San Antonio groups race to save pets from euthanasia



Hutchins was not in his assigned Animal Care Services (ACS) kennel the day Kym Virdell picked him up.

The black and white half-breed dog, a young stray placed on the “urgent list” on a recent Thursday due to overcrowding at the shelter, had been granted a reprieve.

Virdell, deputy director of livestreaming for the animal rescue association San Antonio Living Pets (SAPA), sought out Hutchins and three other dogs tagged by the organization to buy them more time to find homes through fostering or adoption.

But she had to manage.

Six days a week, the animal rescue association and others like him have less than two hours to physically rescue animals that are about to be euthanized. ACS euthanizes pets when all attempts at placement have failed and there is an immediate need for capacity.

In recent weeks, the list of dogs, puppies, cats and kittens who could be killed if not rescued by SAPA or another group before the 12:30 p.m. cut-off time has grown considerably, according to a door-keeper. word of ACS.

When the daily list exceeds 25, SAPA declares it a “code red” day, and summer has brought many of those days – as it often does. But SAPA and other groups like it are scrambling to save as many animals as possible.

Last Thursday, as Virdell walked past the rows of kennels, where often female dogs guarded a full litter of wriggling puppies, she discovered that Hutchins had already been moved to Building 6, the last stop before being euthanized. And it was almost 12:30 p.m.

Several other animals were already rescued that day by Animal Rights League staff, as well as ACS workers who took them to their offices in the administration building, giving the dogs a few extra days while a team is working to find placements for them.

Virdell found Hutchins in time.

San Antonio Pets Alive employees Felipe Messenger, right, and Celine Hernandez check on the welfare of dogs transferred from animal care services. Credit: Scott Ball/San Antonio Report

Returning through the ACS campus to the transition kennels at SAPA, the dog waggled its long black tail and bounded happily towards its rescuer.

But according to SAPA, at least one other dog was euthanized that day in what is believed to be a “no-kill” town.

And even Hutchins’ luck could run out – SAPA has just 10 days to find him, and three others he rescued, a new home or a foster family. If that doesn’t happen, it will be sent back to ACS’s kennels — and could potentially be euthanized — so the rescue organization can give another animal a chance at life.

SAPA, the only rescue organization on site at the city’s shelter, is one of more than 200 such organizations that ACS partners with across the country to find placements. So far this year, SAPA alone has rescued nearly 2,600 animals.

But the nonprofit currently has 804 other animals in its care, most in foster homes across the city with people providing temporary placement, including volunteers who care 24 hours a day. newborn kittens.

Despite these efforts, ACS data shows that an increasing number of stray and abandoned dogs and cats are being euthanized at the main shelter, a task carried out every day except Sunday.

Between October 2020 and September 2021, the shelter took in 24,635 animals and euthanized 2,167. More than 1,200 were dogs. “No-kill” is not synonymous with no euthanasia, despite what that sounds like.

“I feel like we’re not educating the community about what’s really going on,” said Alexis Moore, senior director of development and marketing for San Antonio Pets Alive.

“People think no animals are killed,” she said. “[They do not know] healthy, adoptable animals are euthanized here at the city shelter.

The term “no-kill” applies to animal welfare organizations that have a placement rate of 90% or more, according to the Animal Humane Society. It also means that animals should not be euthanized for lack of space, but because of health or behavioral issues, said Lisa Norwood, spokeswoman for the city-run shelter.

That goal has been achieved over the past five years, she said, despite raising 25,000 to 30,000 animals a year. And that’s a far cry from 2011, when the release rate was just 32 percent, six years after the city began making changes to its animal care practices.

But things always heat up at the shelter this time of year, Norwood said.

“It’s our busy season and so you start to see in the summer, in the warmer months, our euthanasia goes up,” Norwood said. In autumn and winter, these numbers tend to decrease.

Of the 2,278 animals taken in by the shelter during the month of June, 255 were euthanized; just over 100 of them were considered healthy. In January, 92 animals were euthanized out of a total of 1,781 admitted.

Although most animal euthanasias at the shelter are related to health issues or behavioral issues that pose a risk to public safety, Norwood said: “Unfortunately, there are still occasions where we must euthanize as there are only a limited number of rooms at the hostel.”

Kym Virdell transports Rolo to the San Antonio Pets Alive pet clinic because the dog refused to walk on a leash.
San Antonio Pets Alive employee Kym Virdell transports Rolo to the San Antonio Pets Alive pet clinic as the dogs refuse to walk on a leash. Credit: Scott Ball/San Antonio Report

Norwood also attributed the growing number of animals in the shelter to the pandemic. In 2020, many people stayed home and were able to adopt and care for pets. That has changed, and the economy also plays a role, Moore said.

“Yesterday someone came to our medical center, a [pet] owner [who] says she’s homeless now,” she said. “She will be evicted and she can no longer take care of her animal.”

On Friday, SAPA called another “code red” as ACS planned to release 29 dogs, including 19 puppies, for euthanasia. All but one were detained to live another day.

Lately, the list is made up of more puppies than usual, Moore said, a sign that pet owners in San Antonio aren’t spaying, neutering and properly containing their animals.

On the steamy afternoon that Hutchins emerged from an ACS kennel, along with a shy sibling couple named Chapo and Rolo, another dog, Dice, was euthanized at the town’s shelter. Although they may not know how close they came to that fate, the three rescued dogs remain in the transition center, waiting in a cage to be adopted or fostered while the clock ticks.

All pets adopted by ACS and SAPA are neutered, vaccinated and microchipped. Hutchins was neutered on Friday.

The main campus at 4719 State Highway 151 is open to the public from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

To encourage more adoptions, ACS has adjusted its fees through September 5. The cost to adopt a dog or cat under the age of 5 is $20 and free for older pets.

SAPA is running a similar special until July 31.

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