Meet San Antonio’s Change-Makers

Top animal welfare groups come together to save lives

Young girl holding puppySituated in the 7th largest city in the nation, San Antonio’s animal welfare groups face a daunting task caring for thousands of homeless pets every day.

The city once had a reputation as one of the worst in the U.S. for pet overpopulation and euthanasia. But San Antonio’s animal welfare groups worked together to drive euthanasia down dramatically

Meet some of the animal welfare groups that transformed San Antonio into a more humane city.

Spay/Neuter Groups Bring Services to the Streets

San Antonio residents love their pets — they want to do the right thing and spay or neuter their cats and dogs. So, the city’s nonprofit spay/neuter clinics worked diligently to build strategies that enabled them to offer more surgeries at affordable prices to the public. Plus, they advocated for policy changes that made Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) the norm in San Antonio.

  • The San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition (SAFCC) operates TNR services, education and outreach programs to humanely control San Antonio’s free-roaming cat population.
    Representatives: Jenny Burgess, executive director; Nikki Poore, vice president
  • The largest spay/neuter clinic in San Antonio, SpaySA has fixed more than 140,000 cats and dogs since it was founded in 1997. The organization also provides wellness and outreach services in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Originally a mobile clinic, Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP) San Antonio expanded to a permanent facility with help from PetSmart Charities® funding. They’ve spayed or neutered more than 70,000 pets since 2005. 
    Representative: Dr. Mary Kate Lawler, executive director
  • Spay-Neuter-Inspect-Protect San Antonio (SNIPSA) offers free spay/neuter services in San Antonio, and manages adoption and outreach programs. The group operates large-scale spay/neuter events in local neighborhoods using mobile clinics. During these “Big Fix” events, SNIPSA veterinarians can spay or neuter 275 pets in a single day.

National Funders Make Spay/Neuter More Affordable

The funders:

  • San Antonio Area Foundation (SAAFdn) felt compelled to bring the city’s animal welfare groups together to discuss collaborative strategies that would address the city’s euthanasia rate. In 2006, SAAFdn hosted quarterly meetings, collected statistics from each animal welfare group and launched Alamo Area Partners for Animal Welfare, a coalition of 50 shelter and rescue groups from the greater San Antonio area. 
    Representative: Gavin Nichols, director of grants and programs
  • In 2011, PetSmart Charities gave ACS a $700,000 TNR grant, administered by the Best Friends Animal Society, for the spaying or neutering of 12,500 free-roaming felines. Over the grant’s 3-year period, ACS received fewer complaint calls about free-roaming cats and saw fewer cats coming into the city shelter, overall.
  • PetSmart Charities™ helped San Antonio build their programs with more than $2.2 million in grant support since 2012. 
    Representatives: Julie White, senior director of grants, programs and field initiatives; Gina Barborek, program manager

San Antonio City Shelter Leads the Way

Publicly funded animal shelters are typically municipal facilities — city, county or tribal agencies. They’re often open admission, which means that no pet is turned away.

These organizations are government agencies, funded by taxes. Unfortunately, that often means these groups have limited space and resources. They also take in a larger percentage of pets who might be considered high risk, such as injured strays. As a result, these facilities sometimes need to resort to euthanasia.

San Antonio’s publicly funded municipal public shelter, Animal Care Services (ACS), takes in 30,000 pets annually and is at the forefront of the city’s battle to end pet overpopulation. The staff does an impressive amount of adoption, spay/neuter, community outreach and enforcement work with the funding they have, but they simply can’t help every homeless pet in San Antonio on their own.

So they rely on nearby private animal welfare organizations to help. ACS contracts directly with the city’s 3 largest groups, which are outlined below. Plus it works collaboratively with 6 rescue partners within the city and 60 groups in the region.

Representatives: Kathy Davis, director; Lisa Norwood, public information officer; Rita Braeutigam, advisory board chair; Aimee De Contreras, animal control supervisor

Private Animal Welfare Groups Support the City Shelter

Unlike public animal welfare organizations, private organizations do not receive government funding. They’re funded by voluntary contributions — donations from individuals, businesses or endowments.

Private organizations often face similar resource constraints as public organizations. Few are open admission facilities that take in all pets, though. Many private organizations are limited admission facilities, which means that they take in only as many pets as they have the space and resources to support. They don’t often euthanize because they don’t accept as many pets (or as many high-risk pets) as public organizations must.

San Antonio’s 3 largest private animal welfare groups work with ACS to take pets in when the city shelter nears its capacity:

  • San Antonio Pets Alive! (SAPA!) is an animal shelter that accepts only cats and dogs from ACS — not from the general public. Often, transferred pets are kittens and puppies who need bottle-feeding and time in foster care before they are ready for adoption. SAPA!, a PetSmart Charities Adoption Partner, works hard to find adopters for these pets, showcasing them at local PetSmart stores and holding pet adopt-a-thons, saving an average of 350 pets per event. 
    Representative: Joel McLellan, director of facility operations
  • Animal Defense League (ADL) accepts pets from the general public on a limited admission basis and takes in pets from ACS. On any given day, ADL showcases nearly 300 adoptable pets at its main location, a 12-acre campus where it also offers spay/neuter, wellness and educational services. ADL also brings its adoptable pets to a PetSmart Charities Everyday Adoption Center (EAC), where they get a fresh look from new potential adopters. The EAC serves as an extension of ADL’s facilities, enabling the group to take in and find homes for more of San Antonio’s homeless pets. 
    Representatives: Janice Darling, executive director; Hugo Vital, communications director
  • San Antonio Humane Society (SAHS) is a limited admission facility that runs adoption, volunteer, foster and educational programs. It also takes pets in from ACS. SAHS serves more than 4,000 pets each year in its facilities. The organization works with PetSmart Charities as both an adoption partner and spay/neuter grant recipient, participating in several PetSmart Charities spay/neuter blitz grant programs. 
    Representative: Dr. Courtney Bridgeman, chief veterinarian
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