When Executive Director of Concho Valley Paws Jenie Wilson goes to the San Angelo Animal Shelter every week, she looks into the eyes of all the animals there. She has to fight the overwhelming feeling of fear and despair—a fear and despair that’s very real considering half of those animals get euthanized weekly.
Since January of 2014, the Shelter has taken in 10,000 animals, and out of those intakes, 7,000 animals get euthanized yearly.
“Something has to change,” Wilson said Tuesday morning during the San Angelo City Council Meeting Regular Agenda session held at the McNease Convention Center, 501 Rio Concho Drive.
Wilson, who came as a concerned citizen to speak on this topic, said she started with Concho Valley Paws in 2008. At that time, the Shelter worked with a budget of $600,000. Today, that has increased to $850,000.
“Every year the number of animals being euthanized has increased, and every year, the budget has increased in response,” she said.
As for the number of animals the Shelter sees daily, taxpayers pay the price for that, which is why Assistant Director of Neighborhood and Family Services James Flores, who oversees the Shelter since March, hopes to change things.
Flores said San Angelo, in relation to other Texas cities, has one of the worst euthanasia rates in the state. Texas has more than a 60 percent animal kill rate, but this includes wildlife including skunks, birds, etc. The kill rate in San Angelo communities though is much lower, and San Angelo needs to follow suit.
“It’s a conversation we need to have,” Flores said. “I do believe there’s something we can learn from other communities and we need to talk about this.”
Flores also said the Shelter currently has tools in place, such as four Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), educational efforts like the Strategic National Implementation Process (SNIP), adoption services, and of course, euthanasia. However, the last part they want to lower, and to do so, Flores’ team needs more.
By more, Flores is proposing a “mandatory” ordinance that would require all animal owners to spay and neuter their pets. In addition, Flores wants to eliminate tags in favor of microchipping because of technology benefits, better customer service and a better way of dealing with the influx of animals found daily. Those owners who fail to comply with this ordinance would face penalty through fines.
“This is not going to be a going to everyone’s house, knocking on doors, and checking if a dog or cat is spayed and neutered kind of thing,” Flores said. “It’s going to be secondary enforcement.”
This secondary enforcement is simple. If Animal Control Services picks up an animal over 4 months old, and that animal is not spayed or neutered, the repercussions will be a citation. Not to mention, the Shelter would spay, neuter and microchip the animal at the owner’s expense. The only exceptions to this ordinance would include people who breed with a current license and microchip, people who need their animals for medical reasons, people who compete their animals professionally, and those people who use animals for specialty reasons, including law enforcement.
“Of course we would need to allow time for citizens to get ready for the ordinance, which would be 6 months,” Flores said. He also said the spay and neuter program is a safe and simple procedure that prevents animals from reproducing.
“It also reduces risks of cancer, and pets tend to interact better with their families,” Flores said.
Flores noted that one “unaltered” female cat and its offspring equals 420,000 cats in 7 years; one “unaltered” female dog and its offspring equals 67,000 in 6 years. Also, 85 percent of the animals hit by cars are unaltered. Therefore, the ordinance would help with the animal roaming issue in the city.
“From a job perspective, it’s about the intake,” Flores said. “From a human perspective, it’s just overwhelming.”
People take animals to the Shelter because they don’t want them to end up somewhere else, Flores said. However, they don’t realize these animals get put down.
“It costs $71 a day for an animal to come into our shelter. The costs actually exceed that, but I stopped at $71. It’s a monstrosity right now,” Flores added.
Additionally, the most common breeds that get euthanized besides cats are Chihuahuas and pit bulls.
“There’s a human element involved,” Flores said. “It’s a cultural issue. The ordinance can address it, but it won’t completely fix it.”
When Flores said this is a cultural issue, he means people, usually irresponsible animal owners, buy a dog for the wrong reasons. Usually, the dogs the Shelter gets are pit bull and Chihuahua mixes. He referred to pit bulls as a great and loyal breed. People get what they want out of them, even if those wants aren’t in the animals’ best interest. As for the small breed, many people think they’ll make lots of money off Chihuahuas and try to sell them at Wal-mart or online; but they don’t sell like they think, and when they start to grow, the sellers get rid of them.
Wilson from CVP said it’s sad when she sees all the people promoting the sale of Chihuahuas on the San Angelo Swap & Sell Facebook page. She’ll let them know the organization offers free spay and neuter vouchers for that breed and pit bulls, and their responses “are atrocious.”
“They don’t care about the Shelter or the number of animals being euthanized. All they care about is the money they’re making,” Wilson said.
Another common dog breed the Shelter has seen lately are huskies. Flores said he was surprised by the number he has seen since starting this job.
“Again, huskies are like pit bulls. They’re a great breed, but a lot of work,” he said.
When reviewing the information provided by Flores, Council members were definitely overwhelmed.
“I was opposed to [the ordinance proposal] when I walked in, but after hearing James, I think we need to move forward,” said Marty Self, Single-Member District 2. “It’s not going to be an easy fix, and I think [the proposal] will come back a few times, but we need to move forward.”
By moving forward, the Council agreed to provide direction rather than completely approve the proposal, particularly because some members had an issue with the word “mandatory.”
Charlotte Farmer, SMD6, said she agreed with what James’ team wants to accomplish with this proposal. However, we belong in a free society, and as a responsible pet owner, she wants the right to choose to breed her “exceptionally smart” and “well-behaved dog”, especially because she views it as a member of her family.
“Obviously, [my dog’s] lifespan isn’t as long as mine, and I might want to breed my dog so I can have an offspring. I shouldn’t have to hold a license to do so,” Farmer said.
Farmer said she did agree though for the spay and neutered ordinance for those animals that go through the Shelter.
Additionally, Mayor Dwain Morrison had an issue with the term used in the proposal.
“It’s a feel good ordinance, but I don’t put any faith in that it’s going to work,” Morrison said. “I don’t like the word ‘mandatory.’ I don’t want you to tell me I have to neuter.”
The Mayor also said he didn’t mind educating people about the issue, but by using the term “mandatory,” people won’t follow it.
Regardless, however, Farmer said the overall goal is to emphasize to the people that they have to be responsible for their pets.
“The real culprits or violators will be dealt with,” Farmer said. “The people [who] are really breaking the law are the ones we’ll be dealing with.”
He said responsible pet owners aren’t the problem. It’s the irresponsible ones. If people take care of their animals, they’re “out of sight and out of mind.” It’s also no different than the people who take care of their yards and make sure they have car insurance. They aren’t the ones who get bothered. However, the ones who let their grass grow high and don’t have insurance, they face getting a citation. This ordinance would be no different.
Although the term “mandatory” has to be worked out, Flores now has approval to move forward with finding a solution to this problem plaguing San Angelo. He certainly has a lot of public reinforcements. In fact, public testimony went on for more than 20 minutes by local citizens in support of the ordinance.
“I don’t think the mandatory thing is going to be a bad thing for responsible pet owners,” said one advocate. “It will be a problem for irresponsible ones.”