Animal Care Services presented a draft of its strategic plan to City Council in anticipation of getting more money in the next city budget to be adopted in September.

The plan was presented less than a month after a deadly dog attack that killed an 81-year-old man and brought renewed attention to the issue of stray and dangerous dogs in the city.

Animal Care Services (ACS) said the new plan was drafted with residents’ input and includes:

  • Developing a process to hold irresponsible pet owners accountable.
  • Expanding ACS’ presence in the field to ensure people feel safe walking through their neighborhoods.
  • Reducing stray populations and increasing responsiveness to compliance in dangerous dog investigations.
  • Keeping pets in their homes.
  • Improving resources, structure and support for staff.

ACS Director Shannon Sims told City Council on Wednesday that much of the plan isn’t specifically related to preventing dog attacks like the one that left Ramon Najera dead Feb. 24 but does include stronger enforcement for owners of pets that roam or are deemed dangerous.

“What I’m asking for, is the teams need resources to be able to effectively execute something without adversely impacting what we’re already doing effectively,” said Sims.

He also cited the department’s animal foster program as an area needing improvement.

“Our foster program is largely ineffective because it doesn’t have the dedicated staff and dedicated manpower,” he said.

ACS has an annual budget of $21 million this year. Sims didn’t specify how much more the department wants in the next fiscal year, saying it depends on what ACS is asked to do.

City Manager Erik Walsh called the ACS plan a “refresh” and said it will require people, capital, infrastructure, investment and a dedication of “a significant amount of money over time.”

But in the meantime, Walsh said ACS would review what the department can do now, like hiring additional staff and purchasing necessary equipment. 

Some council members expressed frustration at the continued high numbers of stray animals in the city and the low numbers of animal care personnel on patrol.

In San Antonio, there are 34,000 roaming animals at any given time and 90% have owners, according to Sims. Meanwhile, ACS has 28 patrol vehicles and only three to four staff patrolling the city per shift. 

City Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) told ACS he didn’t understand why the department’s performance has decreased since 2020 despite a $5 million budget increase since then and the addition of 35 positions. 

Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3) said the problem is in the southern sector of the city and wanted to know more specifics about how the department plans to measure improvements in reducing the number of stray animals and pets in shelters.

“We have a problem with ACS and we’ve known this for a while. My patience has been long for this,” said Viagran. “The Brooks Spay & Neuter Clinic was closed last summer and has not been reopened, though I’ve asked numerous times how we were going to address this issue.”

The original strategic plan for Animal Care Services was implemented in 2006 and last revised in 2012. The department has been working on an updated plan since fall 2021, and will consider the council’s feedback as the budget process moves forward. 

Ahead of an April 13 budget goal-setting meeting, council members said they want ACS’s new plan to focus on spay-and-neuter services and a plan for collaboration with nonprofits already working toward the same goal.

For now, ACS did implement changes as a result of the fatal Feb. 24 attack. Instead of issuing a civil citation to the owner of a dog that bites a person, the department now issues criminal citations if the bite occurs while the dog was off-leash and not on the owner’s property.

The department also is using people in their apprenticeship program to send additional personnel out on the streets in areas where stray and dangerous dogs are a problem.

In addition, Government Affairs Director Sally Basurto told City Council on Thursday that city staff has also been working with state lawmakers to change the legal requirements ACS must meet before the department can launch an investigation into an attack.

The department can currently only investigate attacks when the victim files a notarized “dangerous dog” affidavit.

House Bill 4909, filed by Rep. Diego Bernal, and Senate Bill 2226, by Sen. José Menéndez, would add language to the Health and Safety Code allowing ACS to investigate incidents when they observe and document aggressive behavior by the dog. It would also allow victims who file an affidavit to have their personal information excepted from disclosure.

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.