A New Public Focus on Stray Dogs and Cats, Animal Welfare

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Animal Care Officer Kassi Bennett pours fresh water for dogs that didn't have clean water to drink, year to date the Animal Care Services has received over 70,000 calls from the 311 service.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Animal Care Officer Kassi Bennett pours fresh water for dogs who didn't have clean water to drink.

San Antonians are passionate about their pets – and they’ve turned out to voice their opinions during a series of recent public hearings hosted by the City of San Antonio’s Animal Care Services (ACS).

ACS is finalizing its long-range strategic plan to present to City Council in September. The department’s Aug. 2 public meeting at the Urban Ecology Center at Hardberger Park was among seven public input sessions on reshaping San Antonio’s animal care and control policies.

Susan Beldon, an animal activist, said citizen input is driving changes in the City’s animal services.

“I think all of the community meetings are part of a candid process that will create some changes,” she said. “I think people are vocal about what they think is right and what is wrong.”

Southside resident Margaret Murphy wanted to see more teeth put into San Antonio’s Chapter 5 animal laws, especially those prohibiting sales of pets at commercial and public venues, such as flea markets.

“These laws have been on the books for almost 10 years,” she said. “We need to see more enforcement of them.”

ACS began its process to update Chapter 5 and its strategic plan in February. ACS Director Heber Lefgren said residents attended nine public meetings, completed 1,073 surveys, and provided more than 60,000 responses through social media. He said 80% identified themselves as pet owners, including 75% who had utilized ACS services and 30% who identified as animal advocates.

“We collected information and views from residents on animal-related issues, and we’ve compiled that information,” Lefgren said. “What we saw is that most felt we’ve made some progress over the past five years, but also that more work needs to be done.”

Lefgren said updating ACS’ strategic plan centered on four priorities.

“Enforce the law; control the stray animal population; increase the live animal release rate, and educate the public,” he said. “Those priorities still remain relevant, but so does the need to create a balance between them.”

ACS’s proposed recommendations for Chapter 5 now include:

  • Pets found roaming free of restraint, without owner/seller permits, or found in repeat violation of city animal ordinances will be required to be spayed and/or neutered.
  • Dog-tethering requirements will provide additional unobstructed space and access to food, water, and shelter. Tethering will not be allowed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  • Granting ACS increased authority over sales of animals quartered in unauthorized locations and sellers identified as repeat violators of permitting and vending laws.
  • Maintaining current standards for fowl ownership to three without an excess animal permit; allowing only one rooster per 10 hens with an excess permit, and extending unobstructed ownership space for cats and dogs connected to an approved excess permit to 450 sq. ft. per animal.
  • Clarifies definitions for dangerous and aggressive animals. Pets captured by ACS will undergo spaying and/or neutering prior to being released to owners, who must also attend classes on responsible pet ownership.
  • Requires that permit numbers for registered animals and buyers/sellers be included in sales advertisements, mandates breeders and sellers to attend responsible ownership classes prior to obtaining permits.
  • Requires free City permits for tax-exempt animal rescue organizations; clamps down on those attempting to skirt ACS requirements to obtain sellers permits, pet shop licenses, and excess animal permits.
  • Granting ACS officers authority to issue citations for animal noise complaints, defines a 10-minute time limit (twice within a one-week time period) for continuous noises heard and/or recorded within 100 yards of a suspected violating residence or inside a dwelling structure.

Residents at Wednesday’s meeting were most concerned about noise enforcement issues – barking dogs and crowing roosters.

“I’d like to see all roosters banned in the city,” said one woman, adding that one living next to her home starts crowing at 5:30 a.m. every day.

A rooster presumably abandoned, struts across the parking lot near the San Antonio Train Depot parking lot. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A rooster struts across the parking lot near the San Antonio Train Depot parking lot.

That elicited a response from the owner of several roosters she regards as pets.

“Why should noise from my pets be considered any more offensive than the noise from other pets,” she asked. “We’re not hillbilly cockfighters. We love our roosters.”

Other comments focused on spay/neutering services and availability, differences between state and local authority governing animal control laws, and costs associated with new laws.

“I think residents are almost 50-50 on the tethering and fowl proposals,” Lefgren said.

ACS has 40 animal control officers serving throughout the city. ACS community care officers serve in Districts 2, 3, 4, and 5. District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño wants one assigned to his district, where many residents desire more enforcement from ACS officers.

“It’s not that we don’t have officers in all [city] districts,” said Shannon Sims, assistant ACS director and enforcement officer. “But the community care officers serve exclusively in those four districts.

“But all of our officers are already addressing most concerns of citizens. These proposals will give us additional resources and tools they need to enforce the laws.”

Animal Care Officers Kassi Bennett and Jillian Lotspeich prepare a violation sheet for a dog owner who refuses to take her injured dog to a veterinary clinic.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Animal Care Officers Kassi Bennett and Jillian Lotspeich prepare a violation sheet for a dog owner who refuses to take her injured dog to a veterinary clinic.

Lefgren said adopting changes wouldn’t immediately impact City funding for ACS, which currently has a $13.9 million annual budget.

ACS will stage two more public meetings over the next few weeks to get additional comments before crafting a final proposal to present to City Council in September.

“We want to make sure the progress we’ve made is still going in the right direction,” Lefgren added. “We will present our proposal during a B session of City Council in September, and present it again during an A Council session later that month.”

City Council will vote on ACS proposals and revisions to Chapter 5 before the law goes into effect Oct. 1. A grace period will update the public on the new rules before enforcement begins in March 2018.

The next meeting is 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at the South San Community Center, 2031 Quintana Road; the final meeting is set for 6-8 p.m. Aug. 23 at the Dorie Miller Community Center, 2802 Martin Luther King Drive.

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