Sunday, June 23, 2019

City Reopens Animal Shelter Kennels to Public

A City of San Angelo press release stated:

The Animal Shelter is opening its general population kennels to visitors, effective immediately, as part of its new Pets Alive! initiative.
The kennels were closed after uncontrolled access led to ill dogs. American Pets Alive! recommended reopening them to harness public support and increase adoptions. Morgan Chegwidden, who manages the shelter, said improved cleaning protocols will ensure the animals’ health in a more open environment.
The City closed public access in July 2015.  The move did not prevent a distemper outbreak in Spring 2017:

“Because the shelter accepts strays and unwanted animals, it is not immune to the diseases they may be carrying,” said Bob Salas, director of the City’s Neighborhood and Family Services Department. “We vaccinate animals as soon as we receive them, but dogs in the early stages of distemper don’t always show the signs. The best precaution citizens can take is ensuring their dogs are immunized
The City could have instituted improved cleaning protocols anytime during the last four years to reopen kennels if that was the issue.  The issue was control.

Volunteers turned out in droves in April 2015.  It took but a few months for former Shelter Director James Flores to turn his back on sixty volunteers, locking them out and holding shelter animals away from public view.

Owners of missing pets had to look at small grainy pictures on a kiosk to see if their pet had been turned into the shelter.  It could take days or longer for the picture of new pets to be taken and placed into the software for viewing.

Flores resigned in June 2017 but his replacement kept the public lockout policy in place until June 21, 2019.

Chegwidden said the Pets Alive! initiative is also aiming to increase volunteers and advocates. Opening the kennels should aid in those efforts, she said, adding that “more changes are sure to come.”
PAWS was not part of the initial sixty person volunteer group that rushed to aid the shelter in April 2015.  Area rescues that ran to aid the shelter quickly found themselves shunned.  Animal Services proposed adding staff to its enforcement mission to City Council in September 2015 after giving caring volunteers the coldest of shoulders.

History shows the shelter kennel lockout to have been about control and accountability. San Angelo's shelter was one of the few in the state to not allow the public to view the kennel area.  Shelter leaders and city staff have long ignored area rescues pursuing the same strategies as Pets Alive.

Community cat advocates have practiced trap, neuter, return and maintain (TNRM) for decades, often in an adversarial relationship with City Animal Control.  Shelter Director James Flores lied about a survey he conducted on other community cat efforts/programs in Texas.  That was one of a series of actions that led to his sudden resignation.

Pets Alive's model has the Animal Shelter adopting TNRM for community cats.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden told City Council they needed to visit other shelters doing TNRM.  Bravo on the city endorsing this strategy!

However, it was interesting to hear none of the city's local community cat partners mentioned when this item went to City Council in late May.  Neither staff or City Council referred to citizens practicing TNRM who've regularly presented updates to council on their impact.  Curious about the effort I looked for the May recording of the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee that discussed Pets Alive.  I learned from city staff that no video existed.

PAWS has not been involved in community cats since 2015. The Animal Shelter has mostly taken an enforcement role on community cats over the last decade.  Several years ago Council made legal room for community cat colony managers to operate.  Critter Shack Rescue is the only animal service agency to step up for TNRM.  The organization has neutered thousands of community cats through its low cost spay/neuter clinics. Critter Shack has the skills and experience to help the city with community cat colony management, PAWS does not.

It will be interesting to see how the City proceeds with shelter volunteers and TNR for community cats.  I believe Pets Alive expects the City to broadly collaborate with citizens and area rescues on its key strategies.  This has not been the City's philosophy or practice.

Citizens and their pets deserve a serious, collaborative Pets Alive effort. Volunteers who helped out the shelter in 2015 know the city's press release to be a historical lie.  Leading with a falsehood raises questions as to means and motive.

Does the City plan to continue its exclusive collaboration with PAWS and use Pets Alive!'s model for outside grant funding?  PAWS website has a survey on community cats.  As of today the page stated:

Community Cat Survey
The following must be completed to receive a voucher. Incomplete submissions will not be processed. This program is feral cats only. The information collected here will be used to create a pilot program to provide free or reduced cost spay and neuter services to community cat caregivers in an effort to provide a targeted spay and neuter approach to reduce the population of cats. Approximately 65% of the animals euthanized at the shelter last year were feral cats and orphaned kittens. We want to change this! You can help.
If you are feeding a colony, we want to help you sterilize the cats in that colony. Once we secure additional funding we will be contacting you to sterilized the female cats in your colony first. We also hope to provide additional services to community caregivers such as access to free or low-cost cat food, free or low-cost microchipping and free or low-cost feeding stations. But it all starts here with gathering data. Thank you for participating in our Community Cat survey.

PAWS fished for colony caretakers with the promise of one spay/neuter voucher  It dangled other support contingent on securing additional funding.

If the City stays insular and does community cats with PAWS alone, a great opportunity will be missed.  Unfortunately, that has been the Animal Shelter's history under the last two shelter managers. The human and animal public deserves the city's best in this arena.

Update 6-25-19:  The City recorded every ASAC meeting from 9-21-17 to 1-17-19, the last nine meetings prior to the unrecorded 4-18-19 meeting.   The city believes its reasoning for not recording the meeting should remain private and confidential. In addition to the Pets Alive model that impacts the community the April ASAC meeting addressed managed intake, which severely restricts the public's right to surrender an animal to the shelter.  Neither illness or death of the pet owner were allowable reasons to surrender a pet to San Angelo's Animal Shelter.

Update 7-23-19:  The City announced the cancellation of the July 18, 2019 Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.  The date of the next meeting is August 15, 2019.

Update 10-18-19:  The Shelter implemented a Shelter-Neuter-Release program for Community Cats. The program takes community cats brought in by citizens and gets them an appointment at a local veterinarian.  Shelter staff return the animal to its neighborhood after it is fixed.  Shelter Manager Morgan Chegwidden initially said the Community Cat ordinance prevented the shelter from trapping community cats.  I told her that is not what the ordinance does.  It simply creates legal space for citizens to practice TNR for Community Cats through a local resuce, CritterShack.  Morgan then said the shelter does not provide this service.  Morgan made no mention of colony cat managers or neighbors/businesses approving community cat colonies.  Other cities addressed their community cat problem in major ways.  The city's effort is invisible to the community and minimal given the size of San Angelo's cat problem.

Update 3-9-21:   The City refused to share documents and communications regarding its Community Cat Program in response to a public information request.  The ASAC postponed its February 2021 meeting, but on the agenda is reducing the intake of Community Cats due to lack of funding. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Budget Amendment Requirement for Additional $200,000 in Animal Shelter Improvements

Mayor Brenda Gunter expressed frustration during Finance Director Tina Deirshke's presentation on proposed budget amendments.  City documents set expectations for such amendments, a clear explanation with sufficient detail.

The information in the background packet and slide show seemed sparse.

Tina referenced comments made by Animal Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden from earlier in the meeting.  Morgan is the former Budget Director for the City of San Angelo.  I do not believe Morgan would have advanced the item in the Capital Improvement Planning process with such little information.  Yet, staff did that to City Council on May 21st.  The Mayor is right to be frustrated.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

City Quits Recording Select Boards

A number of City of San Angelo Boards and Commissions have the following language as part of the agenda:

In an effort to provide our viewing public with information on the various City Boards and Commissions, this meeting will be recorded and broadcasted on Local Government Channel 17.
Meetings not recorded in March/April include:

Animal Shelter Advisory Committee met on 4-18-19 at the Fire Training Center on Highway 67.  Recording history showed last recording to be 1-17-19.

Civic Events Board met on 4-25-19 at McNease Convention Center.  Recording history showed last recording to be on 1-31-19.

Airport Advisory Board met on 3-25-19 at McNease Convention Center.  Recording history showed last recording occurred on 5-31-18.

Parks and Recreation Board met on 5-23-19 at McNease Convention Center.  Recording history showed last meeting recorded to have been on 2-28-19.   In that meeting PIO Anthony Wilson spoke on all the ways his office supports the Parks board.

City Council, Planning Commission and the Development Corporation are the most consistently recorded for the public to view.  A January 8, 2019 Development Corporation planning session was not recorded.

The Water Advisory Board evaporated after last fall's big runoff rains.  It last met on 9-24-18.  The City stopped recording the Zoning Board of Adjustments in 2015 and the last Design and Historic Review Commission video was posted in late 2014.

This information came directly from the city's webpages and YouTube site.  If there are videos not yet posted then please get them added for interested citizens to view.  If not, why the policy change or deterioration in the level of practice?

Update 6-16-19:  Is this why the local public is not being served as promised?

Update 7-2-19:  Wilson may have been too busy searching for his new job in Maine to provide consistent public service.  He did tear up today in front of City Council, which offered high level fawning.

Update 8-19-19:  A public information request produced the following answer:  "The City of San Angelo does not have a policy relating to recording board meetings."