Thursday, May 18, 2017

City Staff Go Small for Huge Community Problem


The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee met today.  It spent two thirds of the meeting on Community Cat Colony Registration.  Cat Colony registration took over twice the time the Committee spent on the Shelter's deadly distemper outbreak.

City Council approved a community cat ordinance in March 2015.  This ordinance was crafted in conjunction with local cat colony managers and animal service nonprofits working to implement trap, spay/neuter, return and maintain.  Current ordinance has a sponsorship model where the animal service organization provides resources and education, as well as cat colony registration.  Only one nonprofit stepped up for this role, Critter Shack.


Critter Shack found cat colony managers leery of registration given the city's heavy handed history in this arena.  Yet, local citizens have done the hard work of spreading TNRM with no support from the city.  Critter Shack volunteers and cat colony managers helped the 70 and 80 year old ladies whose yards became overrun with unaltered cats.  The city did not help. 

Some citizens practicing TNRM opted to register their cat colony with Critter Shack.   The form is below:


Others practice TNRM but have not registered.  If colony caretakers don't want to register with Critter Shack they surely won't register with the City. 

For two years individual members of the Animal Services Advisory Committee wanted to know colony locations, which is expressly not in the ordinance.   Time and time again Critter Shack chose to honor their confidentiality commitment to colony caretakers.  City staff and ASAC leadership did not view this as an appropriate response.  They escalated their position to recommending cat colony registration with the city.  


This is the city's solution to San Angelo's community cat problem?  Did they really recommend the registration of the people donating time, money, energy and skills to deal with the city's #1 animal problem, unaltered pets?  Unfortunately, they did just that.

The City of San Angelo has Cat Colony Registration today.  It's free through Critter Shack.  It will be interesting to watch the ASAC workshop on Cat Colony Registration.

The Animal Services Advisory Committee has a list of goals and objectives and community cats are nowhere to be found. 

Shelter leadership focused on cat colony location in their communications with Critter Shack.  Not once did they work on their side of this public-private partnership.  Shelter management never asked to meet to focus on how the ordinance was working from Critter Shack's perspective.  In reality it has been a private effort legally enabled by city ordinance.

Animal Services Director James Flores last contacted Critter Shack in April 2016 about a community cat in the shelter.  He had no problem reaching Critter Shack to demand the location of cat colonies, as recently as last week.   So it was odd to hear him say the city needs colony registration because of a "non-working phone number."  That statement did not ring true.

I don't know how ASAC will convince City Council to change a public-private partnership that costs citizens no money.  I can't see a new Mayor who wants government out of the way supporting a new cat colony registration fee for completing a form.

It's odd watching the Animal Services Advisory Committee and Shelter management continue to mix up managed cat colonies and people feeding groups of unaltered cats.  People feeding and not fixing are the white space in the blue circle above and that's the real opportunity.

City staff and ASAC leadership ignore the potential gold from addressing the actual problem.  The band of cat colony caretakers (in the red box) continues on their dedicated their mission for now.  How long they keep playing remains to be seen. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Chronic Condition: ASAC Wants to Know Community Cat Locations


San Angelo's City Council adopted a Community Cat Ordinance in February 2015.  City Council approved a sponsorship model where local animal services group(s) could coordinate with cat colony caretakers and offer low cost spay/neuter services for community cats.

Critter Shack was the only local animal service organization to step up for community cats.  It served as the city's sponsoring organization for over two years.

At the two year mark Critter Shack representatives shared their successes in public comment at City Council.  On February 7, 2017 four people shared the logic behind trap, spay/neuter, return and maintain (TNRM) for community cats and how it is the most effective solution for reducing the number of cats over time.

Several local colonies are over 60% smaller in number.  The San Angelo State Supported Living Center fixed their 101st cat recently.  This effort prevented well over 60 litters of cats in just one year.

Area citizens used their time, money and resources to prevent countless numbers of new cats that often ended up in the shelter. These four citizens are solving San Angelo's cat problem one small area at a time.  They closed their comments by asking City Council for support educating the public and assisting citizens with low cost spay neuter services, something other Texas cities have done.

Oddly, for the last two years the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee never asked to put community cat education on the agenda.  It never tasked staff to offer low cost spay neuter for community cats.  Collaborating with CritterShack on community cats has been absent from Animal Services' goals and objectives.

Instead the Committee and staff repeatedly catered to the desire of one member to know the location of cat colonies, even though this is not in the ordinance.  Here's the pattern:.

September 17, 2015 -- Update on cat colonies.
December 3, 2015 -- Update on Trap Neuter Release Program.
April 21, 2016 Minutes -- Ms. Bennet requested information on the locations of community/feral cat colonies 
May 19, 2016 -- Discussion and possible action on the location for community (feral) cat colonies and points of contact . 
April 20, 2017 --  Discussion and possible action related to feral cat colony registration.
The City does not have a good history with cat colonies.   


City staff bypassed animal control ordinances in 2013 when it targeted the Mejor Que Nada cat colony for extermination.  Animal Control harassed a local cat caretaker who'd reduced the colony from over 200 cats to 55.  Animal Shelter Officers threatened her with arrest, something they are not legally allowed to do.

The ordinance arose from a need to offer legal protection to community cat caretakers to operate without harassment.  Many cat caretakers recall this history.  I don't blame caretakers for fearing the prospect of having their colony wiped out after spending significant time, money and energy to help cats failed by their human owners.

It is critical colony locations not be disclosed so people who hate cats are unable to target them.  It's important to deter people who seek to dump their problem on someone else by not revealing colony locations.  The City Animal Shelter called one colony caretaker and asked if it would be OK to tell citizens to dump cats at their colony.  The answer is a loud "No."

Animal Services Director James Flores lumped citizens who feed cats but don't neuter in with cat colony caretakers.  They are two very different groups.  One is solving the problem while the other is compounding it (feeding but not fixing).  It takes but a few questions to determine in which group they belong.  Kittens generally means it is not a colony, as caretakers trap, neuter and socialize weaned kittens for adoption.

Yes, the city has a huge problem with cats.  It's odd Animal Services is most interested in finding the names and locations of people working to solve it.  Animal Services has virtually no interest in addressing the vast areas of the city that have unaltered free roaming cats and un-managed groups of cats.  Sarah Bennett and James Flores shared two different un-managed cat sites.  Neither spoke to the people feeding but not fixing.  Both were in a position to seek information and provide coaching.  Neither did .

It was odd to hear Flores tell the board:

 "... we can't catch a feral cat.  It's impossible."  
I assumed animal trapping to be a basic skill set for an Animal Control Officer.  Caretakers successfully trap thousands of community cats each year.  Effective cat trappers include a number of women in their 70's and 80's.  I'll venture they'd be willing to train Mr. Flores and city staff.

Assistant City Manager Michael Dane suggested Flores ask nicely and he was sure the information would be provided.  Dane should be the first to refer to the existing ordinance and share why citizens and staff crafted it that way.  Dane should require city staff be clear and precise in their language when talking about what exists.

Effective leaders would share what's working well from both sides of the partnership and what the two groups agree would be an improvement.  That did not happen from Michael Dane, James Flores, Bob Salas or Animal Shelter Advisory Committee Chair Jenie Wilson.

Angelo State University President Dr. Brian May has a PhD in Animal Science.  He understands the benefits of managed community cats on campus.  He argued for the ordinance at City Council in early 2015.  With its passage the city appeared to return to collaborating with community cat caretakers, as it once effectively did under Shelter Director Leslie Hart.  That promise faded.

Flores revealed the number one citation given by Animal Control Officers is for not spaying/neutering.   Animal Services has a group of community partners addressing their top problem for free.

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee would be better off leaving the existing ordinance and asking CritterShack how the City can collaborate on community cats.  The Committee is at a crossroads, one fork is real collaboration and the other the bureaucratic, controlling, bullheaded stance for which the city is infamous.  Which will it be?

Update 5-15-17:   Oddly the ASAC will take up community cats before they deal with the recent distemper outbreak at the shelter.   Last month Shelter Director James Flores educated the committee that loose dogs are impossible to catch but a loud bang of the hand on the side of a truck door will drive a dog home where the owner is then ticketed.  Flores didn't address the city's limited capabilities in dealing with packs of wild dogs that recently killed pets in the community.  The video will be interesting to watch.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Mesquite Solar Project & MedHab Missing from COSADC 2016 Report


The City of San Angelo Development Corporation omitted the Mesquite Solar Project from its 2016 Year End Summary Report.  The project was unanimously approved on August 26, 2015 for an economic development incentive of $583,814.  Development Corporation Chief Roland Pena included an update for the board in May 2016.   It stated: "Still in due diligence, in process of securing PPA."  Pena had nothing to say about the project in his 2016 report.

A Development Corporation video may shed light on the project's status, which was planned for the land adjacent to the city's Industrial Park.  The Mesquite Solar Project, if developed,. would be on uncleared land just above the UP in Super Park (pictured at the top of this post).


COSADC's Year End Summary was also missing a MedHab update.  The company's story changed many times since City Council approved a $3.54 million economic development agreement nearly five years ago.  MedHab CEO seemed poised to bring promised jobs to San Angelo last year with his radio remark their medical rehabilitation product received Food and Drug Administration approval.

FDA approval is big news and worth posting on MedHab's news page.  Their most recent news announcement came on September 4, 2013.  It was also the milestone for MedHab to begin adding local jobs, up to 227.

There are no signs of progress for the Mesquite Solar Park which remains in the dark.  MedHab has been in reverse since it supposedly leapt a key hurdle fourteen months ago for assembling product and producing jobs in San Angelo.  

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

City Finally Informs Public of Deadly Distemper Outbreak


Public health requires effective surveillance for disease outbreaks and mobilization of resources to treat the ill, prevent exposure for those at risk and vaccinate the population.  This applies to animals as well as people.

The City of San Angelo's Animal Shelter is in the midst of a distemper outbreak.  Social media reports suggest distemper cases began weeks ago with a sick puppy being adopted out of the shelter.  Those same reports indicate local veterinarians knew of the outbreak as early as April 11th.  This information was not shared with the Animal Services Advisory Committee on April 20th.

Concho Valley PAWS, the contractor for shelter adoptions, released a statement on April 30th about the outbreak (Source:  San Angelo Live)

Puppies and dogs most often become infected through airborne exposure (through sneezing or coughing) to the virus from an infected dog or wild animal. The virus can also be transmitted by shared food and water bowls and equipment. Infected dogs can shed the virus for months, and mother dogs can pass the virus through the placenta to their puppies.
Local rescue Cassie's Place issued a warning about the distemper outbreak on April 29th at 6:15 am on their Facebook page.  Owners who read the warning were in a position to get their dog vaccinated against distemper.

All dogs are at risk but puppies younger than four months old and dogs that have not been vaccinated against canine distemper are at increased risk of acquiring the disease.
On May 3rd the City of San Angelo issue a press release regarding shelter closure due to distemper.

Initially, infected dogs will develop watery to pus-like discharge from their eyes. They then develop fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting. As the virus attacks the nervous system, infected dogs develop circling behavior, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions with jaw chewing movements and salivation (“chewing gum fits”), seizures, and partial or complete paralysis. The virus may also cause the footpads to thicken and harden, leading to its nickname “hard pad disease.”

Distemper is often fatal, and dogs that survive usually have permanent, irreparable nervous system damage.
Early notification is critical for dog owners to take appropriate action.

Canine distemper vaccine, one of the more effective vaccines, protects at least 90% of individuals to whom it is given.  Vaccination is crucial in preventing canine distemper.
Timely communication is important to save canine lives and prevent spread of a highly contagious, often fatal airborne disease.

The City delegated  communication to its adoption contractor.  Concho Valley PAWS does not operate the Animal Shelter.  After the problem became widely known in the animal service community the City finally issued its press release.

I trust the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee will ask questions to understand the course of the outbreak and evaluate the effectiveness of the city's response.  Oversight is their role and a deadly disease outbreak requires review.    

Update 5-15-17:  The City Shelter is again taking in dogs.  Dog adoptions will restart next week.  The news release did not state how many shelter dogs came down with distemper, how many with the disease had been adopted out, the status of the distemper cases and what the city plans to do to make whole citizens harmed by adopting shelter pets with distemper symptoms. 

Update 5-18-17:   City staff reported they first learned of a shelter associated distemper case on 4-27-17.  The city's first communication occurred on 5-3-17, nearly a week later.