Monday, April 22, 2024

Animal Services Found Local Dog Hoarder

The City of San Angelo's Animal Services identified a dog hoarding situation with over 80 dogs.  An officer returning two small dogs to the home found the disturbing situation.  

The officer found a situation that violated numerous city ordinances, unaltered dogs, no breeding permit for puppies/neonates, exceeding maximum of seven dogs, and no vaccinations (rabies state requirement).

The dogs needed flea treatments and vaccinations.  The following texts are from PAWS leadership.
Several needed medical care.  

Animal Services took the dogs to PAWS.  The parvo case was an adult dog.  Vaccinations would have prevented that dog from suffering inflicted by the parvo virus.  

News reports on the dog hoarding situation came from Concho Valley PAWS, which encouraged people to suspend judgement on the dog owners.  

The City of San Angelo passed numerous ordinances over the years to prevent such a situation.  Animal Services promised a year of community education after Council passed a mandatory spay-neuter ordinance in October 2015.  The shelter contracted out adoptions to Concho Valley PAWS in 2017 with the promise that staff time would be freed up to do enforcement.  

GoSanAngelo reported on 2-25-2017:
Right now, (PAWS Director Jenie) Wilson said, the city doesn’t have the resources to enforce the (mandatory spay/neuter) ordinance because it is also working on reducing euthanasia rates. 

“By bringing our resources together, maybe we can free up time for animal control so they can go out and enforce the ordinances, which may answer some of the problems of how animals get here in the beginning,” she said. 

In addition to enforcing the ordinance, high-volume spay/neuter clinics and adoption events help achieve the no-kill goals.
Fast forward to August 2022 when the City conducted an intensive review of unaltered dogs returned to owner from the Animal Shelter.  Nearly a year into that effort city staff reported to Council:
Owners claimed 956 cats and dogs in FY22, 282 of which were already spayed/neutered. 44 pet owners have since provided proof of spay/neuter. 24 provided proof of an exemption, such as moved outside city limits, pet is medically fragile, pet has died, etc. This leaves 606 pets still reporting as unaltered. We’ve cited or filed a complaint with municipal court for almost 400 animals and are moving through the remaining backlog.
That's a ten percent success rate in getting returned shelter pets fixed.  Leaving 90% unaltered and on San Angelo streets is a symptom of a multi-year problem.  

It's long past time to make the Animal Shelter bad owner proof.  That requires a combination of support programs, especially low cost spay-neuter, and enforcement of existing, longstanding ordinances.  

Thousands of animals have left city facilities with the rodeo ended.  Maybe the next roundup can be loose dogs on city streets.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Council to Address Animal Shelter Advisory Committee

San Angelo City Council will consider changes in the composition of the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee in Tuesday's meeting.  Staff notes the committee failed to hold the required three meetings in 2023.  The three meeting minimum is spelled out in City Ordinances.

The October meeting had numerous members of the public in attendance, many wishing to provide comment on San Angelo's loose dog problem.  The committee Chair and Vice Chair missed the meeting, each saying they didn't realized the meeting was that day.  The Chair said they "didn't get an e-mail," while the Vice Chair said they "should have remembered."

Agendas will be prepared by the ASAC City Liaison and reviewed by the chair prior to posting. Meetings shall be conducted by the chairperson, and if absent by the Vice-Chairperson. 
The public in attendance requested that the meeting be quickly rescheduled.  That did not happen.  By November 14, 2023 Director of Neighborhood and Family Services Bob Salas directed the third (required) meeting not be held. 
Bob, missed you at 4pm – wanted to clarify this messaging. Brian’s referencing a reschedule of ASAC but you’d previously discussed proceeding with the 2024 calendar with no additions. Will there be a meeting in the near future?
Did Mr. Salas realize the committee needed another meeting to comply with City Ordinances?

The City Council background packet shows the membership for the ASAC in 2023.  It omits Sgt. Chris Carpenter who attended the two meetings held, resigning by e-mail after the August meeting.

The public was unaware of Sgt. Carpenter's resignation, so the "lack of quorum" appeared legitimate.  Only after the meeting was cancelled did I learn of his August resignation.

Three members attended with two slots vacant. Three out of five is a majority, the city's requirement for a quorum. The public did not know this on October 19th as that August ASAC member resignation had not been shared with the public.

To Sgt. Carpenter's credit he reached out to Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden and asked if he needed to attend the October ASAC meeting.  Morgan wrote to Sgt. Carpenter on 10-16-23: 
You can disregard, still actively trying to fill your vacancy so still included you in the email.

One could deduce that staff did everything in their power not to hold an ASAC meeting in October 2023 and not reschedule another meeting before the end of the year, given they had over two months to do so.

The Texas Open Meetings Act does not address failure to hold a meeting when a quorum exists.  Apparently, there are no consequences for staff failing to meet ordinance requirements via a series of purposeful actions.

City Council will likely approve the four person ASAC, comprised of the City Veterinarian, its Adoption Contractor, Shelter Chief and a dedicated City Councilperson.  

Three of the four played significant roles in shifting the burden for loose dogs onto the community.  It's been a multi-year effort, one not challenged in the least by prior ASAC's.  I hope this version is different.

Update 4-16-24:  City Council did not take up proposed changes to the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee in today's meeting.

Update 4-18-24:  One Councilmember wrote back that the ASAC quorum is "4 out of 7."  That language does not exist in city ordinance or the current ASAC bylaws.  The bylaws state a quorum is a simple majority.  

The Councilperson did not address Morgan's steering one of the seven away from attending two days before the meeting.  I found his message timely as the ASAC is scheduled to meet today and it only has four members.  The stated requirement "4 out of 7" means 100% attendance by current members.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Depleted ASAC Limps into April Meeting

San Angelo's City Council meets April 2nd and will consider board nominations, however none of the candidates are for the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee, which currently has three open slots.  

In January Council reappointed PAWS employee Jen Murphy to a third term expiring January 2026.  The three open positions have been empty from anywhere between 2 and 14 months. 

The current ASAC Chair, Caitlin Wylie, is the latest resignation due to her term expiring.  There is time for Council to appoint new members in its April 16th meeting, two days before the ASAC's scheduled session on April 18th. 

A recent Facebook post stated the Shelter is "full of puppies."  That was also the case in August 2022 when horrific hoarding conditions combined with a roach infestation.

Consider this flashback from February 2017 when the city contracted out adoptions to Concho Valley PAWS:
Right now, (PAWS Director Jenie) Wilson said, the city doesn’t have the resources to enforce the (mandatory spay/neuter) ordinance because it is also working on reducing euthanasia rates.

“By bringing our resources together, maybe we can free up time for animal control so they can go out and enforce the ordinances, which may answer some of the problems of how animals get here in the beginning,” she said.
In addition to enforcing the ordinance, high-volume spay/neuter clinics and adoption events help achieve the no-kill goals.
It's seven years later and despite contracting out adoptions, the city still doesn't have the resources to enforce mandatory/spay neuter.  It took a special effort to follow up on nearly a thousand unaltered shelter pets released to owners in FY 2022.  
Owners claimed 956 cats and dogs from us, 674 of which have yet to prove spay/neuter. 
44 pet owners have since provided proof of spay/neuter. 
24 provided proof of an exemption, such as moved outside city limits, pet is medically fragile, pet has died, etc. 
This leaves 606 pets still reporting as unaltered. We’ve cited or filed a complaint with municipal court for almost 400 animals and are moving through the remaining backlog.
This special effort was remarkably unimpactful spay/neuter wise.  It got only 10%, 68 out of the 674 unaltered pets released to owners.  It did generate 400 citations and that money should be used for low cost spay/neuter for intact shelter pets.

In the words of City Councilman Harry Thomas, "there are more dogs on the street than ever."  That is the product of the numerous changes in shelter operations, managed intake and releasing thousands of unaltered dogs while claiming otherwise.

We'll see if Council beefs up its wounded advisory body in the animal arena.  They may be too busy with the Rodeo and finding the money to expand the City Coliseum and facilities for rodeo animals.

Update 4-2-24:  Council held a proclamation dominated meeting that lasted 45 minutes.  There were no future agenda items identified at the close of the meeting.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Sales Tax Proceeds Fell for February

The Development Corporation background packet showed February sales tax dropping nearly 6.4% from last year.

Sales tax proceeds declined in two of the last three months.  FY 2023 saw sales tax proceeds rise every month relative to the same month in FY 2022.  

The meeting ended with no discussion of this development.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

"Breaking Point" for Dog Crisis

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden wrote City Council members in response to a letter from a concerned citizen about San Angelo's loose dog crisis  Her e-mail included:

San Angeloans are in fact at their breaking point. Previously well-intentioned citizens are documented letting their dogs loose behind restaurants, at homeless encampments, and in residences they’ve moved out of.

Citizens are dumping their dogs because the shelter choked off intake for the last five years.  Neither death nor moving to assisted living are reasons for the shelter to accept a pet.  

Add that the shelter released at least 2,000 unaltered dogs to their owners over the same period.  

FY ended 2023 - 358 unaltered dogs
FY ended 2022 - 674 
FY ended 2021 - 708 
FY ended 2019 - 730
Puppies overran the shelter in September 2022 and are doing so again.  
We’ve previously stated the City has no contracts with American Pets Alive! or Best Friends Animal Society, and that remains true.
Morgan can parse language. The 2020 RFP for Adoption Services specified the shelter's Pets Alive initiatives and vision under scope of services:

The city's adoption of Pets Alive and Best Friends Animal Society "community sheltering" policies sent pets into the streets that formerly went to the shelter.   Responsible citizens lost their ability to surrender their pet.  Streets in San Angelo and nearby communities have become dumping grounds.  

The shelter hasn't done its part to ensure dogs in its care are spayed/neutered in accordance with city ordinances.  A recent enforcement action had marginal results.  The latest data shared with City Council showed a mere 44 owners spayed/neutered their pet out of 650 unaltered dogs released from the shelter in FY 22.  That's a 6.7% effectiveness rate.  It did result in over 400 citations.

Morgan's stated solutions to the loose dog crisis at the end of her e-mail:
Animal Services must be a resource to residents before they’re in crisis by offering free microchips to residents of target neighborhoods, the fence inspection and repair program, and additional Animal Services Officers for enforcement and outreach
There's nothing about using the income from over 400 failure to spay/neuter citations to fund low cost spay/neuter services.  The shelter is not loosening its clampdown on intake to actually serve taxpayers. 

City Council has no appetite to address this issue.  It happily spent nearly $100,000 in financing fees/interest on "fast track borrowings" for a snail's pace shelter renovation project.  The nearly $2 million in borrowings ran from April to August 2023.  The renovation will be bid in May 2024 and projected completion is November 2024.

As that $2 million went unused the city had the opportunity to earn interest.  If the unused funds earned 3% interest over six months, that's $30,000 for low cost spay/neuter support and it's not new money.   That amount would buy far more than 44 spay/neuters, the impact of a concentrated "after the fact" spay/neuter enforcement effort.

Morgan made another change in response to the crisis.  The shelter now reports transfers and adoptions under one title "transfers."  The Animal Services Division Monthly Report for January 2024 states:
113 animals were transferred to rescue, including adoptions coordinated by to Concho Valley PAWS
The two statistics formerly were reported separately.  

Animal Services has taken a "Let them roam unaltered" approach, while City Council sticks to their "No new money" stance toward the Animal Shelter.  

I expect City Council to hear again and again from citizens concerned over the deterioration of services and dogs thrown into the streets under the guise of "community sheltering."  

The crisis grew over five years and will require long term strategies and funding to reverse.  I find it hard to believe the people who led us into this crisis are the ones to lead San Angelo out.  I'd love to be proven wrong by this City Council and city leadership.  That said, I am not holding my breath.

Friday, March 08, 2024

Shelter Owner Redemptions: Most Unaltered

Over 61% of dogs released to owners from the San Angelo Animal Shelter in fiscal year 2023 were not spayed/neutered.  This occurred in the midst of a focused effort to cite pet owners for failure to spay/neuter their pet after an Animal Shelter stay.   Here's the data for FY 2023:

Of 583 dogs stays, 358 left the shelter unaltered.  That's 61.4%

It's not clear how many of these owners received citations for failure to spay/neuter.  That responsibility shifted from a special effort by the City Attorney's office to Animal Services.

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden promised to provide this information to City Council in a November 2023 memo.  I'd hoped to get that one page memo via a public information request.  Instead I received a 79 page document.  Had staff provided volumes of raw data to Council they likely would have gotten an earful.

Releasing unaltered dogs from the shelter is not a new practice. The numbers are below: 
FY ended 2022 - 674 unaltered dogs
FY ended 2021 - 708 
FY ended 2019 - 730 
Eight month period in 2017 - 500
Director of Neighborhood and Family Services Bob Salas warned of the consequences of failure to spay/neuter pets.  

Council gave Salas the mandatory spay/neuter ordinance tool in 2015.

An overcrowded and disgusting shelter in September 2022 was blamed on "puppies."  That prompted the focused citation effort for unaltered animals with a shelter stay.  The "after the fact" effort has been slow going.   Staff informed Council:
June 2023:  Owners claimed 956 cats and dogs in FY22, 282 of which were already spayed/neutered. 44 pet owners have since provided proof of spay/neuter. 24 provided proof of an exemption, such as moved outside city limits, pet is medically fragile, pet has died, etc. This leaves 606 pets still reporting as unaltered. We’ve cited or filed a complaint with municipal court for almost 400 animals and are moving through the remaining backlog.
Our community has experienced a purposeful combination of strategies that increased the number of loose dogs. 
1.  Releasing unaltered shelter dogs under return to owner, a longstanding practice.

2.  Failure to enforce mandatory/spay neuter ordinance as promised by Shelter Chief James Flores when Council passed the requirement in 2015.  A focused effort by the City Attorney's office had over 600 unaltered animals outstanding from FY 2022.

3.  Adoption of Pets Alive programming which does not include spay/neuter in their performance measures.  Pets Alive programming is specified under "scope of services" in the latest RFP for Adoption Services.  The shelter first implemented managed intake for owned pets, then added "found" pets.  Owner surrenders fell from the thousands to less than one hundred under managed intake.

4.  Completely stopping loose animal intake when the dog census hits 180.  This hard maximum capacity has been used as a reason for Animal Control officers to not respond to a caught stray dog call.  When Council endorsed this strategy the shelter was mostly occupied by large, long stay dogs that are more difficult to adopt.

5.  Ignoring area dog breeders.  Puppies contributed to horrific conditions at the Animal Shelter in September 2022.  Recent pictures on the city's Facebook page show puppy after puppy.  

City Council took no action on the loose dog crisis in February after discussing the problem in January.  "Let them roam unaltered" remains firmly in place.

Credit:  The image of the local unaltered dog is from San Angelo Live's story on dogs in the homeless camp.  I cropped the image to highlight the dog.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Council Endorses "Let Them Roam Unaltered"

One year ago San Angelo's City Council approved nearly $2 million in short term financing for urgent Animal Shelter renovations.  It's been seven months since the city paid back the $2 million and renovation plans are not completed.  Borrowing costs totaled $93,827 in Council approved tax money.

One month ago Council discussed our community's loose dog crisis and asked staff to bring back prioritized recommendations with associated costs for each strategy.  

Last week Council heard about Concho Valley PAWS programming.  PAWS is contracted to provide adoption and veterinary services for shelter pets.  PAWS Executive Director Jenie Wilson made a number of recommendations, most outside her areas of responsibility as a Shelter contractor.  

The Mayor said the city had no money for spay/neuter despite the city releasing thousands of unaltered pets to owners over a two year period.  

San Angelo's third world loose pet problem took years to develop.  At it's base are irresponsible pet owners who refuse to spay/neuter and properly restrain their dog.  Add to that people who'd sought support with surrendering an animal due to life changes.  The shelter stopped assisting this group when it enacted managed intake in 2019.  

The next group shut out were "good Samaritans" who'd found a lost dog and sought the shelter's help.  The Animal Shelter pushed responsibility for found dogs onto the "community."  It mattered not if a frail elderly lady found an 80 pound dog in her yard.  They were asked to keep it for a few days or turn it back out.  Frustrated citizens have been threatened with arrest for trespassing if they show up at the shelter with the loose dog in question.

San Angelo is five years into choking off shelter intake and the impact can be seen on city streets.  

"There are more dogs on the streets than there's ever been"--City Councilman Harry Thomas 

Two years ago I encouraged City Council to consider Animal Services in their strategic planning undertakings.  It seemed an opportune time to review the impact of shelter service reductions and I provided a number of charts showing changes over time.  Council had no appetite to explore shelter changes until roaches overwhelmed the facility.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela conducted a review of shelter operations and implemented a hard cap on dog capacity after Councilman Tom Thompson provided the green light.  Citizen access to the shelter did not change.  It got worse and the shelter continued taking in fewer animals.  That left more on the streets.

Irresponsible citizens who don't spay/neuter or restrain their pets don't complain to City Council.  Other groups do.  That's people needing to surrender their pet and good Samaritans wanting to do right by a lost pet.  Council will continue to get an earful from these folks until the city stops prioritizing large, long stay shelter dogs over serving citizens.  

Mayor Brenda Gunter essentially said:

We can't keep throwing more dollars and more people after the problem.  

We keep doing this and the problem isn't solved.

We'll spend nearly $2 million on the shelter in the next year and a half

The Mayor did press staff to communicate the responsibilities of pet ownerships to citizens.  

Public Information dropped a new video, Concho Critter Show EP1.

Citizens can "access" Animal Services via phone or an online form.  The graphic is confusing in several ways.  Morgan asked citizens to call the shelter for "time sensitive" issues.  

Her list of "call worthy" issues included many of the items physically listed underneath the online form.  

Having issues considered "time sensitive" not under the online form may help citizens going forward.

I found it interesting that animal bite wasn't listed as those are up 56% according to city statistics.  Morgan stated in the video there were over 260 "animal to person" bite cases in 2023, up from 150 in 2022.  She said more dogs at large in the community is contributing to more bite cases.

Residents and San Angelo Police Department know that calls to Animal Services may not be answered, during the day or after hours.  They know a "dog at large" may or may not get a physical visit from Animal Control Officer, especially if the shelter is at maximum capacity.  

So it was surprising to hear the interviewer state "in every response Animal Services sends out an Animal Services Officer."  Citizens have heard frequently that Animal Services is not coming for the very situations listed.

At the 12:10 mark of the video the issue of understaffing comes up.  Animal Services Supervisor Carlos Carrillo said he believes Animal Control is understaffed.

Multiple times this council turned down setting aside funds for spay/neuter.  The city likely earned interest on the $2 million borrowed for shelter renovations as it just sat in the bank.  If the account paid 3% interest over six months, that's $30,000 that could be designated for spay/neuter support.  It's not new money.

City Council could decide to dedicate interest earned on shelter renovation funds for spay/neuter.  If so, the city should seek bids or approve qualified vendors, similar to its use of outside engineering firms.

The City of San Angelo gave citizens "let them (loose dogs) roam unaltered."  Council's lack of response to this long building crisis is concerning.  I hope it's not here to stay.

Update 3-1-24:  Minutes from the City Council meeting on 2-20-24 state for this agenda item:

No action taken.

Council effectively endorsed "Let them roam unaltered."

Update 3-7-24:  The latest shelter renovation schedule information is:
....the bid phase is delayed to May 2024 with estimated construction completion in November 2024.

Update 3-19-24:  The City could have shared the following document.


It did not share this with the public which might find fault with "deceased animal pickup" being a higher priority than "caught stray dog."  That does not sound like life-saving programming.