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Animal control? Swing a dead cat over your head

Back when Phil Hardberger was campaigning for mayor, he filled out a questionnaire provided to him by local Voice for Animals representatives.

“As mayor, will you be in favor of appointing a committee to reevaluate the purpose, design, and location of the new facility to produce a plan that supports the no-kill goals of decreasing the number of kills (of dogs and cats) to zero, ensuring humane treatment of animals, and implementing aggressive spay-neuter and adoption campaigns?” asked one of the questions.

“I would want to evaluate the plans for the new animal-control facility to ensure that they are in line with our goals,” Hardberger answered.

“As mayor, will you support a preventive spay-neuter ordinance to control irresponsible breeding?”

His answer: “Prevention is the key to reducing the number of animals entering the pound, and is therefore the key to reaching the no-kill goal. As mayor, I will provide the leadership to help reduce irresponsible breeding.”

In short, no solid commitment.

The New York Times in January boasted that the Big Apple “has one of the lowest kill rates in the country, when measured against human population New York killed 3.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 people in 2004, a rate far below the national average of 17.4 per 1,000.”

Then the article added the kicker: “In comparison, San Antonio, with a population of just over 1 million, killed about 35 animals per 1,000 people in 2003.”

“This issue cuts across all political orientations.

In San Antonio, this is becoming more of a

quality-of-life issue.”

Sam Sanchez,
Animal-care services director

“We need a maturation of the animal issue,” says Sam Sanchez, director of the city’s animal-care services department, which was removed from the health department’s jurisdiction at the beginning of the year. It is now its own department. “We have whole generations of new, young San Antonians that are here, who have different expectations of how animal issues should be addressed. There is a strong sense that ordinances need to be enforced rigorously, and that we provide multiple types of services that are more broad-based than catching and euthanizing animals.”

While there has been a bureaucratic shuffle at animal-care services, little else has changed. The City switched from gassing cats and dogs to administering lethal injections, but it still is projected to kill from 50,000 to 80,000 animals per year, even at a new, $12 million animal-care facility that has yet to be built.

John Hackett of Voice for Animals says several U.S. cities have adopted ordinances regarding mandatory spay/neutering, and even a requirement for an animal-breeders license; he ultimately wants to see San Antonio’s animal-care facilities be no-kill zones.

“We need to move by accountable steps to a goal of zero,” says Hackett, referring to the no-kill policy already practiced by the Humane Society. (Unlike the City’s shelter, the Humane Society can turn away animals.) “The key is to build a no-kill shelter.”

Hackett adds that a stronger ordinance requiring spaying and neutering of animals and forbidding owners to breed without a license “would be a change in attitude; parents, teachers can tell their children and students this is the right thing to do.”

It is cheaper in San Antonio to license altered animals. If a dog or cat is spayed or neutered, a license costs $5. If not, the license costs $20.

Los Angeles also has a licensing law: “Spaying and neutering is mandatory for all dogs and cats in city limits unless the guardian has obtained a $100 annual unaltered animal permit. If the guardian wishes to breed the animal, they must also obtain a breeders license. Violators will be fined $500 and would be considered a misdemeanor.”

Sanchez says San Antonio’s animal population overload should be answered in part by an increase in spay/neuters, and the plan is to step up the number of surgeries to at least 10,000 per year.

“This issue cuts across all political orientations,” says Sanchez. “In San Antonio, this is becoming more of a quality-of-life issue.”

It’s also an issue that Phil Hardberger promised to address when he campaigned for mayor.

By Michael Cary

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