San Antonio ACS mistakenly euthanized two dogs with rescue holds

Director says issue was unrelated to a quickly-reversed change to euthanasia procedures

SAN ANTONIO – Faced with a flood of strays and other animals, Animal Care Services euthanizes hundreds of dogs every month - most often to free up room in its crowded San Antonio shelter.

But two of the dogs put down this month should have been safe.

In a social media post-Monday night, Animal Care Services announced it had accidentally euthanized two dogs, Babe and Bandito, that were supposed to be released to rescue organizations.

Babe was euthanized on Aug. 12. Bandito was put down Monday, nine days later.

Although the city department started off its post referencing a soon-to-be-reversed change to its euthanasia procedures, ACS Director Shannon Sims told KSAT in an interview on Tuesday “the two are actually not even really associated.” He also said such incidents are “not a common occurrence.”

“ACS has a very strong realization that what we do from the rescue foster standpoint requires infallibility almost,” Sims said.

The process of putting holds on animals for different fostering and rescue organizations takes place in a different part of the ACS campus from the euthanasia procedures, Sims said.

However, the specialist performing the procedure is supposed to review each animal’s file first to ensure there isn’t a hold in place.

“For both of these animals, that communication process broke down, you know,” Sims said, “and the word either didn’t get to the specialist, or the specialist didn’t clearly review the notes. That’s the part that we’re currently investigating.”

Hunter’s Hope Dog Rescue had put a hold on Bandito with plans to place him with a foster, said the group’s co-director Staci Walker.

But despite ACS confirming the hold, Walker said she got a call later saying they had euthanized the dog.

“Well, to be honest, I’m a realist, and things move very fast for them,” Walker said. “And as much as I’d like to be angry - because many times I am - I really just wanted to cry.”

Though Sims did not know who had placed the hold on Babe, he believed it was another rescue organization.

In his interview with KSAT, Sims said Bandito and Babe’s holds “were not” last-minute holds and came in “a significant amount of time before euthanasia occurred.”

However, Walker provided an email exchange between Hunter’s Hope and ACS that showed the department confirming the group’s hold on the dog at 12:35 p.m. - just a few minutes after ACS schedules euthanasia procedures to start.

It is also roughly around the time a quickly-reversed change in policy could have come into play.


In the same Monday night post announcing the accidental death of Babe and Bandito, ACS said it had introduced a new operating procedure for euthanasia the week before.

That updated procedure involved the “difficult decision to not medically reverse already sedated animals who have received post-deadline holds.”

The department maintains a regularly-updated list of dogs in danger of being euthanized because there isn’t enough room in ACS kennels.

Euthanasia starts at 12:30 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. on weekends, and the department says foster and rescue organizations must send in placement intention emails at least a half-hour ahead of time.

In between administering the sedative and the irreversible euthanasia drugs, there’s roughly a five to 10-minute window of time. Though that’s theoretically another opportunity for rescue organizations to put a hold on an animal, Sims said it often doesn’t turn out that way.

“In the past, we have allowed late holds for animals to come in, which frequently resulted in essentially the specialist that has to conduct the euthanasia injecting the euthanasia drugs, then finding out that there was a hold for the animal that had just come through,” Sims said.

The resulting mental toll on those employees, he said, is “devastating.”

Sims said the department discussed the issue with its specialists and “a lot” of it ACS’s large rescue partners about the need for a hard deadline.

“An animal can still be pulled - 12:35, 1:00, 130, 2:00 - as long as that animal has not already been taken back and put under sedation for the euthanasia, the animal can still be pulled,” Sims said.

But less than four hours after speaking with KSAT, ACS posted another statement immediately revoking the change.

The statement, which was posted at the end of normal business hours, stated the decision came after a “discussion today with the City Manager’s office and City leadership.”

“Animal Care Services strongly urges all approved fosters and rescues committed to taking an animal into their care to make timely decisions and avoid past-deadline holds,” the statement reads. “This allows for proper processing to give pets the best chance for placement.”

It was not immediately clear what prompted the change, though the original post on Monday gathered numerous negative comments toward ACS and its policies.

Sims says Babe and Bandit’s deaths were not linked to the change in the euthanasia deadline.

Asked why then the dogs had been included in a post about it, Sims said “I think that because we have received a lot of input based on the change in process and everything. And, obviously, separate - associated with that, and, you know, essentially after reviewing all the cases further, we determined that there was no separation there. The two animals that were euthanized that did have confirmed holds - both of those animals came, you know, a significant amount of time before euthanasia occurred.

Instagram users also brought up the euthanasia of another dog, Ollie, in the comments on the original Monday post.

Sims confirmed the department looked into Ollie’s case because it appeared to be “right in that window where it could have been problematic.”

However, he said, it was a third-party rescue partner that wanted to pull the dog, and the “approved” partner the group was working with did not submit a hold request until after the dog had been put down.

The San Antonio city council is currently considering a 26% bump in the ACS budget, with the expectation of further increases in the coming years.

Rather than jeopardizing the department’s chances of the extra funding, Sims believes the deaths of Babe and Bandito reflect “how thin the staff is stretched.”

However, he said “some of the significant improvements” in those areas would come in future budget years, not the upcoming 2024 fiscal year.

About the Author

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

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