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Animal Care Services Director Seeks Public Input 

Today and tomorrow you can catch the last of the public meetings arranged by Animal Care Services. These meetings give citizens an opportunity to speak their mind on spay/neuter options, pet licensing, tethering and animal sales before revisions to the Chapter 5 ordinance covering animal issues are proposed to the City. We attended a meeting last week for District 2 residents and found Animal Care Services Director Gary Hendel's honesty refreshing, and disturbing. As with most other departments, the City slashed Animal Care Services' budget last year, removing $750,000 and 14 positions from Animal Care Services' annual budget. The bulk of the removed funding would have gone to the City's Spay and Neuter budget, a crucial component of the No Kill roadmap. The loss of trained Animal Care Services officers meant a damaging blow to an already feeble force. Currently, Hendel says the City of Dallas, population 1,232,940 (in 2007), has 60 officers in the field. San Antonio, population 1,328,984, has 28. Think on that next time you call repeatedly to report stray animals in your 'hood. To help manage the 88,000 calls for service in the past year alone, Hendel said 311 and Animal Care Services developed a system to quantify calls. A Priority 1 call means an animal is currently attacking. Priority 2 is an animal chasing a human or acting in a seriously aggressive manner. Priority 5 (3 and 4 don't exist, yet) are calls about any other sort of stray animal. If your call is a Priority 5, "we don't care," said Hendel bluntly. "I care. My officers care. But we don't have time." Moreover, Current staff hopes to get more information on faulty communications between 311 operators and Animal Care Services that Hendel said resulted in a number of higher priority calls getting classified as Priority 5. Hendel, who came to San Antonio from Portland's Animal Control Division 10 months ago, says that another reason so many strays don't meet the dog/cat catcher in a timely manner is the swanky $12 million Animal Care Services campus opened in 2007, which, despite covering 38,000 square feet managed to reduce the number of kennels from 334 to 193. "We've handcuffed `our officers`," said Handel. "We've said, 'stop doing what you're good at, we don't have space.'"

Those are internal problems, and the QueQue reckons they won't truly be resolved without additional big bucks for more kennels, subsidized spay/neuter procedures and more officers dedicated to enforcement. What you, the average SA animal lover (or hater), can do is give your two cents on some specific areas of the ordinance Hendel and his staff are revising and hoping to present to City Council come mid-May.

1) Spay/neuter. For whatever reason, San Antonians seem to like their pets intact, meaning balls swinging and bitches in heat. Animal Care Services still hasn't figured out the best way to STRONGLY encourage pet owners to spay and neuter their animals. Up for discussion is a mandatory spay/neuter policy, excluding police dogs, purebred breeders and show animals.

2) Tethering. It might seem like an easy option for owners without a fence in their yard, but not only can tethering dogs outside expose them to harsh elements, it can leave unspayed females open to gang bangs by unneutered male dogs, with no means of escape. Hendel notes these females act as bait luring packs of the City's most aggressive animals right to the tetherer's doorstep.

3)Puppy sales. QueQue's favorite pun of the evening was "impounding puppies," a term Hendel came up with to address the fact that when slapped with a fine, illegal puppy sellers pay it, then turn around and sell another puppy to make up the debt. Hendel proposed "confiscating" illegal puppy litters for sale and imposing steep fines.

4) Female pets in heat. Keep them inside, 'nuff said.

5) Fowl/livestock. New marketing slogan: Keep your cocks out of COSA. Laying hens are acceptable, but Animal Care Services is deliberating on whether a restriction should be placed on how many one owner can house within city limits and whether their coops should be subject to regulation.

QueQue hopes concerned citizens involve themselves in the No Kill initiative and not leave it up to the City to do all the hard work. It's no secret that San Antonio won't make their No Kill 2012 goal. "There's no way on God's green earth," said Hendel. Not with the current budget and department size at least. "I believe San Antonio could be No Kill in 10 years," he said. Assistant City Manager T.C. Broadnax, Hendel's boss, has a rosier outlook. "We're not ready to say 'uncle' so to speak" he said regarding the feasibility of meeting the 2012 No Kill Goal. The City's definition of No Kill means that 70 percent of healthy, adoptable animals that come into the shelter are adopted out. Right now, Hendel says San Antonio is at 35 percent, a commendable increase from 12.5 percent four years ago, but nowhere near the city's goal, just one and a half years away.

If you're interested in hearing firsthand what Hendel and his Animal Care Services team have to say, hustle down to Igo Branch Library today from 6-7:30 p.m. or OLLU's Library Communications room tomorrow between 6-8 p.m. Those who can't attend in person can still provide input to Animal Care Services' Chapter 5 ordinance revisions via this handy-dandy survey.

Fill it out and fax it to (210) 207-6673 or email it to Hendel at [email protected]

***UPDATE*** QueQue realized an ordinance described to us just yesterday (4/12) as "pie in the sky" by Animal Care Services has made its way onto this week's City Council agenda. Those who have attended the Chapter 5 ordinance meetings may recall Hendel or assistant director Vincent Medley mention the possible takeover of abandoned kennel space at Brooks City Base for an auxiliary shelter that could hold an estimated 10,000-12,000 animals annually, or about 50 percent more than the 23,000 Animal Care Services took in during FY2009. The ordinance on Thursday's agenda would authorize transferring funding from the FY 2010 General Fund Budget to cover nine additional staff positions for the new kennel and $125,000 to renovate the existing space. Much of the funding would come from $500,000 earlier authorized to add 50 additional kennels to Animal Care Services' main campus, which would be canceled in favor of the Brooks City Base site. Additional funding is proposed to be taken from savings in the General Fund. During the meeting that QueQue attended, Hendel said that if the ordinance passes, he expects the new kennels to be operational by July 1, 2010. Without the new facility,a memo issued by Capital Improvements Management Services warns that, "the City will be forced to limit its present intake which will significantly delay the date this goal (presumably the No Kill 2010 goal) can be fully implemented." We're awaiting a call from Animal Care Services to tell us why this issue on the City Council A Agenda is so "pie in the sky" that they wouldn't discuss it further with the QueQue.

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