Five questions with Shannon Sims, director of animal care services
One year later Animal care services (ACS) reported its highest ever pet release rate – 94.5% – interim manager Shannon Sims said the city was in need of foster and adoption homes again. This rate, which measures the number of animals returned to their owners or placed in a new home or partner nonprofit rather than being euthanized, increased in 2020 as residents who stayed home at most strong COVID-19 volunteers first volunteered as foster parents of pets. Sims says the rate this year is still high, around 93.5%, but more help will be needed to keep it going through the summer when the shelter takes care of the spring puppies and kittens. as well as fleeing dogs, which multiplied during the fireworks on July 4. “The biggest impact you can have is fostering,” says Sims, who holds the most senior position in the organization after working as an assistant manager for eight years.
Animal care services have seen an increase in adoptions and foster care placements during the pandemic. Has this trend continued?
We still see a fairly high adoption rate. Our rescue partners continue to really get by, which of course allows us to limit euthanasia and keep this rate as low as possible. We were at a live release rate of around 93.5% in the spring and most of the animals placed in 2020 are still in these homes.
The microchipping program the city put in place in 2015 is really starting to pay off now and in recent years. In 2015, about six percent of lost animals were reunited with their owners, and we’re now down to about 33 percent.
You mentioned that July 4th is a time when a lot of pets are lost. What should pet owners do to prevent this?
These are the animals left alone outside that run away on July 4 and New Years, although these are animals that usually do not leave the property. You would be surprised how they can fit under or over a fence. You really need to bring your pets inside on July 4th because otherwise they will be looking for a safe place to hide from the noise of the fireworks. Even if you don’t bring them the other 364 days of the year, bring them on the fourth.
You said that partners are one of the main reasons ACS keeps its euthanasia rate low. Tell us about it.
We have the big three, the San Antonio Humanitarian Society, the Texas Animal Rights League, SA Live Animals! But what a lot of people don’t realize is that we are working with hundreds of relief agencies. Some are decently sized like these three, but others are 501 (c) 3 moms and pops. We couldn’t achieve the live streaming rate that we currently have without all of these organizations.
On our website we have listed all of our urgent animals, which are animals for which we need to find a placement soon. Many of these rescue organizations also receive email alerts and when an animal is about to become eligible for euthanasia because it has been in our shelter for several days, they are all looking 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 available to them. Some of them work with people who take animals long term and are able to rehabilitate them in the event of an injury or medical problem. Others welcome them if they are kittens that need to be bottle-fed. Some of them have rescue programs or places they can let the animal stay longer than the six to seven days we can provide. Many of them also have extensive networks on social media and elsewhere to spread the word and find homes.
Of the approximately 6.5 percent of animals that are euthanized, approximately 1 percent are euthanized due to space. It happens when we have to make the difficult decision – after we have marketed an animal and not found someone who can take them – to make space in order to give a more marketable animal more time.
ACS has announced in recent months partnerships with Petco Love, the foundation of Petco, and with the community via a new Facebook group. Tell us about these.
ACS lost and found is Facebook’s initiative and it has been great. When we know where an animal is coming from, it has enabled us to get volunteers to reach their specific neighborhood on [the app] The next door. They can say, “This animal was found in our area and is with ACS and it has been really effective. We can’t monitor every Nextdoor thread in San Antonio, so having volunteers to spread the word has been very effective.
the Petco lost love The program has the potential to be a game-changer as it allows pet owners to report a lost animal by simply uploading a photo. The app then uses facial recognition to show all of the animals in shelters across the country that may match theirs.
We’ve certainly had people from Louisiana or Houston who found their pet here after it’s been missing for some time, although most of our lost pets are from the surrounding area and were reunited through the microchip or efforts on field.
How can people help?
Now that we are vaccinated and can begin to remove some of the limitations in place due to COVID-19, we are looking to strengthen our campus volunteer program more strongly than we were able to do last year. There are plenty of opportunities to help out on campus and you no longer need an appointment to come and see the animals.
One of the biggest impacts you can have is taking these young animals or those with medical needs and taking them in until they are old enough or well enough to be adopted. (If you are in a host family, ACS provides all the supplies and medical care, so it doesn’t cost you money). If you don’t have the capacity to foster or adopt, we still need blankets, newspapers and towels, or people can donate to ACS or one of our partner agencies.