City Council approved a lease agreement Thursday that shifts operations and management responsibilities of the Paul Jolly Center for Pet Adoptions and Petco Pavilion from San Antonio Pets Alive to the Animal Defense League of Texas. The City hopes the move will bring more efficient use of the adoption facility to help maintain San Antonio’s live-release rate of 88%.

Since 2013, the adoption center located at 210 Tuleta Dr. across from the San Antonio Zoo and Brackenridge Park, has been operated by Pets Alive, a nonprofit that has been struggling financially and organizationally in recent years. The City’s Animal Care Services (ACS) department initially brought the organization, which uses the model of the highly-successful Austin Pets Alive, to San Antonio to help make it a no-kill city.

But many, including City staff, believe Pets Alive took on too much responsibility in trying to fulfill its mission of saving a large number of animals from the city’s euthanasia list without a sustainable infrastructure to do so. Frequent changes in leadership over the past year and a half only added to the organization’s insecurities.

The organization places a strong emphasis on caring for stray animals that require more care and rehabilitation before being put up for adoption. Over the years, such services have been expanded by other local animal welfare organizations, like the Animal Defense League (ADL).

Dogs bark for attention as employees walk by their temporary shelters. Photo by Scott Ball.
Dogs bark for attention as employees walk by their temporary shelters at the Paul Jolly Adoption Center. Photo by Scott Ball.

But it wasn’t all bad for Pets Alive on Thursday. The City also approved an adjustment to its pay scale for its nine animal welfare organization partners, of SA Pets Alive and the San Antonio Humane Society are the two largest. Instead of awarding pet rescue organizations with a $50 stipend per animal, there will now be a tiered rate that accounts for the time and resources associated with caring for animals in worse condition.

Organizations will now receive $40 for otherwise healthy animals, $110 for pets with more critical issues, and $165 for severely sick pets in need of additional care. The shift means that Pets Alive will now be able to receive up to $305,000 in stipends – up from its current $155,000 – and the Humane Society up to $61,000. This change will allow both groups to save up to 3,900 pets. While Pets Alive will be rescuing fewer pets than in previous years, it will be receiving more money for rescuing less adoptable pets.

The City also approved a three-year agreement for the Humane Society to operate and manage the new spay/neuter clinic at Brooks City Base, which is expected to be completed in December and will open to the public in January 2017. City staff projects that in fiscal year 2017, the facility will provide 42,000 spay/neuter surgeries in the community.

Four months ago, City Council awarded a one-time $375,000 grant to Pets Alive for it to stay afloat, which was dependent on a number of stipulations that the organization has since met, including hiring a new executive director. The Paul Jolly Center – the nonprofit’s only brick and mortar adoption location – was a central part of its mission, said Pets Alive Chief Operating Officer Tommy McNish after the vote.

Without the center, he said, Pets Alive ability to save the city’s animals has been “cut in half or more,” especially since the building was used to house healthy animals unable to stay in its other facilities due to the risk of catching contagious diseases from other pets.

“But we still have to try … it’s not the animals’ fault that this decision was made so we’re going to fight, we’re going to continue to save as many as we possibly can,” McNish said. “The impact of today’s vote is yet to be known, but it’s definitely going to be dramatic.”

ADL, which has been operating in San Antonio for more than 80 years, was one of three animal welfare organizations that responded to the City’s request for proposal (RFP) in June to assume responsibility of the Paul Jolly Adoption Center. The City’s evaluation committee – which was made up of representatives from Animal Care Services (ACS), the City Manager’s Office, the Petco Foundation, Metropolitan Health District, and the Animal Care Services advisory board – awarded the facility contract to the organization based on its experience, sustainability plan, and its sound financial situation, said Animal Care Services Director Heber Lefgren.

Pets Alive’s three-year lease expires at the end of October, and the ADL plans to reopen the center sometime in mid-November, said ADL Executive Director Janice Darling. The organization will enter into a three-year lease agreement with the City with the option to renew it for three additional years. The City will continue to lease the facility for $1/year, as it did with Pets Alive, and will make a one-time payment of $20,000 to the Animal Defense League for transition expenses, including a cleaning of the facility, security camera installations, and other fixtures.

Under the initial agreement term, ADL is responsible for pulling 8,800 pets from ACS – 2,300 during the first year, 2,875 during the second year, and 3,593 each year thereafter, in addition to the 3,184 of pets it rescues today. Along with maintaining an events calendar for the Petco Pavilion use, it also will need to make sure all pets are spay/neutered prior to their adoption, foster, or transfer to another rescue organization.

Despite Pets Alive no longer occupying the municipally-owned building, the City will remain committed to work with the nonprofit and help them be successful, Assistant City Manager Maria Villagomez said.

We’ve established ourselves as the most valuable high volume partner with the City, so there’s an initial gut reaction of feeling like no good deed goes unpunished,” McNish said. “We have no intention of going away.”

The organization will, for now, continue to operate its health services facility for sick animals and its facility located on the ACS campus that was used to transition animals to the Paul Jolly Center, McNish said. Pets Alive doesn’t have the funds to purchase another adoption center at this time, he added, instead it will use the ACS campus.

The shift in leadership of the Paul Jolly Adoption Center has been seen by some as potentially contentious among the various pet rescue organizations in San Antonio, but both McNish and Darling said that at the end of the day their focuses remain the same.

“We’re all working together,” Darling said. “We all have the same end goal and that’s to save our companion animals’ lives and treat them and find them new homes.”

Top image: A San Antonio Pets Alive employee pets a dog after cleaning his enclosure and refilling his water.  Photo by Scott Ball. .

Related Stories:

San Antonio Pets Alive’s Difficult Path Forward

Warrick: ‘Kids Vs. Pets’ is a False Analogy in Mid-Year Budget

Council Gives $375,000 to Animal Rescue, Saves the Rest for a Rainy Day

Key to a No-Kill San Antonio: Affordable, Accessible Clinics

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