Instead of trapping and keeping stray animals in cages at “the pound,” the practice of returning stray cats and dogs into the wild has become the standard policy for cities with high feral animal populations, including San Antonio. While Animal Care Services reported record No-Kill numbers this year, there is still a service awareness and access gap for low-income pet owners.
Since the 1970s, the total percentage of pets who are spayed and neutered has risen from 10% to 80%, signaling a change in cultural norms and a new social movement, said Amy Mills, CEO of Emancipet, an Austin-based company that aims to educate and create awareness about the benefits of No-Kill programs.
Mills spoke Tuesday evening at the San Antonio Area Foundation’s fourth-annual Talk About It! event at the Pica Pica Plaza. The community conversation focused on the organization’s strategic growth plan to make spay/neuter and preventive veterinary care affordable and accessible to all pet owners.
Members of the San Antonio Area Foundation launched an effort in 2007 to help San Antonio become a No-Kill city for cats and dogs – defined as a city whose shelters do not euthanize healthy or treatable dogs and cats simply because there is no space for them. The key, said Area Foundation organizers, is creating awareness about the City’s low-cost spaying and neutering programs and other services provided to pet owners and people living in areas with high numbers of stray animals.
Mills’ talk revealed how far No-Kill programs have come, but also how much they have yet to accomplish. Lower-income and impoverished people do not spay and neuter their pets for many reasons: They aren’t near a spay or neuter clinic, don’t have the money, or simply aren’t aware of why it is important to sterilize stray animals and pets.
Fewer than 10% of families living below the federal poverty line spay and neuter their pets. The rate is less than 50% for families earning less than $35,000 per year, she said.
The Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP), located at 6758 Ingram Rd., offers a Mobile Clinic to provide on-site spaying and neutering surgeries and vaccinations to income-qualified families in San Antonio and Bexar County, providing an option for residents who aren’t close to a clinic.
Still, the social wedge created by the income discrepancy is starting to stand in the way of the movement’s future goals, Mills said.
“We must provide more low-cost spay and neuter services and they must be located within underserved communities,” she said. “We also must be really mindful that those who are working in the movement aren’t perpetuating the social stigma. We’ve made such tremendous strides in spaying and neutering that it’s created a social stigma around people who don’t do it.
“If you are a spay/neuter clinic, you must provide services to people who are not speaking out right now, because the behavior of not seeking out spay/neuter services has to do with a million factors,” she added.
Mills said the next stage will be to embrace the human-animal bond and to fight to keep pets with their families.
Creating awareness about the importance of spaying and neutering is about combating a social problem, much like the task undertaken by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
There are all kinds of good reasons for neutering pets, said Gavin Nichols, director of grants and programs at the Area Foundation.
“One of the main reasons is it won’t add to the overpopulation,” he said. “We have stray dogs in San Antonio tearing through fences and biting people and other dogs. It’s better for them not to have that biological urge to reproduce that causes territorial issues.”
The leading cause of shelter intakes of animals is accidental litters for people who would have spayed/neutered their pet but they didn’t know its age, noted Debi Silva, director of A Vision of Hope Canine Community.
Community events that offer information on the City’s low-cost spaying and neutering services, pet fairs, and pet fiestas, such as Bark in the Park/Perrito Grito, can help families and households learn how they can do their part to moderate stray animals in their own neighborhoods – fixing the problem from the inside out.
The City of San Antonio established a No-Kill Initiative in 2006, creating an animal care strategic plan and area program at the government level.
Kathy Davis, director of Animal Care Services, said live releases have risen from 61% in 2012 to 81% in fiscal year 2013, with 24,000 live releases of animals this year. ACS has achieved No-Kill status for healthy cats, too.
The division is striving to obtain No-Kill status for all pets in 2015, she noted.
District 3 Councilmember Rebecca Viagran spoke during the event about the importance of people spaying and neutering their animals to prevent fights among stray dog packs and to create better neighborhoods.
She announced that Brooks City-Base will be adding an animal care clinic at its location on San Antonio’s Southside.