Commentary: Serving people so they can better serve their pets – San Antonio Express-News

While animal control has historically been seen as a means of addressing a community’s pet problems, it’s the “people end” of the equation that often falls by the wayside.

Not so in San Antonio. In fact, the city of San Antonio’s Animal Care Services, or ACS, has long believed that successful animal welfare must be about protecting pets and people. In support of balancing animal care and control, ACS has created a new case management team for the new year. The C.A.S.A. initiative, or Community Animal Support & Assistance program, is the first of its kind in a municipal shelter setting and it will consist of five specialists. The team will work directly with high-risk pet owners to help them come into compliance with San Antonio’s pet laws.

While the C.A.S.A. specialists will attempt to contact and work with all of those cited for animal violations, the team will especially focus on those pet owners who want to keep their pets, but need a little help. Spay/neuter surgery assistance for unsterilized pets, weatherproof shelters and humane tethers for outdoor dogs, rabies shots, and microchips for otherwise healthy pets — all of these resources will be offered to pet owners in need who have found themselves facing violations.

C.A.S.A. specialists will also work in concert with the municipal court and the City Attorney’s Office to ensure residents have enough time to come into compliance if they are making a good-faith effort, and that residents can show up to court when needed. Additionally, team members will coordinate with existing low-cost animal wellness service providers and other stakeholders such as the San Antonio Food Bank’s Daisy Cares program to encourage strategic private-sector efforts. Supporting these efforts will be data gleaned from the city’s equity atlas, a tool based on U.S. Census information that helps identify historically marginalized communities.

It’s important to note the new approach won’t remove pet owner accountability or interfere with any necessary enforcement actions. Uncooperative or recalcitrant pet owners will still find themselves in court. Heinous cases of cruelty and neglect will still be pursued. The program’s aim is to halt recidivism, and avoid the burden of hefty fines, which can become an insurmountable obstacle to compliance. This ensures the city’s limited free resources are reaching those most in need. Just as importantly, it also lessens the odds of pets being surrendered or abandoned simply because their caretakers could not afford their companionship.

The uneven economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has created housing and financial challenges in our community in addition to exacerbated equity concerns. All of which makes the C.A.S.A. team’s role even more vital in preventing the increased surrender of owned pets. Poverty shouldn’t be an obstacle to responsible pet ownership and the C.A.S.A. program will help ensure it isn’t.



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