For the last five years the City of San Angelo's Animal Shelter has primarily focused on animal control, ignoring or even working against local animal groups, nonprofit and otherwise. That was the message Friday afternoon to city leaders. The list of concerns fell into two major groups:
1) Intimidating, retaliatory and uncooperative behavior by staff and shelter management to local animal service groups and their volunteers, as well as whistle blower reports of animal cruelty and illegal behavior.
2) The opportunity to collaborate with local animal groups in larger ways. This opportunity was explored several years ago when local animal service organizations looked to merge and take over the city's animal shelter. These talks fell through when the city wouldn't guarantee a consistent revenue stream for the ongoing operation of the shelter
It was interesting to hear layers of city leaders explain away concerns or blame the volunteers for something they had once done improperly.
How would city leaders react if the Chamber of Commerce or Angelo State's Small Business Development Center said city staff was retaliating or intimidating their staff or potential new businesses considering locating in San Angelo? Community partners are community partners. For years a collaborative relationship has not been pursued in the animal services arena.
The Standard Times recently reported:
Cats: They’re on rooftops, in the trees, in the bushes and running wild on the streets of San Angelo. Are they “community” or “feral” cats?Not only was the revised ordinance not made available to Animal Shelter Advisory Committee members, it was not made available to several members of the subcommittee drafting the proposed ordinance. Those members are local leaders in animal service organizations doing yeoman's work to control San Angelo's cat population. They expected to have the ordinance to share with local cat caretakers for feedback purposes.
That was one question the city’s Animal Shelter Advisory Committee raised at its meeting Thursday. The ordinance proposal, which was revised by assistant city attorney Maxwell Branham with the guidance of the group’s subcommittee, to regulate cat colonies changed the verbiage from “feral” to “community.”
That revised ordinance was tabled until the next meeting because it was not made available to committee members until minutes before they convened.
The word "regulate" shows the city's primary orientation is control, not partnership. Local cat colony volunteers requested this legal ground after the animal shelter ignored existing ordinances in their effort to remove cats from Mejor Que Nada. This heavy handed response to Mejor is also a reflection of the current regime.
Prior shelter managers collaborated with cat colony volunteers who spend their time and money to spay/neuter, vaccinate and care for San Angelo's cats lacking a human home. Former shelter leaders did not need an ordinance to collaborate.
Back to Friday's meeting: City leaders admitted animal control was their priority, despite several years when the operating budget placed spay/neuter and adoption as higher priorities. If the city is truly interested in animal control, those are the methods to employ, especially for cats. Simply put, the City cannot kill enough animals if spay/neuter and adoption are ignored as principle strategies.
The city has numerous partners in this area and it is hard to believe city management allows staff to work against or shun them. But that was the story on Friday, told over and over.
Themes included how other rescues and animal groups around the state and nation don't like working with San Angelo's Animal Shelter. This came from a local dog rescuer who works with Pilots N Paws.
NBC News reported
Pilots N Paws is an airborne rescue mission spiriting homeless dogs from traditional kill shelters where they quite likely would have been euthanized and flying them to new permanent loving homes all arranged by volunteers.San Angelo operates a traditional kill shelter and there is much community interest and energy in shifting to a low kill shelter. The City first needs to address the repeated concerns of retaliatory and illegal behavior. This involves investigation, not explaining away by the leaders who allowed this situation to deteriorate the past five years.
Once that investigation is complete and a collaborative action plan created and committed to by the city and its community partners, then the groups can explore ways to more significantly collaborate. If the first doesn't happen, there is no basis for undertaking the second. Trust is nonexistent. The City must earn it back.