Saturday, July 13, 2024

City Council to Hold Budget Session


San Angelo City Council will hold a budget workshop after their regular meeting.  Staff will present General Fund budget plans for a number of city departments. 

The draft budget for Animal Services is $1,350,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.  This is a $96,000 increase from the original budget for this fiscal year.  It will be interesting to hear Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden's presentation to Council given San Angelo's ever increasing loose pet crisis.  Morgan informed Council of a dog pack around the 2000 block of Bryant Blvd. in their last meeting.  She did so in public comment (which Council may alter on Tuesday).

A separate capital improvement project for the Animal Shelter has lingered since April 2023 when the city received financing specifically for that renovation.  Project complexity pushed finished construction back from January 2024 to April 2024.

Construction Manager Al Torres informed Council the project would be bid in May.  That is yet to happen.   The City's capital improvement plan shows a November 2024 completion date but that is hard to believe given the project is expected to take six months.  Will it be finished by January 2025?

Below is CIP information from the city's website (beware the poor contrast resolution).

 A screenshot of that page shows its unread ability:

I requested a custom PDF to see if that improved resolution and readability.  The process took just over 15 minutes and the document received was dramatically better.  See the print screen below:

City Council prioritized compliance with the Americans for Disabilities Act and staff have working hard on changes.  Clear.gov needs to do likewise for the web based CIP document.  

It remains to be seen if Council asks about shelter renovations while Morgan is answering operating budget questions.  There are few signs that a strategic review is underway regarding Pets Alive/Best Friends Animal Society policies and "community sheltering" practices incorporated by Animal Services.  An invitation to do so has been outstanding for years.

Update 7-16-24:  Morgan did not appear before council during their budget workshop.  Finance Director Tina Dierschke covered the $232,000 for temporary shelter facilities, saying they had previously been approved by Council.

The city plans to use federal COVID funds for the temporary shelter.  Staff provided no updates on the timeline for either shelter renovation.  This may be the slowest urgent renovation project in San Angelo history.  

After October 1st the city will not take public comment for workshop meetings.  Council approved staff recommended changes but passed on moving public comment to the end of City Council meetings.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

City to Further Restrain Public Comment


San Angelo City Council will entertain staff recommendations to reign in comments from the public.  A major move involves shifting open public comment from the beginning of the meeting to the end.  The resolution states:

Any member of the public attending a regular open meeting that wishes to address the governing body or board may do so either during the open public comment period at the end of the meeting or during the agenda item at the meeting when the presiding officer calls for public comment on that item. There will be no public comments taken at workshops or special meetings where no action will be taken.

The agenda shows the item relative to public comment in the Consent portion.  Items in this section are often approved en masse with no discussion or public comment, unless pulled by a Council member.

Consent Agenda

j.  Consider a resolution amending reasonable rules for public comment to be effective October 1, 2024. (Heather Stastny)

Staff's memo to Council states: 

Public comment will be allowed during all regular City Council and City board meetings. No public comment will be taken at special meetings or workshops where no business will be conducted.

Each member of the public wishing to speak shall be required to sign in with the City Clerk or Board Secretary prior to the meeting starting and indicate the item they wish to speak on. The City Clerk or Board Secretary will call names in order with City residents being given priority to speak first.

Members of the public may only speak about the items they indicated on the sign-in sheet and should be comments related to the authority of the City.

Documents or slides to be projected at the meeting will only be accepted for agenda items and not the open public comment period.

These rules will become effective as of October 1, 2024.

No public comment will be taken at workshops or special meetings?  Tuesday Council will hold a budget workshop (on the General Fund which covers many city departments).  Animal Services shows nearly a $100,000 increase from the current budget.  Many citizens are concerned about our significant loose pet problem, caused in part by years of shelter shutoff and releasing thousands of unaltered dogs from the shelter to owners.  This workshop includes public comment.  Does the proposed change mean next year during the budget process City Council will omit/not allow public comment?

City Council meetings are a significant time commitment for a member of the public.  Gone will be the opportunity to slip in for an agenda item, make public comment and then leave.  People will have to show up early enough to do the sign in with City Clerk.  I imagine that will close at a specific time, 8:20 or 8:25 am.  

There will be no opportunity for someone in attendance to contribute their thoughts or knowledge on a spur of the moment basis.  Citizens interested in running for City Council often reacted to city business in public comment.  

The City Clerk will call names for people signed up for that item to come forward.  If someone is not on the list their comments will not be allowed.

The City frequently conducts public hearings in Council and other board meetings.  It will now institute rules for public unhearing.  This feels unnecessary and a more than a little "tone deaf."

In December 2022 Council restricted public information requests.  In July 2024 it may limit public comments.  These moves raise questions about its desire to serve the public.

At the top of the City's organizational chart sits "Citizens of San Angelo."   The public will learn Tuesday if Council answers to citizens or is there to serve staff.

Update 7-16-24:  City Council approved all public comment changes but one.  Public comment will remain at the beginning of the meeting and not be moved to the end.  

Yesterday the city asked for citizen comments via its news feed.

Friday, July 05, 2024

Austin Animal Shelter Closes Intake


The City of Austin closed dog and cat intake to the public.  Their news release states:

Intake is now restricted to emergencies only which includes animals that have life-threatening injury or illness, or animals that present a clear public safety risk.

How is a citizen to know if a found pet has life threatening injury or illness?  Instructions to the public include:

AAC asks that residents who need assistance with an injured animal take the following steps:

  • Call 311, advise them that you need assistance with a sick or injured animal and ask to speak with an Animal Protection Officer.
  • Wait for the Animal Protection Officer to pick up the animal. Do not bring the animal to the shelter.
  • If you have found a loose pet that is not injured, please visit AAC’s Lost and Found Pet website for guidance.

The City of San Angelo closed shelter intake in November 2022.  "Community sheltering" means a drastic increase in unaltered, loose dogs in city neighborhoods.  Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden informed City Council during public comment that Animal Control self-initiated a search for an unreported animal pack near Bryant Boulevard and Knickerbocker Road.  The officers were unable to locate the pack during patrols but had "an initial contact" where the dogs appeared to be owned and socialized.  

Morgan mentioned that people are not calling for services but sharing information online.  People don't call for services as Animal Control is frequently unresponsive to requests because the shelter is full.  The city's strategy is effectively "let them roam unaltered."  Anyone who finds a loose dog is put on a "path to shelter acceptance."  San Angelo citizens can thank Pets Alive (which originated in Austin) and Best Friends Animal Society for making shelter services inaccessible. 

The City of Austin just entered the "Intake Closed" zone.  It may result in fewer shelter deaths but dogs die from lack of food, water and shelter, as well as environmental hazards (cars, dog packs and cruel people).  The numbers game just shifts the location of death and imparts much greater suffering.

How long before Austin becomes like a third world country with loose dogs packing up and roaming?  It's widespread in San Angelo.  

Mayor Gunter responded to Morgan's update on the Bryant Boulevard dog pack.  She said she would ask two nearby restaurant owners to stop their employees from providing food and water for the dogs (in the midst of numerous heat warnings).  

San Angelo followed Austin which got us into a loose dog mess.  Now Austin is following San Angelo in leaving them out on the streets.  Can various city leaders stop playing a numbers game and deal with what is?

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Rapidly Growing Pet Population within San Angelo


Concho Valley PAWS announced a special fundraising opportunity where donations would be matched up to $25,000.  The story by Concho Valley Homepage referred to a "rapidly growing pet population within San Angelo."

The City of San Angelo and Concho Valley PAWS teamed up in 2017.  This was several years after City Council passed mandatory spay/neuter for pets and a microchip requirement.  Director of Neighborhood and Family Services Bob Salas suggested these moves would mean fewer strays in the streets and reduce litters of unwanted puppies and kittens.  Citizens wanting to breed their pet needed to obtain a breeder's permit.  Staff stated they'd give citizens a year to comply with the new ordinances and then begin enforcement.  PAWS suggested their work as shelter adoption coordinator would free up staff time for ordinance enforcement.

San Angelo's street animal population grew with each shelter intake restriction (2019).  Owner surrenders went from nearly 3,000 in 2016 to 77 in 2021.  That same year Fox West Texas reported:

San Angelo has been known for having an influx of stray cats and dogs roaming the streets. 
Western Veterinary Hospital owner Dr. Gary Hodges said he gets about 30 calls at his animal hospital about stray dogs walking through the streets. He says it has been worse than ever over the last few years.
In that news report Animal Services recommended citizens not approach a stray dog  and for people to call Animal Control Officer to handle the situation.  Carlos Carillo instructed citizens, saying "We'll go out there and try to get the animal off their property."  

The stray problem got much worse after Council capped the dog population at 180 dogs (2022).  Getting the shelter to make a stray pet visit went from difficult to nearly impossible.  The shelter became a long stay hotel for large, unaltered dogs.

Owners continued to retrieve their unaltered dog(s) from the shelter.  A city effort to track and fine pet owners for failing to spay/neuter their shelter stray went mostly nowhere (less than 10% impact).  Of 674 unaltered pets released from the shelter in FY 2022, 606 remained still reported as unaltered as of June 2023.  

Puppies became a major cause of shelter overcrowding (rising from 507 in FY 2016 to 883 in FY 2022, an increase of 75%).  Only a handful of owners bothered with the required breeder's permit and the city was sparse in issuing citations to offenders.

The rapidly growing street pet population in San Angelo came from years of partnership between the City, PAWS, Pets Alive and Best Friends Animal Society.    Spay/neuter is not a Pets Alive measure and Best Friends was fine with Petsmart allowing unaltered animals    The New Yorker reported:

... Best Friends opposes laws requiring that pets be sterilized, on the ground that such laws are costly to poor people and difficult to enforce, and it did not object to a recent decision by PetSmart Charities, which has been a funder of Best Friends, to suspend its requirement that young animals be fixed before being adopted from a PetSmart store.

Many members of the public are tired of city leaders foisting falsehoods and City Council's "get along-go along" approach to Animal Services not serving the public.  The rapidly growing pet population within San Angelo has no end in sight.  That's a bad path to be on.

Update 6-29-24:   Citizens of Danville. Virginia are in the early stages of dealing with Best Friends.  The Humane Society leader there stated:

“Point A is where we are now with too many animals, too few good homes, and so much neglect and cruelty.  Point C is what every animal welfare organization wants: To not euthanize healthy animals because of space. No-kill proponents want to go from Point A to Point C now. The only immediate way to do that is to close shelter doors.
We have to go through Point B which is to spay/neuter and make sure animals are not neglected or abused. We do not believe animals should be warehoused in shelters for years. Adoption partners, and we have very good ones, do not take animals they believe they won’t be able to find homes for.”

Regarding her dealings with Best Friends Animal Society:

“The misinformation and outright lies astound me.”

Welcome to our world.  City Council should revisit Animal Services in their strategic planning sessions.  

Update 6-30-24:  Concho Valley Homepage reported on a PAWS adoption event at Petco.  The story stated:

Concho Valley Paws is dedicated to saving as many pets as possible from the San Angelo Animal Shelter by facilitating adoptions and running various volunteer and foster programs. 

The lines between the city shelter and PAWS can be difficult to discern.  I imagine there is some fatigue regarding the shelter's frequent publication of dog euthanasia lists.  That may have rubbed off on local donors. 

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Animal Shelter Communications with City Council


The first four months of 2024 saw frequent communication between members of City Council and Animal Services leadership.  Mayor Brenda Gunter contacted city leaders regarding a "dangerous dog situation" the afternoon of Friday, January 19th.  It contained the message below:

On 1/15/24, 3:00p we were in our front yard. Suddenly, a light brown male pit bull weighing between 75-100lbs approached. It was wearing a large black handler’s collar, had cropped ears, and a groomed/clean appearance. 

The dog was aggressive and began growling at my 8yr old son. I grabbed the dog by the collar and told my kids to run into the house. The dog was barking at them and trying to get out of my grasp. 

I released the dog once they were safely inside. He then turned to me aggressively barking, growling, and jumping as I retreated into my vehicle parked on the street. The dog circled my yard defecating and urinating, pawed at my front door, and occupied my garage for 5-10 minutes before leaving. I called Animal Control and followed the voicemail instructions to call police dispatch and they said an officer would investigate

This dog was not a stray and posed a serious threat to me and my children. I have also been pursued by an aggressive collared/tagged Rottweiler while walking down our street. I see loose dogs in our neighborhood multiple times each week. Just this morning as I went to work, there was a stray female pit mix on my front porch seeking shelter. 

This stems from poor animal control and terrible dog owners. We no longer feel safe in our front yard without being legally armed and prepared to use defensive force. 

Irresponsible pet owners should be held more accountable, massive pit bulls roaming freely should induce a stiff penalty. This city has a severe stray animal problem. Our Animal Control Department can be improved so that citizens feel safe. SAPD doesn't have time to respond to every threatening dog report. 
City response by Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden the afternoon of Monday, January 22nd.:
Thank you for bringing this incident to our attention, I apologize that this happened. No family should live in fear of enjoying their neighborhood. You did all the right things in following the voicemail prompt for police support when animal services was closed for the holiday and only responding to emergency calls. The on-call animal services officer wasn’t dispatched because the request was mistakenly communicated as a friendly loose dog so he stayed on scene at a different case. We’re following up with police to understand the miscommunication and prevent this from happening in the future. We’ll provide additional patrol in the area to prevent loose dogs, enforce secure enclosure requirements, and cite owners in violation. Please feel free to reach out to me for additional concerns.
Morgan's response sought no additional information, pictures or additional experiences with that dog since their initial unfulfilled request for help.   Morgan heard a variation of "no family should live in fear of enjoying their neighborhood" over a year prior.   A PAWS volunteer did so at the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee Meeting.  She said it was no longer safe to walk a dog in any city neighborhood.  

Three days before the Mayor's e-mail Morgan presented the loose dog situation to City Council.  Council took no action on 1-16-24.  City staff started weekly Animal Shelter Open Houses.  Morgan's 2-2-24 memo to Council stated:


Public commenters and City Council expressed concerns about the number of loose pets and worrisome incidents of aggressive dogs. Council discussed an incident where a dog pack attacked more than one pet in their August 2023 Strategic Planning Session.  The fear was that a child would be injured or killed in such an attack.

On March 8th an eleven year old boy was attacked by a 72 pound pit bull after getting off the bus.  The child screamed for help and was assisted by two men, one of whom also sustained injuries from dog bites.  

The child sustained injuries to their left arm, while the fifty seven year old adult was bitten in the arms and leg.  The Animal Control officer described the wounds to both the child and adult as "severe", "painful deep cuts and gashes."
  

Both victims were transferred to Shannon ER for treatment.

Councilman Harry Thomas followed up on the incident.  Morgan's March 14th e-mail warned Mr. Thomas that the "photos are graphic".  They reveal the damage a dangerous dog can do to a child, one quickly aided by nearby adults.  Morgan informed the Councilman the aggressive dog (quarantined at Animal Services) would be euthanized on March 22nd.

That same March 22nd a citizen wrote Councilman Harry Thomas:
I am writing to express my concern about the aggressive dog problem in the alley (between two East San Angelo streets). I have contacted animal control on multiple occasions, as well as contacted the police regarding a specific aggressive dog that consistently escapes its owner's property and initiates fights with other dogs. This dog has also attempted to attack my dogs through my fence. 

Despite my repeated reports, animal control has failed to take any action to address this situation. I understand that shelters are often full, but I believe that fines and penalties would be an effective way to encourage the irresponsible owner of this dog to take responsibility for their pet. 

I have witnessed numerous instances of neighbors having to chase this dog away from their homes and families. It is only a matter of time before someone is injured or property damage occurs. 

I am frustrated by the lack of proactive action from animal control. Why do we wait for a situation to escalate before taking action? I am at a loss for what else I can do to protect my dogs and my community from this dangerous animal. 

If animal control is unable or unwilling to assist me, I would appreciate any advice or guidance you can provide on how to address this issue.
Councilman Thomas again followed up with Animal Services.  This case involved two frequently loose dogs, one unaltered.  One month after the initial visit the dogs had continued escaping their enclosure and the unaltered one had not been fixed.
 
Who knows what the next six months will bring?  Will weekly open houses continue to vector concerned citizens away from Council?  Will City Council continue complimenting Animal Services leadership that is attached to Pets Alive, Best Friends Animal Society philosophy and programs?  
 
Will citizens continue sharing their concerns about loose pets left to fend for themselves in neighborhoods, aka "community sheltering"?   How many of those loose dogs will have puppies?  How many will attack or harm other pets?  How many will attack people?  And how much of any of that will be made public?
 
The city's "let them roam unaltered" policy requires endurance for man and beast alike.

Update 6-14-24:  The April Animal Shelter Advisory Committee did not have any dangerous dog information regarding "dog bites boy and man."  One might expect the dog's rabies status to be shared with the committee.  That was known as the dog was euthanized on March 22nd.

Update 6-28-24:  San Angelo Live reported:
On Thursday, June 27, 2024, the Snyder Police Department issued a statement and identified a man who was attacked and killed by two dogs.

The article had no information on the two dogs other than they were in custody and the owner has been identified. 

The City of Andrews Animal Shelter is a partner with Best Friends Animal Society, just like the City of San Angelo. The City of Snyder does not have a relationship with Best Friends.

Monday, June 10, 2024

PAWS Received Nearly $50,000 from BFAS

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden was less than forthcoming last August at City Council when asked about her relationship with Best Friends Animal Society.  

Council person Karen Hesse-Smith:  Good morning. I’m curious whether or not the animal shelter has contracts with Best Friends, American pets Alive! or the HASS model - which is Human Animal Support Services, and I’m curious because a number of these organizations are being pointed to as culprits in other communities that have been sued for their policies. I can name them if it matters – El Paso is one, there’s been an issue in Abilene, at New York, but these are nationwide organizations. 

Morgan:   The city doesn’t have contracts with any of those organizations. As we set policy to offer life first and then the math is the math, right? It’s not that were trying to hit this magic number of 90%. We are looking at a number of peer cities, other organizations, what they’re pursuing, but there is no contracts with any animal welfare groups – the ones you’ve listed or others. 
Morgan attended Best Friends Executive Leadership Certification tuition free.  Morgan read the BFAS Manifesto during the graduation ceremony, an honor as she was chosen by her fellow participants.  


Best Friends guided Morgan through multiple shelter crises, the roach infestation/horrific hoarding conditions, the shelter cat colony panleukopenia outbreak, and even the City Council meeting mentioned in this post. Continuing with that meeting:

Karen:  What about PAWS, your contracted partner, do they have contracts with any of these contracted organizations? 

Morgan:  Not that I’m aware of but I really couldn’t speak to their legal status. 

Karen: I think we would like to know the answer to that because there have been social media posts that indicate that they’ve received grant monies or donations from some of these organizations and it’s worth our scrutiny. We don’t have enough information at this point to address it further but I think it’s worth knowing. 

Mayor Brenda Gunter:  Meaning that PAWS received grant monies and you’re asking how those grant monies were utilized 

Karen:  Yes. For example, here is a post made by Concho Valley PAWS and it says “A big Thank You to our friends at Best Friends Animal Society for a generous financial gift” of so many thousand, a certain number of thousands of dollars, so PAWS is not really under discussion here but we do have a contractual agreement with them so hence my question. 

Councilmember:  Isn’t PAWS a non-profit? 

Karen:  It is, and they are entitled to collect money. The concern is that some of these organizations are very much under fire across the nation and they are under fire because they promote programs and policies that have basically failed, multi-million-dollar lawsuits in some of these communities.
Concho Valley PAWS is the dba for the Humane Society of Tom Green County which received over $48,000 from Best Friends Animal Society for the fiscal year ended 2022.  
 
It's worth knowing.  Time will reveal if it's worth addressing.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Council to Consider Plethora of Animal Shelter Requests


San Angelo's City Council will hear a laundry list of Animal Shelter requests on Tuesday.  Possible program changes total $767,493 and fall into three categories, public safety, shelter operations and outreach/crime preventions.  

The city's loose dog problem has been years in the making, partly driven by the shelter's returning unaltered dogs to irresponsible pet owners.  Despite the city having a juggernaut public information office, vendor Concho Valley PAWS has often served as the public face of the city shelter.


Staff presented the temporary facility to the Planning Committee in February.  There were no cost estimates for getting that site ready to house pets on a temporary basis.

PAWS also provides shelter volunteers.  They have shown up at Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meetings with numerous suggestions about shelter operations, including expanding hours so they can assist pets and not walk dogs during the height of the heat of our brutal summer days.


The last time Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden presented to Council there were "no new funds" available.  I imagine this wish list will not go over well.

Change is needed, specifically in the release of unaltered dogs to owner from the shelter.  This has been city practice for the last six years, resulting in the return of thousands of unaltered dogs (per city records).  Add choking off intake via a series of "managed" moves and citizens wanting to do the right thing in surrendering their pet have few options.  Some resort to dumping.  The implicit city policy is "let loose dogs roam unaltered."  

Staff has an intention in presenting all this at once to Council.  It may be to make the point that it is too expensive to do.  It may be to show the ways PAWS is saving the city money.  

It shows staff is unable to identify the highest priority problems and target specific interventions to address them.  Just serve it all up to Council and let them decide.  People making these salaries should be able to do better than that.

Update 5-21-24:  Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden tried to narrow down the scroll like list to items needed to get the temporary shelter facility completed for use during the long promised shelter renovations.  Construction Manager Al Torres told City Council the construction documents would be completed in 30 days and then the original project could be put out to bid.  That's late June 2024.

Morgan said it would take $120,000 to make ready the temporary shelter facility.   She added another $112,000 in staff costs to operate both facilities after encouragement from Assistant City Manager Michael Dane.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela added the list of possible program changes is a better fit for a general fund budget workshop meeting.  The topic ended with no motion and staff responsible for bringing the item back with a funding source.

Update 7-16-24:  City staff indicated the budget for the temporary shelter is $232,000 and indicated Council already approved that amount.