ACS surgery packs are made available to the shelter. Photo courtesy of Animal Care Services.
ACS surgery packs are made available to the shelter. Photo courtesy of Animal Care Services.

A new focus on citywide partnerships and a community-based approach is benefiting San Antonio’s citywide cat, dog, horse, goat, and broader animal population in measurable ways.

With a new fiscal year beginning, members of the City’s Animal Care Services department are proud to report historical progress toward a No-Kill policy, with an overall live release rate of 81% – the highest annual placement rate since the shelter’s creation.

In the last fiscal year, ACS has overseen more than 6,600 adoptions, almost 14,000 rescue transfers and 2,758 pets returned to their owners. The Return-to-Owner rate, a lifesaving initiative overseen by the ACS Field Operations division, has risen 33% in the last year.

This means more animals are being brought to the shelter and cared for through rehabilitation, sterilization, vaccinations, and placement with a suitable owner. It’s also a sign that San Antonians are more conscientious about reporting neglected and abused animals to the City.

Bubba relaxes in the brush near the ACS Field Operations building. Photo courtesy of ACS.
Bubba relaxes in the brush near the ACS Field Operations building. Photo courtesy of ACS.

ACS Public Relations Officer Lisa Norwood said the department has had much success through its feline placement and Trap Neuter Return (TNR) programs, which have proven to be the most humane means of addressing community cats.

“We’ve seen such success with our Trap Neuter Return and our (newly-revamped) Barn Cat program that we are actually what would be considered No-Kill at our shelter,” she said. “The nationally-recognized No-Kill rate is 90% – that’s if the shelter can find placement for 90% or more of healthy, adoptable animals that come into the shelter.”

ACS has placed 816 cats through TNR partnerships and the Barn Cat program.

Norwood said the ACS’ statistics include healthy, adoptable animals, as well as cats and dogs that enter the shelter needing medical or behavioral care.

ACS received more than 90,000 calls for service in 2014, marking a 74% increase in follow-up and ACS-initiated calls from 2013. About 30,000 animals were impounded – a 5% increase since 2013, according to ACS statistics.

“If we come across injured animals, (rescuing them) is one of our highest priorities,” Norwood said. “We need to be able to get veterinary care to that pet. Because we have a working veterinary clinic, we are able to do that, but if something occurs after-hours, our relationship with the local emergency clinic provides a stopgap in between.”

Dr. Marilyn Gotbeter, chief veterinarian with the City of San Antonio's ACS, cares for a puppy. Image courtesy of ACS.
Dr. Marilyn Gotbeter, chief veterinarian with the City of San Antonio’s ACS, cares for a puppy. Image courtesy of ACS.

Norwood attributed the improvements to a combination of community education and a dynamic, passionate enforcement and clinical staff.

“There’s been an increased willingness of the City and the community at large to work together on this issue,” she said. “The City has tried to embrace partnership, collaboration and a basic understanding that ACS cannot solve the problem on its own – it needs the help of the community, rescue partners, animal lovers and it needs to provide ways for folks who don’t have a pet to get involved.”

She encouraged people who visit the clinic to adopt animals to keep an open mind. Often, they will enter with a set opinion about the breed and type of animal they want to adopt.

Norwood also encouraged people to take advantage of ACS’ low-cost spay and neuter services.

It’s an easy, permanent way for folks to make sure they are practicing responsible pet ownership and not allowing pets to become a nuisance, she said.

More than 26,000 ACS-supported spay/neuter surgeries took place in-house and through partner clinics. There were 816 community cat sterilizations as part of the in-house Trap Neuter Return Program, with 3,872 bite cases reported – a 12% decrease since fiscal year 2013.

ACS provides free rabies shots to pet owners. Photo courtesy of ACS.
ACS provides free rabies shots to pet owners. Photo courtesy of ACS.

“We’ve seen an increase in people micro-chipping their pets as a permanent form of identification,” she said. “It’s great that people have rabies tags, license tags and collars with cute names on them, but these can all fall off. Micro-chipping provides a low-cost way for people to provide permanent identification for their pet.”

A $20, one-time injection in the top of the neck gives pets a unique ID number that the owner can track through a radio frequency signal after registering their pet in the microchip database.

Every animal that enters ACS is scanned multiple times to ensure proper identification and safe return to owners, Norwood noted.

For more information about ACS facilities, visit www.sanantonio.gov/animalcare.

*Featured/top image: ACS surgery packs are made available to the shelter. Photo courtesy of Animal Care Services.

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Katherine Nickas

Katherine Nickas was born in San Antonio near Fort Sam Houston but grew up in southern Indiana. In 2007, she began working for Indiana AgriNews where she covered topics ranging from corn and soybean production...