Mar 19, 2024 - News

Audit says San Antonio's Animal Care Services not monitoring rescue groups

Illustration of a magnifying glass inspecting cat pawprints.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

San Antonio's Animal Care Services is not adequately checking the safety, outcome and sterilization status of animals after they leave city custody and go to rescue organizations, a new city audit found.

Why it matters: ACS recently put more money toward growing contracts with rescue groups, the goal being to prevent the city from euthanizing animals it doesn't have room to shelter.

How it works: The city contracts with rescue organizations and pays them for each animal they take from ACS custody.

  • Hundreds of groups — including San Antonio Pets Alive, the San Antonio Humane Society and out-of-state organizations — work with ACS.
  • Without the right paperwork to back up the contracts, ACS risks working with unqualified organizations, per the audit.

What they're saying: ACS is not sending unsterilized animals out into the community — but needs to do a better job of tracking the paperwork of spay and neuter surgeries from rescue groups, Shannon Oster-Gabrielson, assistant to the director at ACS, tells Axios.

  • Some animals may leave ACS care unsterilized if they are too young for the surgery or have medical problems, but Oster-Gabrielson believes the rescue groups are performing the surgeries.

Plus, the audit found ACS was not conducting inspections of all the rescue groups to ensure they met the city's standard of care for animals.

  • ACS has already begun a plan to inspect rescue groups regularly in response to the audit, Oster-Gabrielson says, adding that inspections are new to the field in recent years.

By the numbers: Auditors reviewed a sample of 17 animals that left ACS custody without being sterilized. They could not find proof of sterilization from rescue groups for three of those animals.

Reality check: San Antonio Pets Alive says each adoption includes a spay or neuter surgery.

Zoom in: ACS has cut ties with about five rescue organizations that didn't meet the city's standards in the last year and had "difficult conversations" with more groups, ACS spokesperson Lisa Norwood tells Axios.

  • Norwood declined to name the rescue groups the city cut ties with.

The big picture: The rate at which ACS euthanized animals skyrocketed last year as the number of pets in the city's care increased and adoptions dropped.

  • The shelter's live release rate — the percentage of all animals adopted, rescued or otherwise released alive — fell to about 81%, its largest drop in more than a decade.

The latest: Animal Care Services' live release rate was about 85% as of Friday, showing improvement from last fall's low, Norwood tells Axios.

  • Officials continue to aim for a 90% or higher live release rate to meet the standard to be considered a "no-kill" shelter.

What's next: ACS has hired a full-time contract coordinator to help with compliance moving forward.

The bottom line: "We're talking about getting more animals out the door, and our rescues play a key role in that — they're pivotal," Norwood says.


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