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San Antonio: Courage, creativity and a community commitment to no-kill

San Antonio Animal Care Services (ACS) achieved an 83% live release rate (LRR) in March of 2013. Not only that, but for the first three months of calendar year 2013, ACS is averaging an LRR of over 80%! Not bad for a city that in 2011 was operating at about a 32% LRR. As a point of reference, the accepted threshold for a no-kill community is a 90% LRR of all animals entering a given community’s shelter system.

When Best Friends partnered with San Antonio Pets Alive (SAPA) in late 2011 to fund SAPA’s new engagement to manage the adoption/live release component of San Antonio’s animal shelter, that city had been following an official strategic plan to achieve no-kill for several years. In 2006, then-Mayor Phil Hardberger had challenged the city to dramatically reduce the number of animals entering and being killed by their Animal Care Services department. At that time, the city was killing 50,000 homeless pets per year – the third highest number in the country.

It was a bold and ambitious statement and a serious one. Before long, the Animal Care Advisory Board — the body that oversees ACS — had developed a no-kill strategic plan. The San Antonio Area Foundation, a local organization that makes grants from funds established by individuals, families, businesses, and so on to support charitable causes in the community, jumped on board with funding for spay/neuter and adoptions and helped create an umbrella organization for local rescues to promote pet adoption.

By 2011, things were coming together in the community, but the shelter still had serious problems as indicated by a 32% LRR. Looking to the northeast, city leaders saw a light and hope in Austin where Austin Pets Alive, under the leadership of Dr. Ellen Jefferson, was providing the essential partner for Austin to achieve no-kill. They reached out to Ellen — a woman who has never seen an animal problem that she didn’t believe she could solve. In late 2011, Ellen approached Best Friends about her ideas for turning San Antonio around, and we agreed to support her efforts to the tune of an initial grant of $300,000, which was later expanded to a total investment of $450,000 for 2012 in a shared vision of a no-kill San Antonio.

The city, however, still had unaddressed animal issues, including a community cat problem that was contributing to shelter intake numbers and the needless killing of feral cats, which are not adoptable as household pets and really have no future once they enter any shelter system.

Within a few months, Best Friends expanded our role in helping solve the San Antonio no-kill puzzle by bringing in yet another partner. In May of 2012, Best Friends was awarded a PetSmart Charities® grant to develop and manage community cat programs in San Antonio and Albuquerque. The impact of the Petsmart Charities/Best Friends partnership on San Antonio shelter animals has been profound. The San Antonio community cat program involves combined funding of nearly $1,000,000 over three years to build out a trap/neuter/return (TNR) program that is integrated with the city shelter. In 2012, the work saved 1,000 cats that would have previously been killed that were fixed and returned to their colonies. Additionally, 4,000 cats were fixed in the areas where those cats were initially picked up. The program includes community engagement and has tremendous support from residents. In 2013, the community cat program is targeting 4,000 TNR procedures, and the Best Friends grant to San Antonio Pets Alive has been raised to $550,000.

San Antonio is the seventh most populous city in the country, and we are pleased and privileged to be an integral part of an extensive community effort that is saving lives and has the city well on the way to no-kill. Kudos all around and a tip of the hat to Phil Hardberger.

For those who may be interested, there are community cat volunteer opportunities in San Antonio and Albuquerque.
Gregory Castle, CEO emeritus, Best Friends Animal Society Gregory Castle
CEO emeritus
Best Friends Animal Society