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.