by Merritt Clifton
SAN ANTONIO, Texas––It was no secret in San Antonio, Texas that Memorial Day 2015 weekend promised to be three days from hell.
Predicted Accuweather meteorologist Brian Thompson on Friday, May 22, 2015, “Another round of downpours and thunderstorms will bring a renewed threat for flooding from Kansas to Texas…Cities that are at greatest risk for significant flooding this holiday weekend include Oklahoma City, Dallas to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Austin, Houston and San Antonio, Texas.”
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the San Antonio area. Road closures due to flash floods had already been occurring on the east side of San Antonio for at least six days.
Preparing for the worst
Forewarned is forearmed. Public safety agencies throughout central Texas and Oklahoma prepared for the worst––especially around San Antonio.
Standard protocol in such situations is that all public safety personnel––police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and animal control officers––are either on duty or close at hand on call. All equipment and facilities are put in order, and supplies are stocked, ready for immediate use.
Standard protocol for animal care and control agencies is to have enough cage space available each morning to accommodate the next day’s anticipated influx. If enough cage space cannot be made available through adoptions and transfers during the preceding day and evening, killing some of the most dangerous animals and animals with the least adoption prospects may be necessary to open space, because an animal care and control agency cannot allow itself to be in the position of being unable to respond immediately to an emergency in which public health and safety may be put at risk.
Prudent planning, however, can minimize that necessity by ensuring that adoption partners and foster care givers are not always accommodating all the animals they can handle, so as to be able to offer some buffer space in time of crisis.
Experienced animal care and control directors facing the prospect of thunderstorms and flooding over a three-day holiday weekend at the height of puppy-and-kitten season are usually aware that the weekend will bring unusually heavy intakes of both found and owner-surrendered litters; know that holiday weekends typically bring surges in bite and dog attack cases because of the increased volume of social activities involving both people and animals; know that thunderstorms typically coincide with panic-stricken dogs bolting and getting lost; and know that the risk of flooding––or any other natural disaster––is likely to compound the potential crisis.
Animal and control agencies have protecting public and animal safety as their first priorities. This includes accommodating animals displaced by disaster. Protocol in a situation such as the one confronting San Antonio over the Memorial Day 2015 weekend would normally call for opening three days’ worth of cage space, not just one, and having space available for a temporary emergency overflow, for example in a garage or warehouse that could be quickly converted into a temporary shelter by putting up portable fencing.
For a large agency like San Antonio Animal Care Services, with relatively new and well-situated facilities, the protocol ahead of anticipated regional flooding would usually include preparing for the possible evacuation of smaller shelters in more vulnerable locations in the surrounding area.
City audit should have sent a warning
Logically, San Antonio Animal Care Services director Kathy Davis should have been especially on her toes, and should have had all staff on their toes as well, after a city “Audit of Animal Care Services Dispatching & Operations” released on March 13, 2015 identified critical deficiencies in animal control officer “compliance with guidelines related to aggressive and dangerous dogs, bites, and permits.”
San Antonio has over the past 10 years led U.S. cities in human fatalities from dog attacks, all of them involving pit bulls; has consistently been among the cities with the most dog attacks on U.S. Postal Service letter carriers during the past five years; and led the U.S. in 2014 in fatal dog attacks on other dogs, according to data tabulated by ANIMALS 24-7.
The Memorial Day 2015 weekend was San Antonio Animal Care Services’ chance to shine through the expected rains.
And Davis, according to her posted biography, is an experienced animal care and control director who should have known just what to do.
“Kathy Davis was appointed Director of Animal Care Services in August 2012,” states the bio. “She has more than 20 years experience in municipal government and nonprofit management,” having “served as the Assistant General Manager at the Department of Animal Services for the City of Los Angeles, as well as Director of Code Compliance, which included Animal Services, both in Dallas, Texas and South Bend, Indiana.”
Held adoption event amid the rains
But instead of having all hands and all needed space immediately available, San Antonio Animal Care Services announced the sort of adoption promotion that could have made space available only if done well ahead of a probable crisis.
Posted San Antonio Animal Care Services to Facebook on Friday, May 22 at 11:20 a.m., “It’s been raining hard here in San Antonio these past weeks! At ACS it’s been raining cats and dogs every day. With the rain comes an increase in calls for pets to be picked up and brought in and pets brought in over-the-counter. We are full to the rafters and would love to get these pets adopted. Grab your umbrella and rain boots and come on down…Thinking of fostering? Now is a great time! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.”
While finding additional foster homes is always worthwhile, adequately screening prospective homes obviously could not have been done in time to open cage space over the weekend. Rehoming dogs amid thunderstorms is usually not recommended procedure, either, even if prospective adopters appear at a shelter between booms, because of the heightened risk that a disoriented dog in unfamiliar surroundings will run away or bite someone.
San Antonio Animal Care Services was on the job bright and early on Saturday morning, May 23, 2015, posting to Facebook at 6:32 a.m.,
“We’ll be at Bark in the Park today from 10-3 at Rosedale Park. Low-cost adoptions and FREE microchips…The weather should hold until late this afternoon, so come on out.”
Several updates followed during the morning.
But Bark in the Park was predictably sparsely attended.
Flash floods & a small tornado
Just east of San Antonio, overnight Saturday and Sunday morning, May 23-24, flash floods forced evacuation of several trailer parks near Bandera, an outlying suburb, and for a time reportedly left about 200 animals assembled for a rodeo stranded.
North of San Antonio, Hays County emergency management coordinator Kharley Smith reported 350 to 400 homes destroyed in Wimberley, where the water crested at 41 feet, more than triple the flood level and far above the previous record of 32 feet, set in 1929.
A small tornado roared through Dripping Springs.
At least four people were killed within the San Antonio metropolitan statistical area. Another twelve people were missing.
But the City of San Antonio was relatively lightly hit.
The gunshot dog
Then, local dog rescuer Kelly Reid Walls e-mailed to San Antonio Animal Care Services director Kathy Davis and assistant director Gloria Hurtado, at 10:38 a.m. Sunday morning, “I found 3 dogs and called 311. An ACO was on the same street but he said he could not take because ACS is at Code Red. 311 said to release the dogs. So what do I do with these dogs? I can’t hold on to them as I am at capacity and undergoing chemo. Is the city’s only solution to leave them on the streets?”
A second e-mail from Walls, sent at 11:31:29 a.m., clarified that “The St. Bernard mix,” the largest of the three dogs, “has been shot. Yet the city wants him to suffer on the streets.”
Davis responded to Walls at 11:40 a.m., “I’m sorry but we have no space, Kelly, and we do not euthanize on Sundays. The storms have driven an influx of dogs to our shelter and we just can’t accommodate all of them. If we have pets that leave with adopters or with rescue pulls today, then we can begin picking up again. That is our only other alternative when we are full to capacity. We have lowered the price on our dogs for the weekend in order to try and get more dogs out to ease the capacity issues. Maybe the rescue group you work with can take them in. I’m sorry we are unable to assist at this moment.”
Dog was picked up three hours after first report
ANIMALS 24-7 received copies of the exchange of e-mails and photographs of the dog suffering from the gunshot wound at approximately 2:00 p.m., San Antonio time.
Almost any animal care & control agency anywhere in the world would regard a wounded mastiff-type dog, either running at large in a pack or temporarily housed by a private citizen, as a priority one call for protecting public safety.
Even the nicest dog in the world might injure someone when in pain; the dog might have been shot because of a prior aggressive incident; the presence of a pack escalates the potential risk; and the shooting itself was an apparent crime requiring investigation.
Few public safety agencies anywhere would regard such a situation as appropriate for a member of the public to handle unassisted.
ANIMALS 24-7, prior to receiving the Walls/Davis e-mail exchange, was unaware of any animal welfare agency anywhere that would have considered leaving a gunshot-wounded dog to roam at large unattended a humane or appropriate response.
But ANIMALS 24-7 was able to determine within minutes that at least six 24-hour veterinary clinics in San Antonio were open for business, ready to treat, temporarily house, or euthanize animals in an emergency situation.
ANIMALS 24-7 informed Davis and Hurtado of this.
Posted Kelly Reid Walls to Facebook three hours later, “ACS has picked up the dogs!”
Happy ending? Not exactly
Happy ending? Not exactly. A gunshot-wounded dog suffered far longer than necessary. An animal control agency that should have been fully prepared and ready for crisis response on a much larger scale was unable to promptly and appropriately respond to a single-dog case.
Another line of Davis’ official San Antonio Animal Care Services biography might explain her priorities: “Prior to this appointment, she served as the Executive Director of the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation in Los Angeles, California, responsible for advancing the development of innovative programs strategically structured to increase the live release rates at local municipal shelters.”
Note the absence of anything said about protecting either public or animal health and safety.