Hays County sees surge of community and municipal support for no-kill animal shelter

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Local ordinances aimed at helping the San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter reach no-kill status steadily increased in 2018—and so did the shelter’s annual live outcome rate.

A growing wave of support for animal welfare in Hays County, propelled by local advocates and elected officials, suggests that progress on the issue will not slow down anytime soon.

In December, San Marcos City Council joined Hays County and the city of Wimberley in passing an ordinance in support of helping SMRAS reach a live-outcome rate of 90 percent or more, which is considered no-kill status; Buda passed a similar measure Jan. 15.

“I think the surge of  community support is good, and I think a lot of good will come from it,” said Kara Montiel, San Marcos Animal Services manager. “We just have to find the solution that works for our community specifically because that’s the key factor—not every plan works for every city.”

As a result of the San Marcos ordinance, the city manager is working on an implementation plan that will include clear steps SMRAS and its regional partners must take to reach and maintain no-kill status. The implementation plan will come before the council for approval in June, and once it is formally adopted, SMRAS will have five years to reach no-kill status—but Assistant City Manager Steve Parker said he does not believe it will take the full five years to achieve the community’s goal.

“We want to be able to save as many animals as we can,” Montiel said. “The key point is going to be us being able to provide our services to the community and move these animals through the system as quickly as possible and still doing it responsibly.”

SMRAS adopted out 1,132 animals in 2018, a 13 percent increase from 2017, according to the annual report. It also transferred 1,037 animals to rescue partners—up seven percent from the previous year. The increase in adoptions helped, at least in part, to bring the shelter’s live outcome rate to 74 percent—a 33 percent improvement from 2017.

SMRAS is the sole public shelter serving all of Hays County with an intake area of nearly 700 square miles. As the county continues to grow year after year, shelter workers and volunteers say SMRAS has become increasingly strapped for resources.

“Everyone who has ever loved a cat or a dog needs to remember that the animals that the data represents are all living creatures,” said Sharri Boyett, a member of Hays County Animal Advocates and former member of the San Marcos Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.

The shelter received 21,844 visitors in 2018—a 9.9 percent increase from 2017, according to the SMRAS annual report. It also took in 5,102 dogs and cats last year, which was a 15 percent decrease from 2017. Montiel said the decrease is due to changes in the shelter’s intake policies and procedures that offered alternatives for people surrendering pets.

However, given the shelter’s already broad intake area and the county’s continued growth, Montiel said she does not believe SMRAS has the capacity to maintain its current level of services to all of Hays County over an extended period of time.

In order to continue increasing live outcome rates and sustain as much growth as possible, Montiel said the shelter is focusing on multiple preventive services—such as spay and neuter—in 2019 as well as revamping the shelter’s foster program; Montiel said the foster program was “minimized” in 2018 due to a staffing vacancy.

“We have a new program coordinator position that’s coming on, and once we have that person established, that is one of the main programs we are going to be focusing on,” Montiel said. “We’re going to set a better foundation, more specifics, and grow the foster program, and hopefully that’s going to be one of our key programs here in the next year.

Boyett said in order for SMRAS to reach no-kill status, the entire community and people at every level of local authority must make a decision.

“It does take a community to change its mind and decide it doesn’t want to kill animals anymore,” Boyett said.

Montiel said that in 2019, SMRAS hopes to garner new volunteers. On average, the shelter has 120-180 volunteers depending on the time of year. If the shelter secures more volunteers, Montiel said SMRAS could attend more events with adoptable animals.

“Those events are crucial for getting the animals out and getting them seen,” she said. “We’re going to need a lot of volunteers from the community: everyone in any capacity that they can.”

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