Friday, December 15, 2023

Best Friends, Pets Alive Guided Shelter After Horrific Hoarding Conditions

Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) helped Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden in the aftermath of horrific hoarding conditions, as did American Pets Alive (AMPA).  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela that shelter operations needed to change and that "No Kill" was not working.

An October 4, 2022 e-mail from BFAS Senior Strategist-South Central Region Paula Powell stated:

I am aware of your situation in San Angelo and have a few ideas to run by you and Jenni. I talked with Clare at AMPA and Fraily from our Houston team and I think we can do a bit of an all hands on deck approach with your help. I do not think there is a need for an official assessment as you and Jenni are well versed in lifesaving programs. Can I set up a meeting with you, me, Jenni, AMPA and Fraily (he says he was in class with you at AMPA)

#2 are you interested in the Executive Leadership Certification for a Feb 5 start date? If so I can send you all the information again.

#3 I did email your CM with the El Paso CM phone number to hopefully have discussions of CM to CM on dealing with some of the issues you are dealing with. I do look forward to working with you and one thing I do know is that you will get through this difficult time. I do not say that to everyone but I do know with you there, things will be ok. We will help.

Morgan's reply on 10-7-22 included:

Paula, thanks for reaching out! Definitely still interested in ELC, just couldn’t make the Oklahoma travel work for last January.

Happy to meet with the group, I’m available most of Tuesday 10/11 and Friday 10/14. 

Appreciate y’all’s support

BFAS Paula Powell summarized the call in a 10-17-22 e-mail:

I wanted to take a minute to summarize our meeting last week and start putting some action items and dates together.

This is what I have so far and feel free to add and correct me if I misunderstood anything.

AMPA: Will work on pathway planning, transport and possibly behavior team support.
BF Houston: Will work on a medical assessment plan, foster recruitment & an adoption event
BF Regional: Intake diversion training and rescue relationships/incentive

Advocacy: Looking at the $13million and how we can get the City to allocate more to Animal Shelter.

Morgan has done a great job with this but supplementing would seal the deal.

I will be back next week and will set up a meeting to discuss more details on this plan. I am looking forward to all of us working together on this project.

On 11-1-22 City Council placed a hard cap on shelter occupancy.  The next day the shelter closed intake until the end of the month.

On 11-3-22 BF Paula Powell put in an application in for for the San Angelo Animal Shelter to get the same satellite foster program offer that BFAS did with Fix West Texas in Midland.

An 11-9-23 e-mail from BF Paula Powell stated:

As we prepare for "Operation San Angelo", I wanted to introduce you to another member of our Best Friends team, the amazing Carolyn Fitzgerald who will be scheduling the medical pieces and perhaps some work on the foster program. I will also be getting with you to do the Managed intake mentorship schedule. Exciting and happy to help San Angelo and hoping you all are well.
Morgan completed her application for Best Friend's Executive Leadership Certification on 11-17-22. The BF San Angelo Team meet via Microsoft Teams on 11-18-22.

BF Paula Powell wrote on 11-23-22:

Good morning San Angelo team,
Happy Thanksgiving. As we ramp up some programs for your shelters in the next few months, I wanted to introduce you to Melissa and Carrie who are the leads on the satellite foster program.
I think a meeting just on that program might be beneficial. I know we have some other folks involved in some additional pieces but getting foster programs ramped up during the holidays could be beneficial.
I am available all next week before I start traveling again if you need me for anything.

A BF Microsoft Teams meeting of the West Texas Coalition invite for 11-24-22 stated:

We are looking forward to doing some great work together this year! Hope you can make it and if you can't, sending a representative would be great so that we can include all. We are ramping up for some more Grants and wanted to discuss that with you as well as get prepared to show off all your work at Texas Unites.
The meeting was cancelled due to the Thanksgiving holiday.  On 12-2-22 BF Paula Powell informed Morgan she'd been accepted into the class.  

On 12-6-22 Morgan wrote BF Paula Powell:

Morning Paula! City management has approved a pilot program limiting canine intake while we research better policies/procedures. They’re very interested in feedback from the coordinated intake mentorship. What timeline are y’all thinking for that training opportunity?
Paula replied that early January would work and that she would be doing the training.

BF Carrie Lamonde had a challenge setting up a phone meeting regarding satellite foster pet program.  Morgan backed out as Jenie with Concho Valley PAWS handles shelter pet fostering.

Carrie proposed a Teams meeting in a 12-13-22 e-mail:

Paula nominated San Angelo for a Best Friends satellite kitten foster program.

Melissa and I can fill you in on what that would look like in regards to the type of support we can provide. After our last chat, it sounds like San Angelo could greatly benefit from a kitten foster program, primarily focused on neonates. This is a good time for us to start building the foundation on such program to be prepared for kitten season this spring. We look forward to discussing more with you all!

On 12-14-22 the City gave a shelter update for the first time since it shut off intake.  The shelter had too many pets and would remain closed to the public until the pet population declined.

Shelter partner Concho Valley PAWS stopped providing low cost spay/neuter vouchers to the public for December and January 2023.

The December BF West Texas Coalition meeting was postponed until after the New Year.  A different BFAS representative Leah Long conducted a three day visit in mid-February 2023.  That visit was delayed from late January due to icy road conditions.

Update 6-10-24:  BFAS shared funds with Concho Valley PAWS, the shelter's adoption coordinator.  Were any of those funds used on shelter animals?

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Best Friends Animal Society Partners with COSA Animal Shelter

One San Angelo City Councilperson expressed concern about Best Friends Animal Society, Pets Alive and their programming, which includes stringent intake diversion (not accepting loose pets) and foisting found strays on community members via "Human Animal Support Services."  The August 2023 interchange included:

Councilperson Hesse-Smith:  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. 
Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden avoided the question long enough for Council members to move on.  The reality is Pets Alive and Best Friends Animal Society have been significantly involved in San Angelo's Animal Shelter for years.  

A Best Friends Regional Support Specialist visited the shelter early 2023 for a multi-day assessment (see image at the top of this post).  The Support Specialist needed the shelter's data for that visit which was postponed to mid-February due to icy road conditions.

The Animal Shelter has been part of Best Friends' West Texas Coalition since 2021.


Best Friends invited Morgan to participate in their Executive Leadership Certification through Southern Utah University and said they would cover tuition costs.

Shelter staff have helped Best Friends with their conference presentations.


I imagine the Best Friends presentation did not include the shelter threatening citizens wishing to drop off a stray pet with arrest for trespassing.  I doubt it included the many requests for an Animal Control Officer that were never fulfilled.

Last month a BFAS leader checked in with shelter leadership and once again asked for data.


City Council asks direct questions of shelter leadership and gets what in return?   City documents show a deep and lasting relationship between Best Friends Animal Society and the City Animal Shelter.

San Angelo's Animal Shelter is a Pets Alive, Best Friends shelter which often means no service and no support for tax paying citizens. 

Update 6-10-24:  BFAS shared funds with Concho Valley PAWS, the shelter's adoption coordinator.  Were any of those funds used on shelter animals?

Friday, December 08, 2023

Two Shelter Stories

Two stories ran on the City of San Angelo Animal Shelter, one from Best Friends Animal Society and other from the City's Public Information Department.  Both stressed city efforts to keep pets at home.  The city story noted Amelia's only living owner had to move to assisted living.  It's not clear if this gentleman called or visited the Animal Shelter, only to be turned down for assistance (like a number of local citizens since the shelter choked off intake).

Neither death, illness nor moving to an assisted living facility or nursing home are acceptable reasons to surrender a pet to the City of San Angelo Animal Shelter.  The move to managed intake occurred in 2019.

Keeping pets at home when there are no owners is not something to be proud of, however "creative" it may be.  

I wrote members of City Council in 2021:

Does the shelter know what citizens are doing with animals they can no longer owner surrender?  I hope citizens appear in person (before Council) to share their concerns about animal problems in their neighborhoods.  Choking off intake into the shelter via Pets Alive practices could have unwanted animals turned loose on city streets.

Again in 2022 I shared with Council members:

The public needs help for sure.  Regarding intake, when someone has a life event, like moving into assisted living or a nursing home the City of San Angelo Animal Shelter will not help.  If a pet owner dies, the city will not help.
Amelia's story should be a lament for the Animal Shelter.  It's not.  

Did we fail Amelia? Do we blame her people? I can’t think so.
Can't think.....that may sum it up.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Bingo PIR: Municipal Court Citations for Unaltered Shelter Pets

One public information request provided long sought after information regarding the number of citations the City of San Angelo issued for failure to spay/neuter pets that had been in the Animal Shelter.

In a series of memos Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden informed City Council of progress in reviewing unaltered shelter animals returned to owners.  

The City Attorney's office created a process that issued citations for citizens who'd retrieved their unaltered pet from the shelter and had not yet provided proof the pet had been fixed.  

Information from Morgan's memos to Council officials is below.

October 2022

In FY22, Animal Services adopted out 1,144 cats and dogs, 18 of which we’re working to collect proof of spay/neuter. Owners claimed 956 cats and dogs from us, 674 of which have yet to prove spay/neuter.

December 2022

We’ve cited or filed a complaint with municipal court for over 200 animals and are moving through the remaining backlog.
February 2023

Owners claimed 956 cats and dogs in FY22, 282 of which were already spayed/neutered. 31 pet owners subsequently provided proof of spay/neuter. This leaves 643 pets still reporting as unaltered. Several of these have died, moved out of city limits or provided an eligible exemption such as medically fragile.
We’ve cited or filed a complaint with municipal court for almost 300 animals and are moving through the remaining backlog.

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.

November 2023

In FY23, Animal Services adopted out 586 cats and dogs, 20 of which we’re working to collect proof of spay/neuter.  19 of the 20 were too young to have spay/neuter surgery when adopted.  For those few remaining, we’re working through the legal process to spay/neuter the final pets.

We’ll update you on FY23 owner redemptions’ progress next month.

Releasing unaltered pets from the shelter is not a new practice.  The numbers are below:

FY ended 2021 - 708

FY ended 2019 - 730

Eight month period in 2017 -  500

In the past the city and contractor Concho Valley PAWS counted a spay/neuter appointment as good as having the surgery.  Several years ago they eliminated that practice and track appointments and completed surgeries separately.

Morgan's memos to City Council have data that has not been shared with the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee or the public.  Recently, I submitted a public information request for spay/neuter compliance data for the last two fiscal years.  I received a 58 page document for 2022 instead of the information below. 

The following memo was produced one week after I submitted my PIR.  The City's response to my PIR for 2023 was a 31 page document.

Adoptions are down from 1.144 in 2022 to 586 in 2023.  That's a 49% drop.   That should be very concerning.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Shelter Worked with Best Friends

Best Friends Animal Society ran a story on the City of San Angelo Animal Shelter.  It indicates after the horrific hoarding conditions and roach infestation in August/September 2022:

Best Friends Animal Society Regional Senior Specialist Leah Long spent a week at the organization (San Angelo Animal Services) to assist. 

...there were still situations where (lost pet) finders weren’t being successfully converted to temporary foster caregivers. Leah sat down with the staff to explore the reasons why, and they came up with the idea of offering “Good Sam kits” to sweeten the deal.
It goes on to mention the November 2022 limit Council placed on Animal Shelter capacity.

“Rather than viewing the capacity cap as a barrier to lifesaving, they sought out opportunities to improve and build upon their programs further.”
An August 2023 Budget meeting had the following exchange:

Councilperson 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. 

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden: 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.

After some discussion of Best Friends and Concho Valley PAWS:

Councilperson Hesse-Smith:  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.  

Morgan did not respond to communities being sued for pushing loose animals onto households and any resulting injuries or damages.  What's next according to Best Friends for the City Animal Shelter?

On the horizon for SAAS is a plan to install kiosks with solar-powered microchip scanners in city parks within the neighborhoods where most stray pets come from. The shelter is also gearing up to recruit more short-term foster volunteers during an upcoming facility improvement project.

San Angelo's City Council approved a $2 million short term bond in February for Animal Shelter renovations.  By the time the city paid back the money it hired an engineering firm to work on the project but had paid no invoices.  City staff stated the project was urgent due to poor facility conditions.  The project is yet to be put out for construction bids.

The city paid nearly $93,000 in bond issuance fees and interest for non-existent shelter renovations.  Surely, a former budget manager can speak to that.  That money would pay for a lot of spay/neuter surgeries.

Best Friends story failed to mention the Animal Shelter's release of unaltered pets, a chronic practice since the city adopted a mandatory/spay neuter ordinance.  Pets Alive's shelter measures do not include spay/neuter and Best Friends would likely agree.

Best Friends told the story of Kahuna, a large dog reunited with its owner with no shelter stay.  It could just as easily told the story of a three time shelter stay husky, which gave birth to seven puppies in its third shelter stay.  Shelter staff had the pregnant dog for two months before it gave birth and did not get it spayed.

Which is the better life saving practice?  Preventing unwanted pets from being born seems to make the most sense.  Less pets - less stray animals - less need for sheltering.  That was the promise from city leaders in 2015. 

Not fixing and choking off shelter intake drove dramatic increases in loose pets.  Citizens with legitimate needs to surrender their pet receive no help from the city.  They are given "a path" to follow. 

Pets Alive and Best Friends policies mean one thing to residents.  If you find a stray pet the Animal Shelter will not help.  Unwanted pets still suffer and die, just outside shelter walls. 

Update 12-1-23:  Best Friends and Pets Alive helped the shelter reduce intake such that:

Neither death, illness nor moving to an assisted living facility or nursing home are acceptable reasons to surrender a pet to the City of San Angelo Animal Shelter. 
The City admitted that very thing with their story of a German Shepherd Amelia.  It states:

Financial constraints forced the closure of their small business, their main source of income for the household. Amelia’s “mom” passed away several years ago after a long battle with cancer. It appears her “dad” attempted daily care for Amelia while struggling with his own health but was ultimately hospitalized and permanently moved to assisted living. No one was coming for Amelia.

And the shelter does not accept owner surrenders for an owner moving into assisted living.

An Animal Services officer picked her up in September 2023.

The story does not say how long Amelia endured on city streets.

Update 1-5-24:  A New Yorker article stated:

"How do you get to No Kill without spay and neuter?”

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. In defense of PetSmart, Judah said that leaving spay/neuter to the adopters encourages them to become “participants.”

 Update 3-24-24:  The City of San Angelo's website states:

If a pet is in need of immediate medical care due to illness or injury, the pet will be impounded to receive the network of services available through the San Angelo Pets Alive! coalition.

Update 6-10-24:  Best Friends shared funding with Concho Valley PAWS, the city's adoption contractor.  Were any of those program funds used on shelter animals?

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

City Council Operations Challenged

In my mind two names are associated with the City of San Angelo Development Corporation, Tommy Hiebert and John Bariou.  Both men served multiple stints on that board.  Hiebert is the current City Council representative for Single Member District #1.  

Bariou spoke before City Council yesterday, serving legal notice and citing the body for not following the city charter.  Concho Valley Homepage reported:

John Bariou has served the City on behalf of many voters for the “intentional, repeated and habitual subversion of the city charter.” Bariou said that San Angelo is chartered under Texas law as a Council-manager form of government but claims it is being run as ‘Mayor run.’

“Individually and collectively, the council, including the non-voting City Manager aided and abetted by the City Attorney has illegally deviated from the Charter without voter consent allowing one individual access to the Manager and directing specific actions without the deliberation by and specific authorization of the full council,” said Bariou, “All members of this council are complicit of not openly challenging these actions as required by ordinance.”

Council had conflict with two boards, the Development Corporation board and TIRZ board.  The Mayor made her positions clear.  I don't recall all members doing likewise.  

Mayor Brenda Gunter is a local business person and voices her opinions.  Prior Mayors Alvin New and Dwain Morrison did similarly.  The difference is New and Morrison tended to speak last, giving other council members the opportunity to share their thoughts and raise questions.  Mayor Gunter's style has her speaking first and making her position clearly known.  It could be a challenge for other council members to share a differing view, but that's what they are there to do.  Their job is representing constituents.

Compared to prior Council's this version displays uniform silence when it comes to future agenda items.  Why do council members not ask for updates on lingering issues or identify new concerns raised by constituents?  It leads the public to believe council members aren't interested in the issues raised or are afraid to share their concerns.

After Bariou spoke City Manager Daniel Valenzuela defended City Council and its accomplishments.  What he didn't share is how he ensures this Council directs specific actions after deliberation and specific authorization.  

Daniel did not state why items from the TIRZ board (recommended nonprofit project) and Animal Shelter Advisory Committee (recommended budget amount for spay/neuter) did not advance to City Council after their approval at the sub-board level.  Mayor Gunter had not been favorable to these items in prior meetings.

The Mayor gave public comment after Bariou's citation.  She raised three issues, police pay, property taxes and animal services.   No elected official commented on the issue of improper Council operations.  That may come in the near future.  

An August budget meeting had considerable discussion of aggressive dogs and dog packs.  Animal Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden informed Council of her data driven approach yet produced no information in that meeting or afterwards in response to questions raised.  

A public information request on shelter spay/neuter compliance by adoption coordinator Concho Valley PAWS did not produce an updated one page memo as had been submitted in October 2021.  For 2022 it produced a 58 page document.  For 2023 it produced a 31 page document.  Apparently, spay/neuter compliance is not part of the shelter's data driven approach.  It is a city ordinance and Animal Control Officers write citations for failure to spay/neuter.

The City Manager's office should provide the information requested by all council members in official sessions. "I can pull some reports" implies followup and actual data sharing.  A public information request revealed that did not happen.

Any City Council member should be able to ask questions, add items to the agenda, speak their mind on issues and ensure information is shared with the public.  One year ago this council restricted public information requests in a surprise move.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said it was targeted at one individual.  I wonder how that worked out.

Six members of City Council heard John Bariou's citation in person.  Councilman Tommy Hiebert was not in attendance.  Hiebert has seen a number of Council's in operation.  It would be interesting to hear his take.   

Update 11-24-23:   Tommy Hiebert is yet to weigh in, however San Angelo Live offered an opinion.   Joe Hyde wrote a lengthy piece about John Bariou and city politics.  It suggested Mayor Gunther might resign early in order to run for a third term.  That's what happens in San Angelo when someone's leadership is challenged?  What happened to listening and responding to stated concerns?

Not answering concerns and threatening more of the same sounds like city leadership.  It's sad San Angelo Live defended that very behavior.  It makes me wonder what Hyde would've done if he'd won the Tom Green County Judge election.

Update 12-1-23:  Fox West Texas did a story on John's effort to reform City Council operations.

Monday, November 20, 2023

City Planned to Not Make Up October ASAC Meeting

Members of the public who attended the quorum-less October 19, 2023 Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting encouraged Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden and City Attorney Theresa James to reschedule the meeting as soon as possible, prior to the next regularly scheduled meeting in January 2024.

I'd watched the city calendar and news feed for any information on a make-up meeting.  Seeing none I submitted a public information request. 

Internal e-mails showed Animal Shelter leadership ignoring this request.  On Tuesday afternoon, November 14th Morgan wrote her boss Bob Salas:

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?
A different meeting had been set up for November 15th between city leaders and several members of the public interested in shelter operations.  Word spread to people who'd attended the canceled October ASAC meeting.  

Public Information Officer Brian Groves posted this after city officials learned of a potentially wider audience:

We would like to clear up some misinformation regarding a meeting in regard to Animal Services and Code Compliance that has been circulating on social media.  

A meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 15, was intended as a small meeting with a concerned citizen and members of City staff.  This meeting was not intended to be a public Q&A session. 

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee will schedule a meeting in the near future for the public to offer comments to the City related to Animal Services. We will post an update on our social media, website and send to media outlets when and where the meeting will take place.

The ASAC met twice in 2023.  City ordinances require it to meet at least three times in a calendar year.  One might expect city leaders to comply with their own ordinances.  Not doing so is relatively common in the animal services arena.

The two missing ASAC members on October 19th were the Chair and Vice Chair of the committee.  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 an August ASAC member resignation had not been shared with the public.

Back to the meeting on November 15th.  Many thought the city canceled it as well.  They did not according to internal e-mails.

The text of the first part of the image above is below:

The meeting is still on schedule, but the focus is now as initially intended. It is not a public meeting and attendance will be limited. My understanding is that the flyer was posted by the citizen who requested the meeting and who had a different take on the purpose of the meeting. Not sure where the miscommunication occurred, nor do I know why the citizen posted a flyer inviting the public. As an aside, the City will be providing a series of PSAs explaining Animal Services processes and programs in order to help clear up misinformation and provide citizens with answers to FAQs.
The city's herculean efforts to shut off public input are clear in these communications.  It's ramped up since the September 2022 roach infestation amongst horrific hoarding conditions.  It grew stronger after an August 2023 budget meeting where loose, aggressive dogs endangered residents.

The city has a public meeting scheduled for "review findings and gather input."  It's just not Animal Services.

Update 1-9-24:  Fox West Texas reported on 10-19-23:

“It’s something that the team will certainly consider and try to get on the schedule pretty quickly,” Chegwidden said.
The team did not get anything on the schedule, quickly or otherwise.  Next ASAC meeting is January 18, 2024.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

PAWS No Longer Provides Spay/Neuter Compliance

San Angelo City staff checked their records for spay/neuter compliance reports for the last two years.

The document you requested is no longer provided by PAWS to City staff or ASAC.

Add that to the list of "no longers" in the Animal Services arena.

Update 1-5-24:  A New Yorker article stated:

"How do you get to No Kill without spay and neuter?”

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. In defense of PetSmart, Judah said that leaving spay/neuter to the adopters encourages them to become “participants.”

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

City Calendar Shows Four ASAC Meetings in 2024


San Angelo's board meeting calendar recently added four Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meetings for 2024.  I'd been monitoring the calendar for a rescheduled ASAC meeting after the October 19th meeting "failed to achieve a quorum."  

Information obtained after the meeting indicated a majority of current members were in attendance that day as three of the five current members were in attendance.  Two positions are unfilled, one due to their term ending and the other due to resignation.

City ordinances require the ASAC to meet at least three times in a calendar year.  The committee met twice thus far in 2023, April and August.  It must meet one more time before year end to meet city ordinances.  

The city has a history and practice of not following its own ordinances in the animal care arena.  There's a month and a half left to hold that third ASAC meeting of 2023.  Will it happen?

A planned meeting for community members to visit with Bob Salas this evening has been cancelled:

"Anyone interested with questions about the local animal shelter" needs more than a modicum of patience in trying to be heard.

Update:  City Public Information Officer Brian Groves offered insight as to why Bob Salas cancelled the meeting.  He said an Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting would be scheduled soon to hear concerns.

Monday, November 13, 2023

PAWS' Not Independent in Shelter Operations

The City of San Angelo's Facebook page included a post from Concho Valley PAWS regarding the need for foster caretakers as the city Animal Shelter is full.  The post stated:

*PAWS is not the animal shelter. Paws does work independently to facilitate the adoptions of shelter animals*

PAWS is the contracted vendor for animal shelter adoption coordination and veterinary services provider and is paid $73,792 for such services in the current fiscal year (2023-2024).  As a vendor PAWS is legally committed to provide services as specified in city issued 2020 Request for Proposal and detailed in legal contracts.  It's a structured relationship with expectations and payment for work performed.

The city's website makes the relationship clear.

In October 2021 PAWS provided a spay/neuter compliance report to the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.  (click on the image below to make it larger)

It's been two years since PAWS shared similar information.  During those two years PAWS fees grew by $11,643.

There's been a verbal distancing between Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden and Concho Valley PAWS.  For lost pets the City shifted to 24PetConnect and away from (associated with Michael Wilson, husband of PAWS Director Jenie Wilson).

At one of the few ASAC meetings held in 2023 Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden made it clear she would determine which animals entered the shelter and not PAWS, which is charged with evaluating possible owner surrenders.

Before the City of San Angelo animal services division may accept a pet from its owner, the citizen must successfully complete counseling with Concho Valley PAWS. 

The ASAC policy on owner surrenders "outlines the path to shelter intake for owners."

The city's website has no (as in zero) information on owner surrenders.   It's hard to see a path when there is no light. 

Friday, November 10, 2023

Difficulty Getting Information about "Data Driven" Animal Services

When elected officials can't get information about Animal Services, what chance does the average citizen have?  Consider this exchange from the August 29th Budget Workshop:

Councilperson Lucy Gonzales:

Morgan, on these ordinances, I think that that was one of the concerns a lot of constituents have if they’re not enforced and we’re talking about like the number of dogs that a person might have, we’re talking about the spay and neuter ordinance, there are a lot of ordinances that are not being followed through. Do you by any chance have any kind of reports that have the percentages of the citations that have been issued and that you have followed through after citation is given to these people? Do you are supposed to or like how do we track the citations, is what I’m asking.

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden: 

I can pull some reports - like I wouldn’t be able to speak to that information today, I don’t have it with me today.

Mayor Brenda Gunter:

Well I think that there had been, we did something that gave a little more power to the municipal court, if that’s the right word, for these citations, making people show up or they lose their animals. What was that? ‘Cos I know that we tried to address some of the issues with municipal court and animals citations.

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden: 

Not familiar.
Mayor Gunter:

You just did this last year, we got memo on it

Morgan's boss Bob Salas:

I believe it was the speeding up the process through municipal court.  Eliminating some obstacle so that we could quickly get to the court, get them in and get them processed - I believe that’s what it was.

Mayor Gunter:

I think it also dealt, if I remember correctly, with those people who were, where the animal was released into the owner’s hands and had X amount of days to spay or neuter and if they didn’t within that time frame, then it went quickly to the courts. Is that correct?

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden:

That’s the backlog that I’m reporting back to y'all quarterly of the volume of unaltered pets returned to owner and that we’re filing through the court, so it’s it’s instead of writing a citation in front of the person or giving them a warning and 10 days “Hey, you’ve got to comply with this”, we can then go back and file in absentia and they get a citation essentially in the mail, so it’s filing accompli. That’s a new process that we did implement last year but it wasn't a change on the municipal court side and it wasn’t a more speedy court process, it was just an additional allowance that we can cite through the mail in a filed complaint instead of a ticket right in front of the person.
Public Information Request (10-4-23):

On 8-29-23 Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden informed a concerned City Council about her "data driven" approach, yet produced no statistics on the special effort the city undertook to cite people who were yet to get their shelter animal spayed/neutered. That effort was undertaken by the City Attorney's office in conjunction with Animal Services. Several City Council members asked about this effort in the meeting but no data was provided, I request copies of communications, documents, e-mails and texts of any animal related data shared with City Council members after that meeting by city officials. 

City Response (10-10-23):

The City of San Angelo has reviewed its files and has determined there are no responsive documents to your request.

I submitted a different PIR in February 2023:

1.  How many failure to spay/neuter citations have been issued by the City Attorney's office through the streamlined process approved in August 2022?

2. How many of these pets spent time in the City of San Angelo Animal Shelter?

3. What is the period of time the Attorney's office is exploring for possible citations, ex. 1-1-19 to 12-30-21?

I did receive a scanned document in response but it was difficult to discern any data.  It was a list of citations, the Animal Control officer, the person receiving the citation and whether the case was closed.  Much of the information was blacked out.

Concho Valley PAWS has not given a spay/neuter report on shelter adoptions since October 2021.  The last report was included in the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee background packet.  That was over two years ago. 

The Animal Shelter spay/neuter picture is clear as the inside of a dust devil.  And that is intentional. 

Saturday, November 04, 2023

ASAC Needs Another Meeting in 2023

San Angelo's Animal Shelter Advisory Committee is required to meet at least three times in a calendar year according to city ordinances.  The committee met twice thus far in 2023 and has November and December to meet and fulfill the stated requirement.

At this time there is no scheduled ASAC meeting on the city's website.  That could and should change.

Update 12-14-23:  It appears the city will violate its three ASAC meetings requirement for 2023.  City Council's upcoming meeting had the following information on City committees:

Animal Shelter Advisory Committee: 1 veterinarian; 1 municipal or county official; 1 whose duties include the daily operation of an “animal shelter” as defined in section 823.001 of the Health and Safety Code; 1 officer or employee of an animal welfare organization; and 3 positions filled by City residents.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Delving into October ASAC Non-Meeting

Three members of the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee sat in San Angelo's City Hall last Thursday.  Citizens took time intending to participate in local government.  Staff, including the City Attorney, informed those in attendance the meeting could not be held due to lack of quorum.

The public did not know Sgt. Chris Carpenter resigned as of the August ASAC meeting.  The City's website shows a vacancy for SMD 4 even though Council approved someone for that slot in July 2022.

Morgan Chegwidden said she'd texted the absent persons (the ASAC Chair and Vice Chair) and learned they would not be able to attend.  Those texts are below.

The text to the Chair was sent at noon and the one to the Vice Chair was sent at 12:02.  The text to Victor Schulze DVM was sent at 11:40 am.  He indicated he was on his way.

Both officers seemed unaware of the meeting.  Those responses warrant deeper examination.

The ASAC bylaws state:

Agendas will be prepared by the ASAC City Liaison and reviewed by the chair prior to posting.

Had the chair reviewed the agenda prior to the posting would that person be unaware of the meeting? 

Meetings shall be conducted by the chairperson, and if absent by the Vice-Chairperson.

The very two people specified as "conducting the meeting" seemed out of the loop, didn't get the message, didn't read it or something else.

City ordinances state for the ASAC:

The committee shall meet from time to time at the call of the chairperson, provided that the committee shall meet not less than three times per calendar year. 
That clearly requires the chair be in the loop about the meeting date, place and time.

The bylaws also state:

A quorum shall consist of a simple majority of the ASAC. 

Common sense might say:  With two vacancies on the seven person committee, there are five active members.  Three were in attendance last Thursday.  That constitutes a majority.

The ASAC bylaws do not address unfilled positions.  The City addresses the issue in ordinance:

In the event of quorum concerns, should a board member's replacement not be appointed upon the expiration of any term of a board member, then that board member shall holdover on the board until a qualified replacement board member has been appointed.

Under this ordinance Sgt. Chris Carpenter would have remained on the board until his replacement had been appointed.  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.
City leaders have a history of picking and choosing ordinances to follow and those to ignore.  In the Animal Services arena some have gone so far as to fabricate.

Citizens expected an "open ASAC meeting" last week.  That did not happen for a number of reasons and some are uninspiring.

Update:  Morgan told Fox West Texas the two board members were missing due to "a lot of demands on people’s time and we couldn’t even call the meeting to order." 

Update 10-25-23:  For the planned January 2024 ASAC meeting Morgan wrote in an e-mail:

"Trying to confirm quorum for ASAC’s 1/19 meeting." 

That meeting did not happen as the agenda was not posted for the public.  Morgan informed the committee as to why:

"I apologize but I had a family emergency Friday and failed to publish this month’s agenda. We’ll instead meet 2/16/23."
I wrote about the failure to post and suggested the shelter motto be "No Voice, No Service."  That still applies. 

If there is no make-up ASAC meeting before 2024, here is the proposed schedule:

Also, there are two board slots to fill.  City Councilperson Lucy Gonzales is working to identify someone to fill a slot vacated 1-31-23.  Sgt. Chris Carpenter's slot opened 8-17-23.  It's not clear the slot Carpenter filled and who is responsible for nominating his replacement.

Update 11-2-23:  There are no ASAC board member candidates on City Council's agenda for 11-7-23.

Update 11-3-23:  It's been two weeks and there is no scheduled ASAC meeting on the city's website.

Update 11-4-23:  San Angelo city ordinances state " the committee shall meet not less than three times per calendar year."  Meeting #1 occurred on 4-20-23 and #2 on 8-17-23.  Meeting #3 is yet to occur. 

Update 12-5-23:  There is no ASAC meeting scheduled for December on the city's website. 

Update 12-14-23:  It appears the city will violate its three ASAC meetings requirement for 2023.  City Council's upcoming meeting had the following information on City committees:

Animal Shelter Advisory Committee: 1 veterinarian; 1 municipal or county official; 1 whose duties include the daily operation of an “animal shelter” as defined in section 823.001 of the Health and Safety Code; 1 officer or employee of an animal welfare organization; and 3 positions filled by City residents.

There are no nominees to fill the two empty ASAC positions. 

Update 1-22-24: Sgt. Carpenter's resignation was effective after the 8-17-23 ASAC meeting according to city records.  That means only three people in attendance would be a majority, i.e constitute a quorum.  That's the number of ASAC members on 10-19-23, however city staff indicated a quorum was lacking and did not hold the meeting.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Turnover Continues in Key Priority Areas

The City of San Angelo is losing another leader in an area identified as strategically important for local government.  Development Services Director Jon James last day is the end of October.   James tight-roped a conflict between City Council and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) Board over funding nonprofits in the North TIRZ zone.  It remains unresolved.

The City already has openings for Water Utilities and Economic Development.  Both positions have been open for over a year.

Concho Valley Homepage reported that a number of San Angelo Police officers have communicated their concerns about city operations and pay scales.  A former SAPD Public Information Officer wrote:

"claimed 21 officers were actively seeking employment elsewhere, which did not include the ’40 plus that can punch out and retire at any time’. She listed officers’ reasons for leaving as low pay and benefits and a lack of support from leadership."

The officer "asked the community to reach out to city management to voice concerns. The city won’t listen to officers’ voices. Hopefully, they will listen to yours.”

A mass exodus from SAPD would hurt City Council's public safety priority.  

Surely City leaders will tackle this issue at the next Council meeting.  If they don't address it, a real pattern is emerging.

Update 10-24-23:  City leaders responded to the stories on Concho Valley Homepage.  Look for any proposed action at the November 7th City Council meeting.

Update 1-26-24:  City Council discussed the inability to hire Directors for key position in their strategic planning session.  Councilman Tommy Hiebert spoke to the length of time many critical positions have been empty. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

ASAC Full House Turned Away

A number of citizens turned out to be heard at today's Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting.  That did not happen due to a lack of quorum, i.e. not enough committee members were in attendance.

When Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden made the announcement many in the room encouraged a quick rescheduling of the meeting.  City Attorney Theresa James said she would take any written comments attendees wished to submit.

I saw representatives from Critter Shack Rescue as well as the City's adoption/veterinary service provider, Concho Valley PAWS.  A member of City Council was there.  

It's not unusual for the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee to fail to achieve a quorum.  More than not when the room is full of people wishing to be heard, the meeting does not occur.  At least that's been the situation over the last six years. 

June 2017 -  Public Shows Up, Animal Services Board Doesn't

This meeting did not occur as Board member and PAWS Executive Director had resigned.

February 2018 -  ASAC Didn't Meet in February Despite Expanded PAWS Deal and Serious Compliance Concerns

The city offered two stories on the meeting, a lack of agenda items and a lack of quorum.

February 2022 -  Dog Poisoning Not on ASAC Agenda

The meeting did not occur due to a lack of quorum. 

Hopefully city staff will act on the recommendation of those wishing to be heard and hold an Animal Services Advisory Committee meeting in the near future.  

Update:  MyFoxZone did a story on the meeting being cancelled due to lack of board attendance.  The story did not say three of the six current board members attended, while three others did not.  One of the absent members is a City employee.  

Update 10-20-23:  It appears the ASAC Chair and Vice Chair missed the meeting as well as a full time City of San Angelo employee.  There is no information on the city's website about a rescheduled meeting. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Animal Shelter Advisory Committee to Further Push Community Sheltering

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee will consider the next push to keep unwanted pets out of the City Animal Shelter.  It's the ratcheting up of "community sheltering," underway since the shelter started managed intake in 2019.  The ASAC background packet actually states, what citizens have known and complained about:

"more dogs are loose this year compared to prior years" 

The packet shows shelter intake for the year was 2,901 pets.    That's down from 8,074 in FY 2014 and 4,264 for FY 2021.

The background packet did not show the number of owner surrendered pets in shelter statistics for the fiscal year ended 9-30-23.  However, the "community sheltering" agenda item mentions owner surrenders.   

One factor contributing to increased dogs at large for field services is the owner surrender process.

Four years ago the shelter began choking off pet intake:

The City no longer takes owner surrendered pets due to things like owner illness or death.  (ASAC approved 4-19-19)
Back to tomorrow's background packet on community sheltering:

The two most common requests we get from owners wishing to rehome their pets are (1) reactivity/aggression in the home and (2) restrictive housing practices prohibiting certain breeds or sizes.

A difficult part of pet ownership is euthanizing a pet with a bite history, reactivity, aggression, or otherwise unsafe behavior in the home. We ask citizens to have such pets humanely euthanized with the veterinarian of their choice but we suspect such owners often turn these dogs loose in the neighborhoods.

Animal Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden told City Council numerous times that public safety is their top priority.  

The shelter likely has interaction with citizens struggling with an aggressive pet, especially one "with a bite history."  If they are asking citizens to use a vet to euthanize their aggressive pet the city is aware of that situation. 

The city stopped providing "low cost" pet euthanization for citizens in 2019.

The City no longer will euthanize a pet for a resident of San Angelo. (ASAC approved 8-15-19)

The expense of euthanization may contribute to owners turning loose their aggressive dog in the neighborhood.

Back to the other reason for owner surrender requests:

Regarding housing restrictions, we advocate for private landlords, corporate-held apartments, and the public housing authority to offer truly pet-friendly housing opportunities with no restriction on breed or size.

I have not heard City Council or the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee take up this topic.  The city does have animal ordinances the Shelter is responsible for enforcing.  The packet offered an odd take the city's mandatory spay-neuter ordinance and microchip requirement.

An unintended consequence of Animal Services Officers enforcing local ordinances governing pet ownership has criminalized pet ownership for a large volume of San Angeloans. Requiring spay/neuter and microchip for all dogs and cats over four months of age is certainly appropriate and a best-case scenario. However, imposing this on marginalized citizens makes pet ownership a crime, and such individuals are cited and fined leading them to consider rehoming their pets.

First, City Council has not taken this view of the mandatory spay/neuter and microchip ordinances.  When Council adopted the ordinances city staff stated their would be fewer stray animals in the streets, not more.

Second, one would have to write citations in greater numbers than Animal Control for it to impact a large volume of San Angeloans.  

Third, if they were really concerned they would mobilize low cost spay-neuter programs to assist these marginalized citizens.  The city's exclusive partner Concho Valley PAWS stopped its low cost spay/neuter vouchers for four months over the last year.

Animal Services is budgeted for one Animal Services Officer supervisor and four Animal Services Officers. With frequent vacancies and a lengthy certification process, we struggle to provide a round-the-clock response. The same, small team responds to calls during regular hours and then takes a rotation of after-hours emergency calls thus overtaxing an under-resourced system. Staff advocates for funding for additional staffing, equipment, and overtime to keep up with community demands.
This explains why animal related calls for San Angelo Police Department have soared since the shelter began choking off intake.

Lifesaving in animal welfare is a community ethic and it impacts daily life. When your animal care workers are taxed to the limit, San Angelo shows up. That is the very definition of community-supported sheltering.
The animal care community in San Angelo is taxed to the limit, driven by eight years of the City Animal Shelter doing less and less while its budget rose 66%.

Animal Services spent $750,000 in FY ended  2015.  The budget for the coming fiscal year ended 2024 is over $1.25 million.  That's a $500,000 or 66% increase.
Local animal rescues don't have near the resources to keep up with the city's propensity to continue restricting or stop providing Animal Services (under the guise of Pets Alive).  I don't see how large volumes of San Angeloans can afford to pick up the slack if they can't afford to microchip, spay/neuter or euthanize their pet.

San Angelo, a third world community for animals

Update:  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said the Animal Shelter could no longer do "no kill" in the aftermath of the roach infestation and horrific hoarding conditions.  Valenzuela's direction was pets would have finite stays in the shelter, after which they would be adopted, transferred or euthanized.  City Council approved a maximum number of pets allowed to be housed at the shelter.  

Since that change the shelter has continued operating under Pets Alive policies without citing the organization.  The community shelter agenda item is known as Human Animal Support Services at Pets Alive.

Leaving pets on the streets, as the City has done for over four years, means more loose animals running around.  El Paso knows.  San Angelo should have.

Update 10-19-23:  Many people attended the ASAC meeting today, however not enough committee members did.  The meeting was not held due to lack of quorum and those who took the time to participate in local governance were not heard.

Update 10-26-23:  More loose dogs, more dog-on-dog attacks.

This is a predictable consequence of shutting off intake, a multi-year effort by the Animal Shelter and City Council.  Last November Council approved a hard stop on dog intake.  The City wants to continue pushing responsibility for loose dogs on to residents.