Friday, September 30, 2011

San Antonio pound does not photograph all lost animals

To Adopt:  Hound.haven AT gmail DOT com
This is Part 2 of a letter to rescuers by veteran Animal Care Services (ACS) volunteer, Lisa Chandler.  (Part 1 was excerpted here.)

I am writing this to enlist the help of fellow rescuers, potential adopters, and concerned citizens of San Antonio who are concerned about the manner of how their tax dollars are being spent. (in regards to ACS-Animal Care Services)  

Two months or more ago Sheryl Sculley (San Antonio city manager) told Gary Hendel (director of Animal Care Services) [demoted since this letter was written –ed.] that there were to be no more bad pictures of animals posted on the Internet

She made this comment to him in reaction to complaints of animals pictured in their feces, vomit, and bloody animals put on the website. That's a fair enough statement and it’s sad that it took Ms Sculley telling Gary to get that changed.  
Gary took that as no more bad pictures (i.e. not posed well) and took away the bulk of the responsibility from the Animal Care Officers (ACO's) who have had that as part of their job description and gave it to --we're not sure, it’s been passed around the block a time or two. 

The picture process is supposed to be part of the intake procedure-immediate pictures of animals.  The computer system updates itself every 15 minutes so citizens can see if their missing animal is at ACS. 

The bottom line is that animals have been going through the facility without ever making it onto the website, or if lucky, they may make it on a day or two later.  They have circumvented the very computer system that tax payers paid good money for to ensure that the animals are seen for their full 72 hours that they are there to be reclaimed, adopted, or rescued before they are euthanized.

I am sure the public has no idea that their animal can go through that system and never be seen on the Internet.  What average citizen would think that is happening?  And how outraged would they be if they knew something so simple to fix was costing animals their lives after being sold a bill of goods that we are "trying" to get to "no-kill".  For the last two months the managers of this department have been told about the problem and it still continues.  As you are aware, apparently nothing can be done in a nice way.  It appears we all need to make a huge scene about it.

It is so difficult to recover a lost animal in San Antonio.  An animal has only 72 hours in the shelter until he or she is killed (as the vast majority are), adopted or taken by a rescue. Now it turns out that some animals get a head start on being killed by never appearing on the website.  It is hard to find, adopt or rescue an animal you never get a chance to see!

Yes, your dog or cat could come into ACS and never be put on the website before being killed.

Who is responsible for seeing that the expensive computer/software/camera system, meant to provide a service to taxpayers who lose animals, is properly utilized? 

Did you look for a lost dog or cat and never see your precious animal again?  Do you think it is OK that your animal may not have been put online because he didn’t take a good photo?  And if your animal sat in a crate and got carsick – why wasn’t that animal wiped off before being photographed.  Why would ACS not be cleaning animals that arrive covered in filth?  If their photos are taken with them in that condition, how long do they remain in that condition?

There is also the problem, which Lisa does not raise, of poor photos that are the work of a bad photographer, rather than the animal being frightened or injured and uncooperative.  A lot of the photos are not formatted properly and the animal appears elongated.  This is an error with how the photo is cropped and is perhaps due to an incorrect camera setting.  All the photos have to be the same size for the web and when a photo is forced to fit, it can result in a skewed distorted photo which makes identification difficult.

The breed identification is also very haphazard and rescuers looking at the ACS photos point this out in their online discussions every day. 

What happens, if, as Lisa explains once happened, a Min Pin mix is misidentified as a German shepherd mix? 

A Min Pin is a very small delicate lap dog, in some demand, and shepherd mixes in San Antonio march towards their deaths in an unending tan line.  But there are other consequences, besides possibly ensuring a death sentence, in labeling a dog the wrong breed.

Potential adopters asked about the Min Pins, “Aren't these dogs going to get big?”  Even though they were 3 months old and had just made the 3 lb weight to get altered.  

One adopter rented and had to show his landlord the paperwork.  The lease specified a 20 lb maximum weight restriction.  How did the adopter explain his Min Pin was not a shepherd mix when the paperwork said otherwise?  

The family vets call ACS to check if they have the right paperwork when they see the breed listed as shepherd and they are examining a tiny Min Pin!  It puts ACS in the embarrassing position of appearing to not know the very basics of their job.

Lisa’s letter illustrates something else.  The San Antonio City Manager, not trained in animal control, is involved in the minutiae of running the city’s deadly shelter.  The City Manager called to tell the shelter director how to put photos on the website. In addition, her directive was not properly understood.  (Who is not speaking directly to whom, here?) This just underscores that the San Antonio city government is responsible for the many thousands of animals killed here each year. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

San Antonio Could Have an Adoption Center This Afternoon

Adopt me from Hound Haven
Last night the San Antonio Area Foundation, which has not given up despite San Antonio’s fruitless No Kill planning, sponsored a forum with the architects of Reno Nevada’s No Kill Community.  Washoe County Nevada is said to be the safest place for dogs and cats in America. (Arguably Bexar County is the most dangerous.)  How did they do it?  That was the question last night and we heard the nuts and bolts. 

But here is how they really did it.  Washoe County was made to do it.

"The 2002 ballot question [came out of a] grassroots citizen campaign was borne out of animal advocates who wanted to see the 40-year old city-operated animal shelter replaced and better operational procedures implemented.  The ballot question was approved by 60% of the voters.  When the Washoe County Regional Animal Services Center opened in 2006, the community celebrated the grand opening as it truly marked the beginning of a new era in how our community viewed public safety vis-à-vis our animal population."
Starting to see a pattern here? What did they do in Austin?  They put it on the ballot.

Last night the Mayor was there in support.  But did he take away that message?  Washoe County became No Kill when the citizens demanded it. 

Can San Antonio reach No Kill with the same city administrators recycling the same failed ideas?

We need a mandate, not a plan. 

Planning and No Kill is an oxymoron. You don’t plan to stop killing.  You stop killing and you tell everyone.  San Antonio told everyone and never got to the stop killing part. 

We don’t need a new facility, because we have a state of the art facility perfectly sited to process and kill animals.  (The visitors from Reno pointed out the lack of signage made Animal Care Services difficult to find.)

What we lack is an adoption facility.  The construction keeps getting pushed back, so that now the building of the adoption facility, wherever it might be, looks more and more like the failed No Kill effort. 

What San Antonio city government fails to realize is an adoption facility is a state of mind.  Just like No Kill, we could have it tomorrow if we wanted it.  An adoption center is not a physical location named after a donor.

An adoption center is a list of adoptable dogs and cats that San Antonio pledges to keep alive and adopt out, no matter how long it takes. 

Sure there are lots of great ideas on how to showcase adoption center animals, including having an on or off-site ACS adoption center.  But how many animals die each day until it is constructed.


He seemed sincere last night in his remarks.  All he has to do is call and say, I want 72 animals selected that will not be killed.  There is the adoption center.  If he builds it, the volunteers will come to showcase those animals.

Will he do it?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

San Antonio City Council is to Blame for No Kill Failure

A187852 -  acs_Save_A_life AT sanantonio DOTgov
The surprise demotion of San Antonio Animal Care Services Director, Gary Hendel, may have elated some No Kill advocates.  Under his tenure, No Kill went from a high profile media campaign, “No Kill 2012,” to an admission (during a city budget meeting) that San Antonio would not make the 2012 date, or any future date.

So you might think with a dismal record of increasing animal deaths (15,068 in 2009 and 17,821 in 2010) that reducing the duties of a failed shelter director would be a positive move.
It won’t make any difference. 

That is right.  Whether or not Gary Hendel is shelter director is not going to affect the number of animals killed here.

This is not an Animal Care Services problem.  This is a city of San Antonio problem.  We have a city manager, not an expert on shelters of course, who thinks the answer is more punitive licensing laws and who promises to search for a solution.  The Mayor agrees that mandatory spay neuter is what is needed.  

The acknowledged expert on No Kill, Nathan Winograd, has a term for these proposals.  He calls them “old failed strategies.” 

City leaders blame the citizens of San Antonio for poor animal care.  In reality it is the city of San Antonio that is failing to look after the animals.  

The city filled the shelter director position with someone who lacked expertise in No Kill.   The city budgeted building a shelter in the back of beyond without an adoption center.  Running a No Kill program without an adoption center is like running a public library where you aren’t allowed to look at the books.

San Antonio’s city government is responsible for creating and maintaining this status quo.
The shelter director answers to the Assistant City Manager (a revolving door position that covers many city services) who answers to the City Manager who answers to the Mayor.  They are all reluctantly learning how (not) to run an animal shelter as the shelter spirals out of control taking the city’s reputation with it.

Here is what is needed to clean up this mess and do what Austin did while we were cutting bait planning our No Kill strategy.

Create a new position on a level with Assistant City Manager.  Fill it with someone who has a shelter background and the will to establish No Kill in the community.

Hire a shelter director who has worked at a shelter transitioning to No Kill.  Give that person the power to hire their immediate subordinates and to transfer intransigent staff.

That is the road map to No Kill, San Antonio.  Will our current City Council follow that road map?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tipping Point for San Antonio's Rescue Community?

Sometimes there are tipping points when something that has been tolerated becomes unacceptable, seemingly overnight.

In the case of San Antonio’s disgraceful treatment of animals at the municipal shelter and our inability to implement a no-kill policy, we may have reached such a tipping point.  Like the residents of those Middle Eastern countries who have risked all to throw out their dictators, San Antonio’s long-suffering animal rescuers may be about to revolt.

Long time Animal Care Service (ACS) volunteer Lisa Chandler sent a private letter to the rescue community.  She spoke for so many people that the letter has started a non-stop conversation.  Rescuers are angry towards a city that would blithely announce the failure of a no-kill “initiative” that was little more than billboards and press conferences and effected no real change.  The numbers killed here are going up, rather than precipitously down.  While San Antonio was talking, Austin initiated and successfully implemented a no kill shelter.

I am excerpting Lisa’s letter, with her permission, over several blogs, because she addresses a number of topics. All pertain to problems at a shelter that is heedless of what rescuers want, need or request. Without the cooperation of rescuers, it is not possible to have a no kill shelter. Here is Lisa’s letter, Part 1.
“We are all aware there is a disease issue at Animal Care Services (ACS.)  It has been found and documented that animals are not being vaccinated upon intake.  This is against ACS protocol which states “all animals that are of age are to be vaccinated with distemper/parvo virus vaccination and bordetella vaccine upon entry of the facility.” 

Of course this has been brought to the attention of ACS, and of course nothing has been done.  As rescuers, how can you be sure the animals have been properly vaccinated?  Animal Care Officers (ACO's) are responsible for vaccinating all animals they bring in, but we have seen new ACO's who do not know how to mix the vaccines, or give the shots. 

We have seen ACO's put in the computer that the vaccinations were given and they were not.  If not confronted by volunteers, those animals would have gone in as if vaccinated. 

The front lobby (where found animals and owner surrenders are turned in) is not without issues either.  Multiple times animals have come in through the front lobby and have not been vaccinated. 

There is the possibility that there is also a very bad dog flu going through the kennels. This information is according to an ACS veterinarian and the Humane Society.  If this is the case, the kennels need to be shut down one at a time and thoroughly cleaned.  [There was an article in the newspaper a week after this letter was written about dog flu being found in San Antonio - ed.]

The vet techs need to change their disposable gloves when handling different animals and the tables they work on need to be disinfected before each use.  This is not always done.  The real scary part is - if this is what we have seen - what do we not see?  

One effect of this problem is that Humane Society is no longer rescuing animals from ACS.  They were conducting a pilot program and taking animals daily from ACS (before they rarely rescued animals from ACS.)  Now the program has been shut down, a month after it was announced in the newspaper.

Has anyone in the administration met with the Humane Society to discuss the results of the tests the Humane Society took on the sick animals?  Has anyone from ACS asked the Humane Society what can be done to fix the problems at ACS so the Humane Society will again take animals from the facility?  

 Why does ACS squander our precious time volunteering and rescuing by making it even more difficult for us to help them because they cannot be bothered to follow standard medical practices designed decades ago to keep shelter animals healthy?  

I read in all the ACS literature how important rescue is in getting to no kill - REALLY?  You could have fooled me!  These are not difficult issues!  These are the basics.” 
I said before that Lisa is a volunteer.  That doesn’t really describe her involvement with ACS.  Here is how she describes her work:

In 2004, when a series of newspaper article exposed the terrible conditions at ACS, Rita Brauetigam and I started going to the facility at Brackenridge, (which closed when the new facility opened.)  We were the first volunteers allowed in the facility.  [Volunteers had previously not been welcome- ed.]  We just kept showing up every day bringing beds, toys, leashes, old collars, towels etc. we collected from friends and vet offices and just started helping adopt out animals.  

We wound up having a great core group of volunteers that 
  • created an adoption center [ACS no longer has an adoption center –ed.]
  • did the first off site adoptions (our record was 80 adoptions at “Pets in the Park!”)
  • established a website (special thanks to the awesome Jan Suche!)
  • assisted the one vet tech
  • established a foster program
  • created an active wish list for citizens who requested a certain type of animal
  • bathed or groomed every dog before surgery
I am still at the facility quite a lot picking up dogs, selecting dogs, bringing dogs for surgery, etc. and I observe a lot and have seen a lot of the sickness from the shelter.  I know the difference between "routine" shelter sickness and abnormal shelter illness.

The most frustrating part in all of this, is that management at ACS is aware of all the issues and are being non responsive to the problems.  They need to adopt a proactive attitude to addressing issues that occur instead of ignoring them and hope they go away.

No, Lisa and her fellow volunteers are not your average volunteers.  They attended staff meetings with the ACS supervisors.  Eventually her volunteer work as head of the volunteers became a full time staff position at ACS and was filled by a very able staff member.

I am struck that ACS management does not attack problems the way this group of volunteers did.  The volunteers saw what was needed to be done and did it.  They wanted adoption events, so they scheduled them, selected the animals, and showed up to promote the adoptions.  They transported the animals, took care of them, handled the paperwork and showed them to potential adopters, whom they had gathered to look at the animals.  The volunteers knew that wanting animals to be adopted meant doing a lot of work, not just wanting it to happen.

Contrast that to Animal Care Services and San Antonio.  ACS and the city wanted to be no-kill, but did not put in the work as Austin did.  They just kept saying it would happen.

ACS wants the kennel to be disease free, but can’t be bothered to follow the common sense best practices to make this happen.

In 2004, Animal Control (as it was then called) was not ready for reform.  Reform was forced upon them by the citizens of San Antonio in league with the animal rescue community.

It is 2011, is ACS ready for a revolt?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fix San Antonio NOW - not 2012, 2013, 2014 . . .

This blog is partially a transcript (where I use indents) and some paraphrasing from an interview that no-kill expert Nathan Winograd gave for AnimalWise radio this summer.You may listen to it here by clicking on the interview dated June 26. 

San Antonio, we have a problem.

Surprised when San Antonio recently announced we would not be a no-kill city by 2012?

Winograd was not.  In 2007, he was invited here to tell us about no-kill. Seeing the situation first-hand, he told us that day that our effort would fail because we were not embracing what had worked. He takes no satisfaction in having been correct.

“Rather than focus on what other communities did to save lives and start to mimic what they did, [San Antonio] did what I have argued is a cop-out. They claimed they were going to be no-kill in five years, but they didn’t change any of their behavior.   They were going to do what they have always done, but somehow five years down the road we were going to magically have a no-kill San Antonio. “

See the problem yet?

He did a training session with staff, focusing on increased life saving, reducing impounds, and getting more animals home.  Here was the response.

‘An animal control officer raised his hand and said, “You shouldn’t be here, we are a kill shelter, we’ll always be a kill shelter and that is all there is to it.”

. . . I looked at his boss, the director, and [asked], “Is that basically the type of staff member that you have here?”

Without skipping a beat he said, “When I first got here, I met with the officers to try and enforce a vision of lifesaving and they shouted me down and I decided I was not going to meet with them again.”

See the problem clearer now?

Winograd also said, commenting on an article about the failure of San Antonio no-kill,

Why it died is not hard to see and what they need to do differently is not hard to see, but still after five years of broken promises and tens of thousands of animals dead, They seem to be going in the other direction more aggressively.

Austin saw a problem and they fixed it. 

It was a problem needing a political solution.  Animal rescuers in Austin tried for years to work from the bottom up, one animal at a time.  That did not work, so they started top down, one politician at a time.  Winograd tells us, “Fix the leadership at the shelter and in local government as they did in Austin.” 

He suggests viewing the free webinar from Ryan Clinton of Austin, “Reforming Animal Control:” 

“Clinton will share tips for moving your local animal control to the no kill model, whether or not they are on board with your effort. Learn how FixAustin transformed their city from a high-kill methodology to one that embraced the No Kill Equation, and learn what you can do in your community to achieve similar results.

It is time for FixSanAntonio.  If not now, when?