City council is planning a complete overhaul of the Animal Services Division from a place that kills many of the animals it receives to a caring and compassionate shelter.
"The goal of Animal Services before it seems was to take animals off the street and - let's say it like it is - kill them," said City Rep. Michiel Noe, who oversaw the reform plan.
City Manager Tommy Gonzalez last year formed a management review team made up of top city employees. It held four community meetings and met with various animal rescue groups and veterinarians.
The team also researched best practices among the top performing animal services divisions in other cities. Currently, the city's live release rate is 42%, according to city officials.
The live release rate indicates how many animals leave the shelter alive.
City officials have said their goal is to increase the live release rate to 90% by 2020, starting with 50% by the end of fiscal year 2016.
Among the changes proposed are to hire a permanent Animal Services Director and sufficient veterinarians. The city currently employs two full time veterinarians but the reform calls for four.
The changes also include opening a low cost spay/neuter clinic in Socorro Road and keeping the main clinic on Fred Wilson open seven days a week, plus starting a fundraising foundation to apply for grants for the shelter and purchasing better washer/dryer industrial appliances to keep the animal bowls and towels clean.
The City's Interim Animal Services Director Kurt Fenstermacher said there are hundreds of bowls and towels to wash a day and the current machines are time consuming and slow down operations.
Fenstermacher also proposed increasing the runs and play areas to allow every animal outside play time every day, and separating the surrender and adoption lobbies at the shelter.
Some of the changes, like ensuring every animal has a blanket and a pillow and playing soothing music for them have already been implemented. The City also plans to hire a marketing officer and increase educational efforts surrounding adoption and pet over-population plus change it's software that handles lost pet information to a more modern, robust software with more detailed and helpful information.
Initial estimates show the plan could cost $2.7 million over three years, according to Fenstermacher, with $650,000 required to begin this year. Environmental Services Director Ellen Smyth said the money needed for this year could come from a fund balance, or contingency account within the Animal Services Division that currently has about $800,000.
"It is compassion and kindness that brings warmth into a community and makes it home and animals are part of our breaking, living community, they are part of our hoes and they deserve than what we have give them in the past," said Ken Margherio to council during the meeting. 18 people signed up to speak on the issue and all of them expressed support for the plan though some were skeptical in the city's ability to deliver.
Prior city councils have attempted to overhaul animal ordinances and animal services but have failed to do so. The current animal ordinance, Title Seven, is laden with confusion and unnecessary regulations, according to some animal advocates who addressed council.
Among the chief complaints was that the ordinance criminalizes some aspects of Trap Neuter Return, the process some advocacy organizations use to trap cats, neuter them and return them to the neighborhood where they were found. Smyth said the City is working on reforming Title Seven.
The plan also includes increasing efforts to neuter cats and return them to the community to curb the number of cats going into the shelter. Fenstermacher said the City will
Noe said the reform will require a complete shift in perspective and attitude within the City. He said this time the City had an action plan and real research behind the proposal. "We're not just going to say this and then turn around and forget about it and not follow up as was done in the past."
Council is slated to officially vote on the reform proposal on January 26th when Gonzalez will present a more detailed financial plan for the reform.