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

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What's missing from the drive to no-kill, critics argue, is an aggressive spay-and-neuter program.

"You can't adopt your way to no kill," John Bachman said of San Antonio's emphasis on adoption. A retired nuclear engineer turned gadfly, Bachman is a member of local animal rights group Voice for Animals who supports a mandatory spay-and-neuter policy. A June 2010 story by Callie Enlow in the Current stated that of a SA focus group survey done at the time, "the majority favored mandatory spay-and-neuter for all city pets, with the exception of service dogs, show dogs, and police and military dogs." Similar goals for a near-universal spay-and-neuter mandate in Chicago have been applauded by PAWS director Fasseas. And though there is some popular support for such measures, fears of government intrusion combined with the influence of vested interests — such as breeders' associations and private veterinarians — have thwarted proposals when they have appeared.

The Area Foundation projects that 100,000 spay or neuter surgeries will have to be performed each year for three to five years in order to level off San Antonio's unwanted dog and cat population. ACS's current goal for 2012 is 65,500 sterilizations. As of June, they were 81 percent of the way there, according to the Area Foundation. Bachman, however, believes the needed annual neuters are closer to 150,000. "And defining no-kill at 70-percent?" says Bachman. "The no-kill community at large has said if you could put a percentage on it, it is more around 90-percent."

In setting such a low threshold for no-kill status and racing so urgently to reach it through adoption efforts, critics such as Bachman and Walls worry ACS is more concerned with creating a quick turnaround — a political success story — than a no-kill community. But, countered Angelo, "Is it fair for us to move that bar so far when we have other challenges as well? If we want to venture off into that 80-percent, 90-percent, 95-percent, clearly it's going to require a committed and sustained level of support."

Buying into PETA's claims that SAPA is a failed organization, Bachman said, "Right now, they're doing too much, too fast, with too little — both ACS and the private groups."

But groups like the highly regarded ADL shirk off critics' claims as misdirection. "The private groups are saving the lives of the very large number of unwanted animals that ACS takes in but was not able to find homes for," said Janice Darling, ADL's executive director. "If there are issues that need to be clarified, the City is open to finding a resolution and working to find a solution."

"Any time there is an animal problem, the tendency is to look to government — the government will take care of it," ACS spokeswoman Lisa Norwood told the Current. "But the problem is of such a magnitude that you have to look to community engagement if you expect a lasting solution. The community has to become engaged in becoming proactive, in embracing responsible pet ownership, and spay-neuter above all. It's not a problem if animals are not being born. "

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