Moving Toward a No-Kill City

Jess Duffy and her friend, Taylor Wright, are on a mission.

Arriving at the City of San Antonio Animal Care Services (ACS) facility on Highway 151 on a sunny but windy Thursday afternoon, the two college students dash to Kennel No. 4. As they step inside, Duffy, 21, glances at her right hand. In pen is written “250717.” It’s the ID number for what she and Wright have come searching for: an 8-week-old black female Labrador retriever. “We saw on the Animal Care Services Facebook page that this dog is up for adoption,” says Taylor, who attends Texas State University. After walking up and down the rows of kennels and scanning the faces of the stray dogs that have found their way to the ACS shelter in hopes of being adopted into a loving home, Duffy and Wright finally find the tiny black puppy with its floppy ears and cute little paws.

“This is the dog!” Duffy says with excitement. “Look at her. I just want to put her in my purse and take her home now.”

Wright is just as happy. “She’s so cute and seems really tame,” the 18-year-old Texas State Technical College student says, holding the pup in his arms and rubbing her furry head. “Labs are great family dogs. They’re very loyal.” Fortunately for the pup, it has begun a new life with Duffy and Wright, along with the couple’s two other pets, a golden retriever and a Weimaraner. However, there are thousands of stray or abandoned pets without homes that are picked up off the street each year. Some are humanely euthanized, especially those that are sick or injured beyond recovery or rehabilitation.

According to ACS, 35,554 animals in 2012 were picked up or dropped off at the city facility; 12,657 transferred to partner organizations, while another 6,106 were adopted. But for many of the city’s stray and unwanted pets, there is help and hope, thanks to a trio of women who are on the front lines of animal care, control and education — Kathy Davis of Animal Care Services, Janice Darling of the Animal Defense League and Nancy May of the San Antonio Humane Society. In their respective roles the three are making an impact on the pet overpopulation numbers, creating programs to educate pet owners about responsible pet ownership and, most importantly, the need to spay and neuter. By working individually and collectively with other animal welfare partner agencies, the women are committed to helping the Alamo City become a no-kill community.

Kathy Davis

Long before she ever got involved in municipal animal care services, Kathy Davis was getting her pre-training in the care and control of stray and unwanted cats and canines. While living in her native Michigan in the rural town of Buchanan (population: 4,455), she purchased a small farm with a host of cows, pigs, goats and sheep along with a pony for the kids. “We were the local drop-off spot for cats and dogs because we were out in the country,” Davis recalls, “so I got my initiation in rescue real early. I had a barn big enough to house most of them. I had a visiting vet who would come once a month, and we’d get them spayed and neutered. When people would come to buy livestock, we would talk to them about taking an extra gift in the way of a furry little creature.” After moving to South Bend, Ind., she took her first municipal job as administrative services director for the Department of Code Enforcement. It also included managing the private contract for animal control services. Before the year ended, the director resigned, and Davis stepped in to fill the seat. Shortly after, the mayor severed the contract with the animal humane organization and gave Davis 30 days to set up an animal control center. “It was the most challenging yet rewarding project I’ve ever jumped into,” she says. “It gave me the opportunity to put together piece by piece an animal care organization. I had to find staff, be staff, negotiate with vets to care for animals and find a way to take in the animals. I learned a lot from the ground up.”

After 12 years with the city agency, a friend told Davis about a vacancy in Dallas for a code compliance director that included animal care services. She applied and was hired. After six years in Dallas, Davis landed a job with the Animal Services Division in Los Angeles, where she worked for a little over three years before taking the helm of the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation. Founded in memory of the brother of actress Katherine Heigl of Grey’s Anatomy fame, the foundation focused on innovative solutions to the animal overpopulation issues in the Los Angeles area. Davis worked at the foundation with the actress’s mother for a year when an urgent family matter drew her back to the Lone Star state. In a classic case of serendipity, Davis was offered a job at ACS on the day after she planned to relocate to Texas. “I got a call from a recruiter here,” she says. “He said, ‘Someone knows you and said you might be interested in this job.’ ”

On Aug. 20, 2012, Davis began her first day as executive director for ACS, where in addition to a plethora of other duties, she oversees a $10.9 million operating budget and a staff of 125. To her credit, Davis’ work as head of the Heigl Foundation included development of innovative programs to increase live release rates and public acceptance of spay/neuter. She has brought those same blockbuster ideas to San Antonio. In fact, last year ACS almost doubled the shelter’s live release rate over the previous year’s record. In 2012, the shelter set a lifesaving record of 62 percent of all pets finding homes — a worthy accomplishment, given the shelter’s single-digit live release rate less than 10 years ago. The city shelter’s adoption efforts garnered national recognition in November when ACS won the ASPCA Rachael Ray $100,000 Challenge. It finished first in the nation and in the South Central Division for the most pet adoptions and beat 50 other animal welfare organizations throughout the nation to win the prize. The shelter’s successes come on the heels of a department-wide commitment to the priorities outlined in the Animal Care Services strategic plan. The road map for increasing placements, enhancing enforcement and encouraging spay/neuter calls for a baseline goal of 70-percent live release by 2015. Tactical partnerships have propelled the shelter’s current lifesaving rate to 81 percent overall for last year, placing ACS measurably ahead of that goal.

“We can’t take all the credit for our live release numbers,” Davis says. “We have outstanding partners — SA Humane Society, Animal Defense League, San Antonio Pets Alive as well as 70 other rescue organizations. They understand it’s a community problem and help us get our pets adopted. They take them when we are at full capacity. Together, we can make San Antonio a model city of animal welfare and responsible pet ownership.” Still, Davis knows there is work to be done, considering that 95 to 100 pets come into the facility daily, there were 4,400 bite cases, and 34,000 pets were killed in traffic accidents. It’s one of the reasons she is a huge advocate for spay/neuter. “We need to continue spay and neuters, so we can stop unwanted litters from roaming the streets,” she says. ACS also has partnerships with rescue organizations that transport pets from San Antonio to shelters in New England and other parts of the country. While ACS and its partners are committed to becoming a no-kill community — meaning they will not euthanize a healthy, adoptable pet to make shelter space — Lisa Norwood, ACS public information officer, says it’s important for people to know that no-kill does not mean an animal will never be euthanized.

“The national definition of no-kill is when a shelter reaches a 90-percent live release rate,” Norwood explains. “Every shelter receives animals that are so sick or injured that their prognosis is zero.” For those looking to adopt a pet from ACS, there’s a variety to choose from and in all shapes, sizes and breeds from Pekingese to poodles to Chihuahuas to chows — and Persian cats for that matter. All pets adopted from ACS are vaccinated, spayed/neutered and are implanted with microchips. “If your pets get lost, it’s their ticket home,” Norwood says, adding that a city license is also provided as required by city law. There are other adoption incentives, too, such as two free tickets to SeaWorld and vouchers for premium pet food. To adopt or foster a pet or learn more about the shelter’s low-cost spay/neuter and vaccination services, visit or call (210) 207-6650.

Janice Darling

Growing up in rural West Virginia, Janice Darling developed a fondness for nature and furry creatures, so she would often bring home stray cats and dogs even though her mother asked her not to. “Now I’m living my dream job. I get to have dogs and cats with me every day at the office,” says the executive director of the Animal Defense League (ADL) while sitting at her desk. Suddenly her “office mate” plopped himself down on this reporter’s notepad to sit in on the interview. His name is Luke, a 1-year-old gray-haired cat with emerald eyes that was delivered to ADL after being abandoned at four weeks inside a box with several siblings in an apartment when the tenants moved and left the litter to fend for themselves. “He’s not skittish and is friendly to everyone,” Darling assures. But don’t let those gorgeous green eyes fool you. “He’s a klepto,” she adds. “He got into a lady’s purse and ate a fortune cookie.”

Since 1986, Darling has made the Alamo City her home. She moved frequently as a teen from state to state and graduated from Kent State University in Ohio in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in parks management and recreation therapy. “It might have well been underwater basket weaving,” she says with a laugh. While she and her husband, Gary, were living in Wichita Falls, where he worked for the former Southwestern Bell, a position with the phone company opened in San Antonio, and they jumped at the opportunity. With her background in nonprofit management, Darling landed a job with the American Cancer Society and was executive director until 2003. From there she held posts with the McNay Art Museum and the San Antonio Children’s Museum until a friend called to tell her that ADL was hiring an executive director. “I didn’t have any background managing animal shelter facilities,” she says. But she got the job and has been at the helm of ADL since 2010, although it didn’t come without some early challenges.

“Learning the business,” she says, “I had to learn the systems, protocols and veterinary medicine and care.” Today, Darling is confident in her role as she leads the organization in its mission as a no-kill shelter for abandoned, abused or neglected dogs and cats. She also manages a $2 million operating budget. “This is a wonderful place to be,” she says, smiling. “This is a place for hope and joy. We’re giving animals a second chance. We’re rehabilitating the sick and broken ones. Our dogs are playing. They are happy as can be in a non-home environment.” Of course, there are the difficult aspects as well, she says, such as the number of people who expect ADL to take in every pet they want to drop at their door. “We only have space available through the previous day’s adoptions,” she adds.

It’s also heartbreaking for her to see people give up on their pets they’ve had for years. “I know things happen in people’s lives,” she says, “but it’s sad to see people who no longer want their elderly pet or just don’t care for them any more. Working here, you know animals feel pain, fear and anxiety.”

Established in 1934, ADL enhances the quality of life for abandoned, abused or neglected animals by offering medical care, including spaying and neutering. Food, shelter and safety are also provided, along with compassion, love and attention. And ADL works to find the best possible home for each animal. To say that ADL doesn’t have its work cut out for it is putting it mildly. The shelter’s 2011 statistics tell the story: It took in 2,295 dogs and 889 cats, treated 719 animals in crisis and nursed them back to health, spayed and neutered 8,828 dogs and cats and vaccinated 682 owned animals. It also found homes for 2,197 dogs and 921 cats. For ADL to accomplish all it does to care for stray and unwanted animals takes a lot of money and an army of 800 volunteers. “We receive no city, state or federal funding. We rely on donors to keep our doors open,” Darling says. She and her staff of 46 have created a number of programs and services that both combat the city’s pet overpopulation and shelter and care for the helpless and vulnerable ones that seek love and a permanent home. These include adoptive services and pet matching, dog training classes, low-cost spay/neuter program, vaccination clinics, low-cost flea and heartworm prevention, a foster care program and a retail store. There is also a volunteer program, a Thrift Shoppe and education program and pet therapy. “Our humane education volunteer manager gets calls from schools, college groups and Boy Scouts to go out and talk about what we do,” Darling says of the education program. “We discuss animal safety for children, such as what to do if you see a dog in the street and how to approach it.” One of ADL’s successful initiatives is the foster program. It allows the public to give temporary housing to pets that cannot yet be housed in the shelter. There is no cost, and ADL provides food, medical care, basic necessities, foster care training and support.

Some of the pets needing foster care are newborn puppies and kittens, nursing moms, pets recovering from surgery and pets needing socialization. Terri Roberts has been a foster parent for ADL for the past 16 years. Currently, she’s bottle-feeding three kittens at her home and caring for two others. “It’s a great feeling to know you are responsible for them and watch them grow and then get adopted into a loving home,” says Roberts, a retired civil servant from Randolph Air Force Base. During a tour of the shelter’s sprawling facility outside Loop 410 on Nacogdoches Road, Darling stopped to give tender loving care to several of the shelter’s pets both in the kennels and cattery. There is one dog in particular named Irwin, a big black and tan fluffy dog with a friendly personality, that she would love to take home. “He looks a lot like my first ever dog,” Darling says, “and that may be why I am so drawn to him.” But at the moment she just can’t. “I already have seven pets — two great big dogs and four cats,” she said, “oh, and Luke.”

For more information, visit or call (210) 655-1481.

Nancy May

Nancy May wants the public to know that whenever they come to the San Antonio Humane Society (SAHS) to adopt a pet, they deliver a powerful one-two punch. “You’re saving two lives,” she says. “When you adopt a dog or a cat, you make space for us to take in another.” With more than 5,000 animals that SAHS receives each year, every adoption counts in helping the nonprofit no-kill organization protect and improve the lives of dogs and cats by providing shelter, care, adoption, rescue, spay and neuter services and community education. And it’s May’s responsibility as president/ CEO to ensure that these tasks are carried out for the benefit of both animal and community. “My goal at the end of the day is to fulfill the mission,” she says. ing a profit.” May knows all about profit margins, budgets and managing money. She has a wealth of experience in banking after having spent 28 years in the financial world. Before that, however, the 1972 Alamo Heights graduate taught math for a couple of years after graduating from Texas State University in 1975 with a degree in education and mathematics. “Back then it was open classrooms with 153 kids, three teachers and two aides,” she recalls. “It was a pass-fail system. It was not what I envisioned education to be, so I left teaching.” Shortly after, May applied for work through a temp agency and by chance was sent to work in the trust department of the former Bexar County National Bank when one of its employees went on maternity leave. “I didn’t know anything about trust or wealth management, but I fell in love with it,” she says. She enjoyed it so much that she stayed there for four years and then left to raise her two daughters. When her children were old enough, May went to work for National Bank of Commerce for six years, and then Broadway National Bank until finally retiring after 18 years there to spend more time with her 94-year-old father and first grandchild. Retirement, however, didn’t last. After six months, May longed to work part time, so she began doing donor relations with SAHS after already having been aware of the organization. When the executive director left, the board asked her to step in temporarily. However, she enjoyed the job so much that temporary turned into permanent when in late 2011 she was named president/CEO. The job is a perfect fit for May, who likes finances and furry animals and who relies on her banking background to manage a $3.4 million operating budget.

Lynnell Burkett, SAHS chairman of the board of directors, said board members hired May to lead the organization because of her strong business background and her exceptional leadership skills. “Nonprofits too often hire leaders because of their commitment to the mission rather than their ability to run a complex organization,” Burkett says. “In Nancy, we were able to find someone with both the love of animals and our mission to place them in loving homes and the knowledge of how to bring a strong business model to the nonprofit world. In addition, she’s an exceptionally nice person.” May is well aware that the board, her staff and volunteers look to her to lead the charge in maintaining SAHS as a no-kill shelter and ensuring that pets that show up at their doors are given the love, care and protection they need. The president/CEO is proud of the accomplishments achieved last year, boasting a 96.7 percent live release rate after having adopted out more than 5,300 dogs and cats. SAHS also performed more than 8,000 spay and neuter surgeries, and it worked with more than 3,000 students in its education program. Much of this could not have been achieved, May says, without the assistance of some 955 active volunteers who completed more than 30,000 volunteer hours in 2012. Some wash dogs, some do laundry, and others do data entry. One of those volunteers is Rhonda Falcon, a nurse at the University Transplant Center in the lung transport program. She has been volunteering for eight years, assisting with adoption and community outreach events, among other volunteer duties. “The best part is when a dog gets to go home with a family. It makes you feel good,” Falcon says, adding that her 16-year-old daughter, Danielle Clark, now volunteers by walking the dogs.

In their commitment to making San Antonio a no-kill community, May and her 40-member full-time and 19-member part-time staff have had to put on their strategic and creative thinking caps to develop programs that will help more pets find homes. The adoption program, for instance, helps match people with the perfect pet. More so, all animals adopted from SAHS have been spayed and neutered and have received their first set of vaccinations, de-wormer and flea/tick prevention. The animals come with a microchip, 14 days of complimentary vet care from VCA hospital, 30 days of free pet insurance, a starter bag of food and a collar with a personalized tag. SAHS has also set up adoption meet-and-greet rooms so that people and pets can determine if they are a good fit for one another. “We require that you spend at least 20 minutes with a dog or cat,” says Seamus Nelson, director of communication. “We also ask that you bring your children and pets to make sure that everyone is going to get along.” One of the organization’s innovative programs is Camp Humane, a summer camp for children and teens ages 5 to 15, who receive humane education.

They also attend a workshop from a veterinarian or animal expert and animal classes designed to foster a special appreciation for four-legged creatures. “We teach kids about responsible pet ownership,” Nelson says. “If you teach them while they’re young, they’ll understand what it means to be a good pet owner, and that translates into being a good, compassionate person.” This year’s camps are slated for June through August. Parents can register their children in person at SAHS, 4804 Fredericksburg Road, or online at Acknowledging the city’s high unwanted pet population, May believes spaying and neutering are essential to curtailing the problem. “Studies show that spaying and neutering your dog or cat reduces the risk of certain cancers,” she says. “It also helps improve your pet’s temperament, and it helps the community by limiting animal overpopulation.” The public can have their dog or cat spayed/neutered at the SAHS surgical clinic. Appointments can be made online or at (210) 424-7595. During a walk through the SAHS facility, May pointed to a parcel of land just outside the fence. “Our dream is to build a shelter-hospital there to help us take in more animals and those that come in with illnesses,” she says. But she knows it requires a lot of money, which is why she enjoys establishing partnerships with Whole Food, and Starbucks, for instance, to help bring in needed funds.

The president/CEO remembers that while growing up, her parents didn’t allow her to have pets, although she has always loved animals. “Now there are about 175 to 200 animals on site that I can visit with each day,” she says..

For more information, visit or call (210) 226-7461.

more posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our