AR-News: (TX - US) Officials hoping a $12.1 million will help animals

Snugglezzz at Snugglezzz at
Thu Oct 23 15:56:10 EDT 2003

They'll live a little longer  
By Stephen Dove  
San Antonio Express-News  
Web Posted : 10/22/2003 12:00 AM  
City officials are hoping a proposed $12.1 million facility will improve conditions for animal control employees and the 52,000 animals they handle each year.
 Kennel attendant Jimmy Garcia prepares to process a truckload of stray animals. The city's animal control department handles 52,000 animals each year. 

Wednesday: Animal care facility 

But despite claims of increased pet adoptions, the measure may simply keep stray animals alive two extra days before they are euthanized.

William Lammers, the city's veterinary services manager, said the facility is needed because the number of impounded animals has doubled in the past 10 years, stretching his department's resources.

Animal control officials in San Antonio deal with more strays each year than do officials of any other major Texas city; they process nearly twice as many animals as do their counterparts in the larger city of Houston.

"We didn't create the problem, but we're here to deal with it," Lammers said. "We just don't have the physical capacity in this facility. That's the reason this was close to being on the bond issue (in 1999)."

Lammers and others hope voters will respond to that capacity problem by approving the public health proposition on the city's Nov. 4 bond election ballot. 

In addition to the animal care complex, the proposition would fund an East Side health center, an emergency operations facility and a senior health facility near the South Texas Medical Center.

The biggest benefit of the new animal facility would be an increase in the amount of time animals are kept by the city, Lammers said.

Animals without tags currently are housed for two days before being euthanized. The new site is designed to double that period to the industry standard of four days, Lammers said. 

He also said he hopes the new facility would increase adoptions, but he added there is no guarantee a new structure would change the number of animals the city has to put to death every year.

"We've certainly embarked on an education and awareness program, but even with all these other efforts, we're still having a large number of animals (euthanized)," he said. "We are simply the place of last resort. Many people just abandon their animals."

About 90 percent of animals brought into the facility are euthanized, Lammers said.

Sallie Scott, a former director of the Animal Defense League, said there have been cases in other cities where improved facilities led to more interest in adoptions, and she said San Antonio is past due for an upgrade.

"I think they will have greater adoptions because it will be a nice place to come," she said. 

"For years, people have asked me how can you bear to go down there (to the current animal care center) because it's so depressing, and it is. That drives people away."

Although city staff and animal advocates say the project is sorely needed, several City Council members voiced uncertainty about spending taxpayer money on the new center when the $115 million bond proposal was completed in August.

Councilman Richard Perez said he believes a new facility is past due, but he has questioned whether it deserves higher priority than other projects.

"Initially, when it was proposed to us, it was $13.1 million," Perez said. "When I started looking at all the needs like streets and drainage, and I saw we had only $115 million total, I thought, 'We are going to whack $13.1 million off the top for animal care?' It sounds like a lot of dollars. 

"It's a necessary thing, but it seems like a lot to care for stray dogs and cats."

City leaders decided to build the center on city-owned land, trimming the cost by $1 million.

Lammers said he understands concerns about cost, but he added the project has been put off too long already.

"For what our needs are, the most economical way to meet them is to relocate in a more appropriate area and build a new facility," he said. "But, everybody is shocked when they see it's $12 million."

Lammers said the current animal care facility, adjacent to the San Antonio Zoo, is outdated and overcrowded. Most of the complex was built in 1945. 

The last addition, an observation kennel for dogs thought to have rabies, dates to 1984.

That kennel does not meet state standards, but Lammers said the city can't make the needed changes because of his agency's workload and landlocked property.

Because of limited space, the department routinely puts two or three animals in each cage in the regular kennels, creating conditions Lammers said lead to the spread of disease. 

"This facility is designed for 25,000 animals (per year)," he said. "The new one would be a 43 percent increase in square footage, but we would have new ways of designing (kennels) to hold more animals with the same amount of labor. The other issue that goes along with that is most cities feel we should hold for four to five days."

Lammers said building a completely new center is necessary because the current 1.3-acre facility has no room for further expansion.

The bond issue calls for a new complex to be built on eight acres of city-owned land south of the current site, where most of the department's 70,000 service calls originate each year.

Although the complex's location has not been announced yet, the most likely site will be a tract of land known as Van De Walle Farms near U.S. 90 and Texas 151, said Dr. Fernando Guerra, director of the Metropolitan Health District.

A more modern facility also would create a safer working environment for staffers, Lammers said.

"This is connected to minimized handling," he said. "Right now we have to physically remove each animal from its enclosure. The idea is back-to-back enclosures to move animals between for cleaning."

Such improvements would cut down on the risks of handling stray animals, Lammers said.

"Everyone here is a stranger to every animal that comes in here," he said. "This would be less stress for the animal, and fewer people are required."

Although the new facility will be larger, it would be more efficient than the current one and would require no additions to the department's 80-person staff, Lammers said.

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