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Critics of Animal Care Services say our drive to humane care misses the big picture

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Livermore attributed some of the allegations against SAPA to the internal politics of the animal-rescue community. "There's always going to be some head-butting," she said. "Everything gets sensationalized." PETA as an organization has generally opposed no-kill solutions, contending that they too frequently leave animals warehoused in unsanitary conditions while new homes are sought for them. Best Friends' PR senior manager John Solis bemoaned the criticism of SAPA, writing in a July 28 letter to Mayor Julián Castro,"It's ironic that PETA, an organization that routinely attempts to derail credible life-saving programs simply because it does not support the no-kill movement, has once again tried to discredit a promising program that has since its inception had broad support from the San Antonio animal welfare community." 

Other American cities that have already reached no-kill status have found maintaining that progress to be the biggest challenge of all. Austin boasts live release rates around 90 percent. The state capital reached no-kill status in 2011 and is often cited as an example for San Antonio to follow. "People say Austin is different — it's more affluent, they're better educated, blah, blah, blah. Personally, I don't buy it," the Area Foundation's Nichols said. "They just had the formula and the will to make it happen."

San Antonio has departed from some other models with Angelo's emphasis on public-private partnerships. "I wouldn't take a contract in a million years," said Paula Fasseas, founder and chair of PAWS Chicago. A private, no-kill shelter, PAWS Chicago has been instrumental in reducing the number of animals euthanized in America's third-largest city while making spay-and-neuter more accessible. "I am not the dogcatcher," Fasseas said. "Don't take it in … if you don't have the resources to save it. Let it go to the City pound and other rescue groups, other shelters. Private groups should take on animals as they develop the capacity to care for them humanely."

In Austin, there is similar skepticism about relying too heavily on private groups.

"That's not the model," said Abigail Smith, chief animal services officer for the city of Austin. "The rescue groups are private not-for-profits and it's their mission to save animals. We help them where we can," Smith said.

Despite their progress, the longevity of Austin's no-kill initiative is being tested. "Austin is struggling right now," Nichols said. "Reaching no-kill is easier than maintaining no-kill."

Smith admits each year is different. "Earlier this year, we did a great job of keeping our intake numbers down, but it fluctuates. You look at 10 or 12 years of data and it's up and down."

While Austin seemed to rapidly surpass its no-kill goals, Smith emphasizes it's a long-term process. "If you're just doing animal control rather than prevention, it's impossible," said Smith. "No municipal shelter can be big enough to do it alone. But it's not just private groups, it's community members as well."

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