City Worker Champions Change For Homeless Pets

Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Switches careers to educate neighbors, improve pets’ lives

Stray puppy in muddy streetMore than 10 years ago, Aimee De Contreras worked as a meter reader for the City of San Antonio. On her route, she met many dogs who lived their entire lives outside, often without shelter and sometimes chained to trees or fences 24 hours a day.

“Seeing dogs suffer really weighed heavily on my heart,” said Aimee. “I saw dogs I thought were dying and I really didn’t know what to do to help them back then.”

A calling leads to a new career
Anxious to aid local dogs, Aimee quit her meter reader job in 2007 to pursue a career as an animal control officer (ACO) at the City of San Antonio’s Animal Care Services (ACS). This job, she said, would connect her with pet owners she hoped to educate about responsible pet care.

But none of those positions were available at the time. To get her foot in the door, she started working as a kennel attendant. Helping pets, even for less pay than she made as a meter reader, “just felt right,” she said.

Six months later, she landed her dream job as an ACO. But she discovered that it wasn’t an easy job in a city that was euthanizing tens of thousands of pets every year.

“I remember trying to talk to citizens about their pets and getting cursed at and spit on,” she recalled. “We were the dogcatchers and nothing more. No one wanted anything to do with us back then.”

Agency empowers city workers

Aimee didn’t give up on her job or the community she hoped to educate. She learned about local pet laws and continued to think about how to relate pet care to people in the community. ACS recognized Aimee’s passion and promoted her to a supervisor one year later.

Animal control officer holding adoptable cat in animal shelter“One of the first things I wanted to do in this position was create pet education and outreach programs for city workers who might meet dogs during their daily work,” said Aimee.

Aimee helped create workshops on dog-bite awareness and how to recognize animal cruelty. She introduced these programs to her former co-workers — meter readers.

“I felt they had to feel the same way I did about their encounters with outside dogs,” said Aimee. “Most people don’t know what to do when they see an animal suffering and under what circumstances they should call us. There are about 100 meter readers, but only 38 animal care officers in San Antonio. [Meter readers] could become our eyes and ears in the community.”

Today, Aimee and her team deliver 75 to 100 education programs annually to city workers, police officers and postal workers. “They really want these programs,” she said. “And they’re helping us help more pets.”

Prevention programs open doors to community outreach

ACS’s new prevention programs got “the field enforcement team thinking about ways to bring more education and outreach to the entire community,” said Lisa Norwood, public information officer for ACS. “Out of those beginning workshops, the Community Neighborhood Sweeps Initiative was born.”

The Community Neighborhood Sweeps Initiative (CNSI) informs pet owners in targeted neighborhoods about free and low-cost clinics for spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations and microchipping.

During one CNSI walk, Aimee met an elderly woman with 30 small dogs in her home.

“Her family had been dropping off unwanted dogs at her home for some time,” said Aimee. “The woman looked overwhelmed. Dogs had literally pushed out the window frames of her home. Before CNSI, an officer’s first instinct might have been to grab the ticket book and issue a citation. But this program is about helping people find resources to solve their problems first.”

The woman gladly surrendered most of her dogs to ACS, who found homes for them. ACS then directed her toward local clinics where she could get her remaining dogs vaccinated and fixed.

“These kinds of encounters build trust between us and the community,” said Aimee. “People feel comfortable approaching us for help now. And that is what we’re here to do.”


Violet Polowitzer

I think what you are doing is just wonderful


Fantastic work you're doing!!!!! :) keep it up


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