Are we up to the No-Kill challenge? 

CHALLENGE: `chal-inj` v. tr. to call or summon to engage: Mayor Phil Hardberger challenged the city to meet the requirements for a No-Kill animal community designation by the year 2012.

One simple word, a complex set of variables, countless interpretations. Our community has been challenged to reconsider what we accept and what we believe is possible; all San Antonians are challenged to engage in caring, in problem-solving, in strong and coordinated action. Can this single word inspire a community of more than 1.3 million people to take responsibility for our companion pets and stop over 30,000 needless euthanizations each year?

By issuing this challenge, Mayor Hardberger took the first step. By making improvements in the Animal Care Services department and unanimously passing the No-Kill Strategic Plan, City Council set the wheels into motion. By uniting around this common cause, the San Antonio Area Foundation, City Animal Care Services, and many partner organizations now demonstrate a commitment to change the way we approach both pet ownership and the fate of homeless and unwanted cats and dogs. By inviting a leading national authority on animal No-Kill, Nathan J. Winograd, to lead a public forum on this topic in San Antonio, we show our absolute readiness to step up to the challenge of becoming a No-Kill city by 2012.

Winograd’s “No Kill Equation” combines strategies, that when implemented together, have been successful in such geographically and economically diverse communities as San Francisco and Tompkins County, New York. The challenge for us here in San Antonio is to use this comprehensive, integrated approach as a guide to create and put into place our own set of interlocking programs and services that will move us progressively closer to saving the life of every healthy, adoptable pet.

One mainstay of the No-Kill movement and Winograd’s “No Kill Equation” is trap-neuter-return, or TNR, to reduce the population of “feral” cats who are not domesticated enough to be adoptable. The TNR method is a systematic program to humanely trap, neuter or spay, and vaccinate feral cats, then return them to their home colony to live out their natural lives under the caring watch of a volunteer colony manager. TNR has found success on college campuses, military bases, in apartment complexes, and public parks as an effective method to reduce the feral-cat population humanely where traditional “catch and kill” has failed for more than 20 years.

This type of program has long been conducted “under the radar” due to municipal ordinances. Accepting the challenge to change ineffective practices, City Council authorized a pilot TNR program last year. On the heels of that success, provisions for controlled and supervised TNR have been built into the proposed revision of San Antonio’s municipal animal code known as Chapter 5. The proposed Chapter 5 revision builds on and incorporates many effective strategies like TNR, free licensing, microchipping, and more accessible spay/neuter clinic opportunities.

Possibly the most daunting challenge facing our city is not adopting these state-of-the-art progressive practices, but making the shift from pet “owners” to pet “guardians.” Companion animals do not represent yet another possession to be acquired, discarded, or abused. A commitment to family pets must encompass an acceptance of responsibility for their physical and emotional needs for their entire lifetimes.

Euthanizing massive numbers of homeless and abandoned cats, dogs, kittens, and puppies under the umbrella of “business as usual” alienates and drives away bright minds, tourists, and good businesses that we need if we are to become a world-class city. City staff and officials, the San Antonio Area Foundation, and a growing number of community and corporate partners have accepted this challenge of No-Kill as part of our community’s roadmap to greatness.

But we can’t accomplish this task alone: It will require the hearts and hands of our entire community. No-Kill can’t be realized overnight, but the seeds of change can be sown in one night – Thursday, October 25, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Norris Conference Center in Crossroads Mall, when Winograd outlines the proven elements of his “No Kill Equation.” Are you up to the challenge? •

For more information or to RSVP for the event, call the Area Foundation at (210) 242-4720.

Laura McKiernan, DrPH is a member of the committee working on municipal Chapter 5 revisions; a member of the San Antonio Area Foundation consortium addressing the No-Kill initiative; District 1 appointee to the Animal Care Services Advisory Board; and Vice-Chair of the Citizens for Pound Reform (CPR).

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