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Commissioners discuss limiting intake of community felines

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By Megan Wehring

HAYS COUNTY – Hays County is considering limiting the number of community cats taken into the San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter (SMRAS).

On Nov. 15, the Hays County Commissioners Court discussed the possible adoption of an interim community cat management policy based on recommendations of a feasibility study conducted by Team Shelter USA.

The recommendation from Team Shelter USA in June suggested the county revise its animal control ordinance to require municipalities using the SMRAS to discontinue accepting unowned, free-roaming cats unless they are part of an enforcement case or admitted for Shelter Neuter Return/Trap Neuter Return (TNR) and returned to a home location the following day.

“An entire room of cats are being tied up [and]held in cages because of this policy,” said Judge Ruben Becerra. “The shelter needs our action. They are desperate for help and these tiny edits on paper … are ever so pressing when you are standing before them. These are, for the most part, honestly speaking, cats that won’t get adopted.”

On Oct. 23, 2018, the commissioners court approved a resolution to support SMRAS’s efforts to reach a no-kill status within two years. Proposed by commissioners Lon Shell and Debbie Ingalsbe, the resolution stated the county’s intent to invest time and resources in the shelter to help it reach a no-kill status, which is defined as at least a 90% live-outcome rate. 

The 2018 resolution also requested a creation of an Interlocal Animal Services Commission made up of partners of SMRAS.

“We know that [SMRAS] is overcapacity and understaffed,” said Sharri Boyett, animal advocacy advisor. “Those people who are working there have the hardship of managing these cats that are not tame. So, by removing that problem and letting the cats be [put in]TNR, we will then allow them to be more efficient and have less stress as a worker. We will also allow them to have time to implement programs, do outreach and take better care of the [nearly]160 dogs they have now and some of the cats that are tame and adoptable.”

The current situation is not what no-kill is supposed to be, Boyett said. 

“We don’t want them euthanized; nobody is saying that,” Boyett said. “What we are saying is that it’s best practices across all understanding, all veterinary experts … This is what the government should be doing to support its constituents.” 

Becerra asked Boyett what the court needs to do to help the desperate suffocation that the city facility (SMRAS) is experiencing. 

“The city is required to sterilize the animals that come to the shelter before they are returned or adopted,” Boyett said. “That piece is covered. It would be that they would go back to animal protection or in our county, we call officers of animal control. They would bring them back after sterilization — those cats that are healthy or by body weight, appear to have a food source. That may be a matter of authorization that the officers would keep a record of each cat … What’s in the way is a policy.” 

Shell said that the county needs to work with the Hays County Sheriff’s Office and animal control officers. 

“We aren’t the boss of animal control,” Shell said. “We can pass things all day long, but if we don’t work with the sheriff’s office to make that happen, they are likely not going to do anything. What we need is the ordinance to allow our animal control officers to do this program, which is going to be part of the ordinance. If not, they may or may not. I don’t know.”

Judge Becerra said he would bring back the agenda item at the Nov. 22 meeting after the San Marcos City Council conducted its second reading of the ordinance. 

Later in the evening on Nov. 15, the San Marcos City Council voted to postpone the second reading and adoption of an animal ordinance after the first reading was passed on Nov. 1. 

Amendments to the ordinance would include limiting the reasons to impound cats, omitting stray hold requirements in some instances, including stricter requirements for spay/neuter and microchipping, creating an offense for failure to reclaim or surrender pets upon notice and adding requirements for pet shops/pet stores. 

The San Marcos City Council is slated to review the ordinance again in January. 

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