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A year after Animal Care Services (ACS) reported its highest live release rate of pets ever—94.5 percent— interim director Shannon Sims says the city is again in need of foster and adoptive homes. That rate, which measures how many animals are returned to their owners or are placed within a new home or partner nonprofit agency rather than being euthanized, went up in 2020 as locals who were staying home during the height of COVID-19 volunteered for the first time as pet foster parents. Sims says the rate this year still is high at around 93.5 percent but that it will take more help to maintain it through the summer when the shelter is dealing with springtime puppies and kittens plus runaway dogs, which surge during Fourth of July fireworks. “The single biggest impact you can have is by fostering,” says Sims, who is serving in the organization’s top role after working as assistant director for eight years.
Animal Care Services saw an increase in adoptions and foster care placements during the pandemic. Has that trend continued?
We’re still seeing a fairly strong adoption rate. Our rescue partners continue to really come through, which of course enables us to limit euthanizations and keep that rate as low as possible. We were at an about 93.5 percent live release rate in the spring and most of the pets placed during 2020 still are in those homes.
The microchipping program that the city implemented back in 2015 is really starting to bear fruit now and in recent years. In 2015, about six percent of lost pets were reunited with their owners and now we’re up to about 33 percent.
You mentioned Fourth of July is a time when a lot of pets are lost. What should pet owners do to prevent that?
It’s the animals that are left outside on their own that get away on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, even if they’re animals that don’t typically leave the property. You’d be surprised how they’re able to get under or over a fence. You really need to bring your animals inside on the Fourth of July because otherwise they’ll be looking for a safe place to hide from the noise of fireworks. Even if you don’t bring them in the other 364 days of the year, bring them in on the Fourth.
You’ve talked about partners being a big reason ACS keeps its euthanasia rate low. Tell us about that.
We have the big three, the San Antonio Humane Society, the Animal Defense League of Texas, SA Pets Alive! But what a lot of folks don’t realize is we partner with hundreds of rescue agencies. Some are decent sized like those three, but others are mom and pop 501(c)3s. We could not feasibly achieve the live release rate we have right now if it weren’t for all of these organizations.
On our website, we have all of our urgent animals listed, which are animals we need to find placement for soon. Many of these rescue organizations also receive email alerts and as it gets to the point that an animal is about to become eligible for euthanization because it’s been in our shelter a number of days, they all look to see how they can help, and they save a lot of these animals. To help keep the release rate high, our partners have a myriad of different solutions at their disposal. Some of them work with people who take animals in long-term and are able to rehabilitate them if there’s an injury or medical issue. Others foster them if they’re kittens that need to be bottle fed. Some of them have rescue programs or places where they can let the animal stay longer than the six to seven days that we can provide. Many of them also have wide networks on social media and elsewhere that they can get the word out and find a home.
Of the about 6.5 percent of animals that are euthanized, about 1 percent are euthanized due to space. That happens when we have to make the difficult call—after marketing an animal and not finding someone who can take them—of making space so we can give a more marketable animal additional time.
ACS announced partnerships in recent months with Petco Love, Petco’s foundation, and with the community through a new Facebook group. Tell us about those.
ACS Lost and Found is the Facebook initiative and it has been great. When we know where an animal came from, it’s enabled us to get volunteers to reach out to their specific neighborhood on [the app] Nextdoor. They can say, ‘This animal was found in our area and is at ACS and that has been really effective. We can’t monitor every Nextdoor thread in San Antonio, so it’s been really effective to have volunteers getting the word out.
The Petco Love Lost program has the potential to be a significant game changer because it allows pet owners to report a lost pet by just uploading a photo. The app then uses facial recognition to show all of the animals at shelters nationwide that may match theirs.
We absolutely have had folks from Louisiana or Houston find their animal here after it has been missing for quite some time, though most of our lost animals come from the surrounding area and are reunited because of microchipping or efforts in the field.
How can people help?
Now that we’re vaccinated and can start removing some of the limitations in place due to COVID-19, we’re looking to stand up our volunteer program on campus more strongly than we’d been able to this last year. There are lots of opportunities to help on campus and you no longer need an appointment to come by and look at the animals.
One of the largest impacts you can have is by taking those young animals or those with medical needs and fostering them until they are old enough or well enough to be adopted. (If you foster, ACS provides all of the supplies and medical care, so it doesn’t cost you money). If you don’t have the capacity to foster or adopt, we’re always in need of blankets and newspapers and towels, or people can donate to ACS or one of our partner agencies.