An animal rights group is making waves locally by campaigning to greatly reduce euthanizations at the San Marcos animal shelter, a topic that’s starting to cause a divide between advocates and offiicals.
Hays County Animal Advocates are a group of concerned citizens aiming to push the San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter to becoming a no-kill facility; they hope to do so through increasing foster opportunities and improved marketing.
The first step is for the shelter is to declare a 90 percent live-outcome goal, or to have 90 percent of pets that enter the shelter system be adopted out to families or third-party adoption groups, said group member Kate Shaw.
“They cannot treat the pets as disposable, it’s not a viable option. People need to know that these are options, it’s crazy that we wouldn’t make these changes. Perfectly adoptable animals are being destroyed,” Shaw said.
Right now, the animal shelter is aiming to reach 70 percent live-outcome this year— a goal they are on their way to making in 2018, going off their past three quarterly reports.
The San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter serves all of Hays County. As more people move into the area, they bring more animals with them, and that growth has led to overcrowding of the facility.
“Some of the biggest challenges we face are a limited number of staffing, the number of animals we have and the capacity of our shelter,” said Jeff Caldwell, director of neighborhood services.
The shelter has been operating at a range of 105 to 120 percent overcapacity for the past several months. With state regulations that determine how overpopulated a shelter can be and for how long, animal euthanasia is a sad reality, Caldwell said.
“It is a last resort, but when we’re over capacity, there are some tough decisions to be made,” he said.
Shaw said that while the shelter is underfunded and could use more staffing, the changes her group is pushing for could be implemented without spending additional money.
“I think the fundamental problem is priorities,” Shaw said. “They’re doing things the way things have always been done, that needs to be changed.”
The Hays County Animal Advocates say the shelter needs to improve the visibility of adoptable pets and the public’s access to them to improve live outcome rates. Shaw said the shelter should post pictures of all animals in the shelter on their website, as well as expand their open hours for adoptions. The San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter is open for adoption 31 hours a week, while other shelters have more than 40, Shaw said.
Working with rescue groups and foster homes is one way for the shelter to keep expenses down and clear out kennels, Shaw said. When a rescue group or foster takes on an animal, they absorb the cost for that animal and allows for another pet to take its place in shelter kennels.
“I think there’s a misconception that the shelter likes euthanizing animals,” Caldwell said. “That’s not the case. The people at the shelter are people that are just as passionate about animals as the activists are.”
Caldwell said the key to having a successful no-kill animal shelter is having an active community willing to help. Unlike some other no-kill cities, such as Austin, San Marcos does not have the budget to spend as much per animal. San Marcos spends about $200 per animal at the shelter; Austin spends about $1,000, and has five times the staff. San Marcos residents have less income as well, which means less donations.
“I think that’s the thing that’s been missing (from the conversation) a little bit. This isn’t an animal shelter problem or an animal activist problem, it’s a community problem. The whole community has to get behind it to solve it,” he said.
The community support will step up, Shaw said— once the shelter agrees to a 90 percent no-kill goal.
“When they do, I think they’ll trigger a huge change. They’ll want to go to the shelter to volunteer and adopt. Some are waiting for the shelter to be no-kill,” Shaw said. “Many people don’t want to go volunteer if they know those animals will be killed a few days later. It makes them sad. People will go elsewhere to adopt their pet.”
Hays County has about 200,000 residents. In 2017, 2069 animals were killed.
If just 1 percent of county residents adopted a pet from the shelter, no animals would have had to be killed, Shaw said.
“We hold similar ideas and want the same outcomes. It’s getting there that there’s a difference of opinion,” Caldwell said. “We have more in common than we do different. We’re working through all those things and finding common ground.”
The City of San Marcos is currently working on the 2019 budget, and the animal shelter is requesting funds for a part time volunteer and foster coordinator and a veterinary tech. Caldwell said they hope to increase hours of operation as well.