San Antonio Unites to Conquer Pet Overpopulation

Texas city of pet lovers builds a humane community

Man hugging dog in front yardEddie Jones and Martin Vazquez Saldana set aside money every month for vaccinations and medical care for their 9 dogs. “I don’t know if people save money like that anymore for their pets, but we do,” said Martin.

Eddie and Martin live on a fixed income in a modest home on the south side of San Antonio, Texas. A small fenced front yard frames a “doggie area” with dog houses, water bowls and toys for their Chihuahua-mix dogs — Leo, B.B. and Frankie, whom they rescued off the street corner.

B.B.’s 6 puppies frolic in the space too. “B.B. was pregnant when we found her,” said Eddie.

Eddie and Martin didn’t intend to take in so many dogs, but the couple finds it difficult to ignore the homeless dogs running loose up and down their street.

“The pet population is outrageous here,” said Martin. “There are too many dogs. I sometimes see dogs out on the streets in our neighborhood, and it brings a tear to my eye to see them. Sometimes, I turn my head so I won't see that they're there.”

San Antonio has been addressing severe pet overpopulation problems since 2004, when local news coverage revealed that the city shelter had to euthanize more than 50,000 cats and dogs annually.

Stray dog in muddy street“It was 90 percent of the pets who came into the shelter,” said Lisa Norwood, public information officer for San Antonio’s Animal Care Services (ACS), the city’s public shelter. “It was abysmal.”

At the time, San Antonio didn’t have enough adoption or spay/neuter resources for a city of 1.2 million people. Each year, animal shelters could find homes for only about 5,000 cats and dogs and spay/neuter clinics could fix only about 8,000 pets. The community didn’t embrace Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as a humane solution for managing community cats — even feeding them could result in a fine.

With a reputation as one of the worst cities in the nation for pet overpopulation and euthanasia, San Antonio animal welfare groups and pet-loving residents finally threw up their hands and said, “no mas” (no more). This diverse community demanded that the City of San Antonio figure out how to take ACS from a 90% euthanasia rate to a 90% live-exit rate (the number of pets released from a shelter alive through adoption, foster, rescue or return to owner) as quickly as possible.

No one knew for certain how the next 10 years would progress in the 7th-largest city in the nation. San Antonio needed a plan — and ACS, animal shelters and rescue groups needed to learn how to work together for the first time.

But where there’s a will, there’s always a way to build a humane community.

Next: Community foundation steps up to oversee early initiatives


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