Bark in the Park: San Antonio's Animal No Kill Initiative

Talk About It! SA and District 7 Councilman Cris Medina will host the inaugural Bark in the Park/Perrito Grito at Woodlawn Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 24. This free event supports the City's Animal No Kill Initiative and there will be pets available for adoption as well as services and activities for pet owners, such as free spay/neuter surgeries and low-cost pet vaccinations. There will also be live music, food vendors and pet contests on site.

NOWCastSA will be there to answer your questions on all things community news, from how to use your camera or cell phone to get videos and photos on social media sites to how to make a Facebook page for your dog (yep, there's an app for that!). Come share your stories and help us report on the Bark in the Park event.

Cute puppies and kittens aside, what is Bark in the Park really all about?  It is an event to help the community understand the three pilars of the Talk About It! campaign to create a No Kill San Antonio: Care. Adopt. Neuter. There will be a shot clinic there for vaccinations and dog trainers to help with behavior problems, and people can pick up a collar with an ID tag on it so if their pet is lost and found, someone can bring the pet back home right away. It's all about finding simple solutions to keeping pets safe, off of the streets and out of shelters.

According to the Initiative's web site, the City of San Antonio adopted a strategic plan committed to becoming a No Kill community for companion animals in 2006. “No Kill” means that healthy or treatable dogs and cats that end up in area shelters are not killed simply because there is no space for them.

In 2011, San Antonio Animal Care Services (ACS) euthanized 19,645 dogs and cats (an average of over 53 animals every day), up from 18,457 in 2010 and 15,559 in 2009. The most recent 2012 statistics are not yet available, though January boasts only 820 animals killed and a live release rate of 64.81 percent, the highest in ACS history.

One of the largest goals of the No Kill Initiative is to help people understand how to care for their pets and make them members of the family to reduce the number of dogs and cats that end up at ACS in the first place.

I spoke with Gavin Nichols, Program Officer for the Animal No Kill Initiative at the San Antonio Area Foundation for more information. Nichols says the Initiative is about community education, outreach and helping people care.

A. The Initiative began reporting on the City's progress in reaching the no kill goal in 2009: Why is now the time to hold the inaugural Bark in the Park?

G. Bark in the Park is the latest in a series of things that we’ve done where we’ve learned over time. The No Kill Initiative really got started in 2007. We launched Talk About It! in August 2010 as a grassroots awareness campaign that targeted specific neighborhoods (unlike the previous Own Up SA campaign that blanketed the city with billboards and ads). We held a series of small events called Pet Fiestas to inform people about spaying and neutering, training and to teach them about the human-pet bond.  We want to show people that a dog isn't just a thing in the back yard, but can be a real part of the family.

The Pet Fiestas weren't very well attended. We learned the hard way that we need to capitilize on events that are ongoing to get people to come out. Though we did have some success with the Fiesta model.  UTSA's Learn and Serve program, which received a grant from the San Antonio Area Foundation, used that model to teach kids at local schools about responsible pet care.

A. Any special reason why District 7 was chosen to host?

G. One event that was very succesful was the Mayor's Howl-o-Ween Pet Fest at City Hall in 2010 and at Woodlawn Lake in 2011. We loved that location and Cris Medina was really interested in participating, so he offered to co-host.

A. Since the inception of the Initiative, which components of the No Kill Equation have you found to be most difficult to address in San Antonio and why?

G. The No Kill Equation is a great model because it tells you all of the different things you need to do simultaneously if you really want to be no kill. The biggest thing for me has been changing minds. That includes at ACS but also San Antonio Humane Society, Animal Defense League (ADL), and every shelter and animal welfare organization. They have all needed to make changes.

More than anything, the general public: We want people to adopt and think about pets in a different way. Social change takes a long time and we’re still along way from really being there.

We have had difficulty getting PR from for-profit partners and the local media. Nathan Winograd says just go to the TV stations and they will help, but I haven't found that to be the case.

I've also found that there is great tension between people who want to get strays off of the streets and people who want no kill.  Trying to turn the conversation so that the solution for the strays is the same as for no kill is difficult. City Council has grasped it - they are putting a lot of money into their districts for spay/neuter and to help with these programs.

As far as a specific component, it is the medical and behavioral rehabilitation. No one is tracking this issue yet. Rescue groups like ADL and others are doing this work, taking in animals from ACS with broken legs and getting them medical care and adopted out. They are taking in pets that are unsocialized and putting them in foster homes to work them through it and they are being adopted. They understand the value of this work, but we don't have a way to measure it or report on it.

A. What can people do to help support the No Kill Initiative?

G. When your family is ready for a new pet, you can adopt from a local rescue organization instead of buying a dog or cat from a neighbor or from an ad in the paper or on the side of the road. And have all of your pets spayed or neutered so there are not more puppies or kittens that need homes.

Maybe you can't adopt because you already have five dogs at home, or just aren't able to accomodate another pet, but maybe you have money that you can give. If you don't have money to spare, maybe you can volunteer to foster a pet in your home until that pet is adopted, like a puppy or kitten that isn't quite old enough to be adopted, an injured dog or cat that needs time to recover from surgery, or an animal that needs a little time and training to learn how to be a perfect pet for someone that is able to adopt.

And if you can't do any of those things, you can spend a few hours volunteering at an animal welfare organization or a special event. All of these things will help San Antonio to become no kill.

For more information on San Antonio's No Kill Initiative, see: