Complaints about local animal ordinances have prompted the City’s Animal Care Services (ACS) department to propose several rule changes.

Some changes that ACS is proposing to City Council include: automatically spaying/neutering unleashed animals found roaming the streets, limiting the time frame someone can tie up their pet outside, and impounding animals whose owners repeatedly refuse to spay/neuter them. The proposals are based on public feedback the department has gathered through surveys and community meetings over the past few months.

Council is slated to consider the changes in September.

ACS will host the following “wrap-up” sessions for citizens to hear the results of the previous community input meetings:

  • Wednesday, June 28 at 6 p.m. at ACS Annex
  • Thursday, July 6 at 2 p.m. at ACS Annex
  • Wednesday, July 19 at 5 p.m. at ACS Annex

ACS Director Heber Lefgren presented the proposed code changes and additions to a receptive City Council on Wednesday. Those included additions to the City’s spay/neuter policy, which currently states that all animals up for adoption and all of those impounded have to get fixed. If approved, the new code also would include captured animals whose owners refuse to spay/neuter them, stray animals without leashes, or those without a litter or seller’s permit.

Miranda (Mimi, for short), checked in with a cat, Maddie, and dog, Dutchess. Her grandmother, Sharada Sanchez, helps her friends and neighbors in Sky Harbor, a Southwest side community, get their animals spayed and neutered through free programs like The Big Fix. Photo by Abbey Francis.
Miranda (Mimi, for short), checks in at the free spay/neuter event The Big Fix with her cat, Maddie, and dog, Dutchess. Credit: Abbey Francis for the San Antonio Report

The City’s tethering policy requires all tying devices to be at least 10 feet in length, Lefgren said, but additions to that policy could include requiring pet owners to provide 150 square feet of unobstructed space for their animals and prohibiting the use of chains. Owners would be required to provide shade, along with the already required water and shelter, for their pets. Tethering would be restricted between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Owners of female dogs in heat are already banned from tethering their animals, but that ban would be extended to puppies or sick/injured animals.

The City has designated funds to help residents fortify fences and walls to prevent escaping animals. This way, owners can avoid tethering all together, Lefgren said.

ACS also is pushing for the authority to impound pets sold at unauthorized locations such as flea markets and yard sales and those whose owner do not have proper permits. The City already allows people to own a maximum of eight cats or five dogs, or a total of eight pets, but ACS officials want to limit each residence to owning only one rooster.

Other changes relate to dangerous and aggressive pets. Animal Care Services wants to ensure that animals involved in attacks on people or other animals are spayed and neutered. Such owners could be required to complete a responsible pet ownership class, Lefgren said. The department also wants to give its officers the ability to cite pet owners for noise complaints.

The public has noticed an improvement in Animal Care Services operations, but thinks the department needs to focus more on code enforcement, Lefgren said.

Local animal advocate Jacqueline Fonseca told the Rivard Report before the Council meeting that one of her dogs was attacked last year by another aggressive dog. She thinks the department could do a better job of letting the public know how to report an incident or seek help.

“There’s no communication and there’s no education going into that for better service,” she said.

The department has staff members specifically assigned to educate the public on how and when to contact ACS, what the City code requires, and about safe animal care practices, Lefgren said. Representatives not only go door to door, he said, they also visit schools and utilize social media.

To report an incident or concern to Animal Care Services, or receive assistance, residents can call 3-1-1 and an ACS officer will be dispatched to the scene, Lefgren said. Many residents call 9-1-1 with their concerns, he added, but the San Antonio Police Department works with Animal Care Services to ensure that animal-related cases are addressed by their department.

Fonseca also thinks the Animal Care Services department needs “to do more to establish confidence within the public.” She said she’s still waiting to hear what the resolution is for her incident that occurred 10 months ago, and that there are others in her neighborhood waiting for their own cases to be resolved, too.

Animal Care Services employs 40 officers who are charged with enforcing animal care ordinances throughout the city, Lefgren said. Unlike normal peace officers who are armed, these officers only carry devices used to see if an animal has been microchipped. They are stationed in “areas of high need,” according to Lefgren, which are determined based on the amount of calls ACS receives from those areas.

Animal Care Services Director Heber Lefgren presents to City Council in B Session.
Animal Care Services Director Heber Lefgren presents to City Council in B Session. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

There are ACS officers in District 2, 3, 4, and 5, but Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) suggested designating an officer for his district, where he said many residents complain about stray animals and want a stronger ACS officer presence.

The department’s strategic plan focuses on four areas: enhanced law enforcement, controlling the stray animal population, increasing the City’s Live Release rate, and engaging and educating the community. The plan is to be completed in 2018, and officials have already noticed some gains in multiple focus areas.

One of the most notable gains, according to Lefgren, is that San Antonio has a 90% live release rate, making it the largest city in the nation to achieve this level of rate.

From 2011 to 2016, impoundments have gone up from about 29,000 to about 31,000. Regarding enforcement, the number of citations issued by ACS officers has increased from 5,610 to 10,993 in that same time period.

San Antonio has long had issues controlling the stray pet population, but results show that citywide spay/neuter surgeries has gone up from nearly 9,000 surgeries in 2011 to more than 35,700 in 2016. More than 22,000 animals were microchipped last year compared to 8,700 in 2011, and more than 5,700 pets were returned to their owners last year, up from 1,695 in 2011.

“While I acknowledge that there’s still a lot of work that we still need to do in the community, we recognize that there have been significant changes over the course of the last couple of years,” Lefgren said.

Many attended the meeting on Wednesday to see the interaction between Mayor Ivy Taylor and Mayor-elect Ron Nirenberg, who represents District 8 until he’s sworn in as mayor next week. This was one of the first meetings since Nirenberg trounced Taylor during the runoff election on Saturday. There were no exchanges between the two.

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Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is