Over the past six years, San Antonio has made substantial progress in its goal to become an animal no-kill city. In 2006, the city had the highest euthanasia per capita of any city in the nation, putting down 9 out of every 10 dogs and cats that entered the municipal shelter.
It is much better to be a dog or cat in San Antonio now.
The live release rate—the percentage of dogs and cats adopted, transferred to rescue groups, or returned to their owners from the City of San Antonio Animal Care Services (ACS)—is averaging over 77 percent.
Editor’s Note: Today young students participating in ACS’ third annual “Animal Allies” summer camp will be demonstrating how many shelter pets can be trained while teaching campers responsible pet ownership by “studying animal care, behavior and training with shelter pets.” The demonstration will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the Animal Care Services-Training Annex (4710 State Highway 151).
That being said, there is still a lingering problem in many parts of the city: too many stray and free roaming dogs and cats. They are a nuisance to homeowners and a safety problem for postal carriers, commuters, joggers, bike riders, and neighborhoods. More than 30,000 dead dogs and cats were picked up last year by the Solid Waste Department from city streets. Because of the large number of stray/free roaming dogs and cats, many people see the no-kill effort as a failure. They ask the question, “What good is no-kill?”
Let’s define some key terms. “No-kill” means that no healthy, treatable or adoptable dog or cat will be euthanized at a shelter just because of lack of space or because its owner surrenders it. It is generally accepted that a 90 percent live release rate — which includes all healthy, treatable and adoptable pets—is considered to be “no-kill.”
When we talk about “stray and free roaming pets,” that includes homeless and abandoned dogs and cats; but it also includes dogs and cats whose owners allow them to roam freely. It is legal for cats, not dogs, to roam freely only if the cats are neutered and vaccinated.
Why is no-kill important to San Antonio?
First, the aggressive use of no-kill methods reduces the number of stray and free roaming pets in the city, making the streets and neighborhoods safer for families to exercise and play outside. Reducing the number of stray and free roaming pets saves tax dollars by decreasing the number of pets that have to be picked up, impounded, and held until they are released or euthanized at the shelter.
Second, fewer stray pets and the commitment to become no-kill makes San Antonio more attractive to people as well as businesses that consider relocating here.
Third, the advantages of having a no-kill city help address some of the SA2020 Initiative’s goals: Community Safety, Neighborhoods & Growth Management, Economic Competitiveness, Family Well-being, and Health & Fitness.
Fewer stray and free roaming pets make the streets safer and save tax dollars. Residents are less likely to jog, ride a bike, or play outside in their neighborhood if there are free roaming dogs around. There isn’t enough money in the city budget to hire the number of animal control officers needed to address the issue across the entire city. Although reducing the stray population won’t entirely eliminate the need for animal control officers, it would make it unnecessary to increase the number and, over time, the number of officers could be reduced.
Similarly, there are costs associated with picking up dogs and cats that have died in the streets and for those who are picked up and transported to the shelter. It is roughly $200 to catch, impound, house for the mandatory three days, and euthanize a dog; it costs an average of $53 to spay or neuter one.
For every dog or cat neutered, there are hundreds of puppies and kittens that will not be born to add to the overpopulation. An aggressive spay/neuter program is much cheaper to the city than catching and killing tens of thousands of dogs and cats year after year.
Businesses and people want to relocate to a no-kill city. It is certainly more pleasant to know that your city cares for pets and is clear of roaming and dead animals than to see tens of thousands of pets roaming, homeless, or dead in the streets.
Living in a pet-friendly city is a big consideration for many people. In addition, pet care is big business. Retailers who sell pet products, veterinarians, groomers, pet boarding operators, and manufacturers of pet products make up a significant portion of the economy.
A live pet will generate income for these businesses for 10 – 15 years, while a dead dog or cat provides no economic stimulus at all. Petco, Purina Health Care, and Pet’s Barn are some of the larger pet product retailers and manufacturers that have come to San Antonio in the past few years. These are businesses that San Antonio wants to attract, along with the people who work for them.
The City of San Antonio has made a significant commitment to no-kill. In 1997, ACS along with others formed the Animal Resource Center, now known as SpaySA, to provide high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter surgeries. There are six high-volume clinics operating in San Antonio today. ACS also formed partnerships with San Antonio Pets Alive! (SAPA!), the Animal Defense League of Texas (ADL), the San Antonio Humane Society (SAHS), and several smaller rescue groups to rescue the healthy and adoptable pets that ACS cannot place into homes on its own. A large investment has been made and is beginning to pay off through the higher release rate.
This investment has not escaped the notice of large, national funders such as Best Friends Animal Society, Petco Foundation, and PetSmart Charities. Each of these groups has made big investments in San Antonio—well into the millions of dollars altogether. No-kill has had a positive economic impact in San Antonio.
In 2012, more than 30,000 dogs and cats were adopted from ACS, ADL, SAHS, SAPA and other rescue groups. This placed 30,000 neutered and vaccinated pets into San Antonio homes. It made buying a pet from a puppy mill, backyard breeder, or from an ad in the newspaper unnecessary—and you can be certain that none of those pets would have been neutered or vaccinated.
Thirty-thousand shelter adoptions prevented many times that number of births, thereby further reducing the stray/free roaming population.
After the Nevada Humane Society and the Washoe County Regional Animal Services in Reno, NV, embarked on an aggressive rescue and adoption effort in 2007, it took a few years for the effort to take effect; but beginning in 2011, the intake was reduced by 11% over the next two years. That is what can happen in San Antonio, too.
When we talk about making San Antonio a no-kill city, there is no conflict between getting all healthy and adoptable dogs and cats adopted or returned to their owners and getting stray and free roaming dogs and cats off the streets. It is not an either/or proposition. To be a no-kill city, we need to have a high live release rate and a low amount of stray/free roaming pets.
That is where the No Kill Equation comes in. Developed by national no-kill advocate Nathan Winograd, the No-Kill Equation is a set of strategies to end the killing of healthy and adoptable pets at shelters.
No-kill in this context is not just a noble idea—it is a set of practical, humane methods that are proven in cities around the nation to reduce the stray and free roaming dog and cat population. Arguably, these are the ONLY practices that work.
No-kill saves tax dollars, helps generate millions of dollars through pet related businesses, makes neighborhoods safer, and improves our economic competitiveness by making the city more attractive to businesses and individuals.
That is why no-kill is important to San Antonio. And, by the way, there is nothing wrong with being humane, either. San Antonio CAN be the largest no-kill city in the nation.
Gavin Nichols is the program officer at the San Antonio Area Foundation for Animal Services and High School Completion grantmaking and program manager for the Area Foundation’s Animal No-kill program. Gavin is a 5th generation Texan, born and raised in Dallas; but considers himself a San Antonian after living here for the past 28 years. He is a family man, parishioner at St. Helena Catholic Church, and a mediocre, but avid golfer. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter at @gavnichols. He also has Facebook and Twitter pages under @NoKillSA.