More than 4,000 dogs euthanized by the City of San Antonio during 2013

Four thousand, eight hundred thirty one. According to our analysis of the City of San Antonio’s own records: 4,831 dogs were euthanized by its Animal Care Services department last year. Nearly 2,000 of those dogs were listed in the reports as “healthy."

Those numbers came as a shock to volunteers who try to help find the pound pups new homes, “It is disgusting that so many are killed. That is atrocious," said Laurie Williams.

More than 2,300 of the dogs put to sleep were listed as “unhealthy and untreatable." Some volunteers have their hackles up about that number, saying miscategorizations and miscommunications within the City’s Animal Care Services (ACS) is causing some animals to die unnecessarily. 

The problem

There’s no question the San Antonio shelter is dealing with an overwhelming animal overpopulation problem. In fiscal year 2013 ACS took in more than 21,000 dogs. Many irresponsible pet owners don’t spay and neuter their dogs and allow them to roam freely. When those stray adult dogs and their puppies end up in the city pound cages fill up quickly. When people don’t claim their own dog and people don’t offer to rescue, foster or adopt the animal within the time frame ACS assigns, dogs are euthanized. It's something that breaks Texas animal rescue volunteer, Teresa O'Toole Garrone's heart. "Sad. Just so sad," Garrone said. "All of those lives lost. And it could have been prevented. If owners would just be responsible."

Complaints about mislabeling and assessment errors

When a dog comes into the shelter city records say ACS employees do an assessment of the animal's health and behavior to see if it would make a good candidate for adoption. That process has volunteers like Jennifer Studley concerned. She complains mishaps and incorrect evaluations in the San Antonio shelter are not helping the already tragic situation.

During a visit to the pound Studley noticed one dog had a “STOP - DO NOT APPROACH- WILL BITE” sign on her kennel door.

Studley noticed it was the dog’s last day being held, so she decided to check this pooch out a little closer and tells us, “I sat on the floor in front of her and she was not showing any signs of aggression towards me," said Studley. "I placed my hand inside her kennel. I took video of my interaction with her from both inside and outside of her kennel. I took her out on a leash where she interacted with other dogs and people including a 5 year old who gave her a treat.” 

Studley said what happened next was very upsetting. “After showing the video to an ACS employee, I was told the best thing she could do was give her a 24 hour hold (a 24 hold from being euthanized) for me," said Studley.

She got to work, spreading the word about this mislabeled dog. A friend of Studley’s ended up adopting her and tells Studley, "She's the best dog she’s ever had."

Now Studley is now calling for changes in the shelter's assessment process, knowing many dogs react initially out of fear when being placed in the pound. “I feel it is unfair to hang a death sentence on the door of any kennel unless the dog has been properly evaluated, not just written off because of how she reacted to the animal control officer when she was pulled from the street by a catch pole and placed in a box in the truck," said Studley.

Petition: Dogs killed while there was space available at the shelter

We found there’s currently an online petition circulating with more than 1900 signatures asking ACS director, Kathy Davis, to “Stop the shelter from euthanizing animals when there are open kennels!”

Volunteers say that's what happened to this dog, "Ozzy." A commenter on the Facebook post says, “ACS had 60 open kennels today but not spare one to give this beautiful baby an extra day shame on ACS.”

Elizabeth Barrera created the internet call for action. "I've been told by ACS administration that they need to have kennel space for the incoming animals. But how do they know just how many? They don't know," said Barrera. "They kill animals to make room for the unexpected number of animals coming in. Could they think of a better system? Have a tighter control of inventory so that more dogs are spared?"

Barrera's petition is one of just a number of online petitions raising questions and asking for transparency in how San Antonio operates its shelter. 

City of San Antonio response

The City of San Antonio mayor’s office and city manager’s office did not respond to requests for comment. When this author made a request for information using public records laws the city provided copies of ACS policies.

In a memo dated May 30, 2013 the city states it’s "Strategic Plan" is, “1) Enhanced Enforcement; 2) Controlling the Stray population; and 3) Increasing the Live Release rate.”

The City also released its euthanasia policy, signed by ACS Director Kathy Davis. It says, “Euthanasia is considered the department’s last option for the disposition of animals. At times it is necessary for ACS to perform euthanasia due to concerns regarding medical condition, behavior or shelter capacity. While the decision to euthanize can be made at any time buy authorized individuals, the decision is primarily discussed by leadership from each division during daily shelter rounds.”

According to more records the city released, if a dog ends up at the shelter as a stray, ACS policy on holding the dogs says: If there’s no identification on a pooch, like tags, a tattoo or microchip the dog is held for three days. For dog’s that do have identification, their hold time is increased to five days. If an owner surrenders their dog, or brings them to the pound, there’s no mandated hold time. Once a dog’s time is up, it’s up to ACS staff to assess if the animal can be put up for adoption or put to sleep.

Nothing in the policies sent to this author discuss or define “shelter capacity," or in what instances dogs would be put to sleep if there are open cages or space in the pound.

What you can do to help

If someone wants to adopt but doesn't live nearby, the dogs can be transported across the country. Local rescue groups also work with in and out of state rescue groups in case a group reading this article maybe interested in taking some of the dogs.

If you want to check out animals that need homes urgently check out the animals on city's website.  Some will be put down in the next 24-48 hours, so volunteers say if one seems like a perfect fit for your family, or you fall in love with a glimmer in a dog's eye, please act quickly, the situation is dire.

Fostering a Dog

Volunteers said what they need most right now are foster homes. Fostering dogs helps to save lives, it's tax deductible and there are local businesses in the San Antonio area who will give fosters a break on pet services. 

If you live within a couple of hours of the city rescue groups plea, please consider fostering a dog. That means allowing a pup or pooch to stay with you for a week or two until they can find "furever homes" or they can be transferred to another rescue group. You're literally saving a dog's life by giving them a temporary home and taking them off the euthanasia list.

(This Watchdog Mary article originally published March 9, 2014 on Examiner.com)