisa Norwood said.

What Molly had was photoallergic dermatitis, which makes her especially sensitive to the sun. Still, a similar level of sun exposure would hurt almost any dog, Sims said.

“Yesterday, she found a new home,” said Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), who was alerted to Molly’s situation by a constituent. “Today Molly is a very playful dog.

“And the reason Molly was found was because somebody reported it.”

Almost all cases of neglect or abuse are reported to ACS via the 311 mobile app, by phone, or through its website, Sims said. The department relies on the community to be its “eyes and ears” for abuse.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley said to help ACS reach its goals for education and enforcement, she will recommend that the department receive an increase to its budget when she presents the fiscal year 2019 budget next week. City Council will be in budget talks for more than one month starting next Thursday and will review almost every department individually.

After learning the details of Molly’s situation and meeting the dog at ACS, Pelaez planned to file an official Council Consideration Request, which is the typical process for Council members to initiate policy conversations. But such a request can take months even if there is momentum to discuss it.

Molly was brought in to Animal Defense League with thermal burns from lack of protection from the sun.
Molly was brought to the Animal Defense League with thermal burns from lack of protection from the sun. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio Animal Care Services

Instead, Pelaez and Mayor Ron Nirenberg expedited the process to a full council briefing on Wednesday, the first such session after the summer break, and then to a vote on Thursday.

This issue was addressed with “bullet-fast laser speed,” Pelaez said, thanking Nirenberg and Sculley for fast-tracking the ordinance.

City code also requires all pets to have access to fresh air and water, species-specific food, exercise, shelter, and veterinary care when needed.

The new rule, and awareness efforts, will go into effect immediately once the ordinance is approved, Sims said.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at