'While You Were Sleeping': Animal Care Services officers on job long after office hours

Animal rescue, recovery goes on around the clock

By Katrina Webber - Crime Fighters Reporter, Tim Stewart - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - While the animals she rescues and recovers clearly can’t tell time, Officer Melissa Smith can almost set her watch to the idea that her workday will include plenty of activity.

“Loose dogs, biting dogs, biting cats, hit by cars. Just about anything you can possibly imagine,” she said.

Smith works for the city of San Antonio’s Animal Care Services Department as the lead officer on the late shift who also trains the rest of the crew. 

She says safety for her staff and the animals is the most important lesson she teaches.

Often her days on the job stretch late into the night hours, and things do get especially interesting after dark, she said.

“People are home. People are not at work. People are out doing stuff so there's more visibility for the animals that are out at night,” Smith said.

Typically, calls can involve anything from domestic pets on the loose to wild animals that come too closely into contact with people.

For example, one recent night she found a family of raccoons hiding in the ceiling of a college classroom and removed them.

Another day, she rescued a kitten with an injured and bleeding tail.

However, there wasn’t much more that she, herself, could do for the cat since ACS does not have an overnight veterinarian.

Instead, Smith had to turn it over to the Animal Emergency Room, a local pet clinic that partners with the city agency after hours.

“She's going to keep it overnight. Get it some antibiotics. Get it cleaned up,” Smith said, discussing the plan of action.

On that same day, she brought in seven stray dogs and another cat, all off the streets and in need of shelter.

After completing paperwork on each one and administering vaccines, Smith found kennels within ACS’ west side compound for all of them.

The hope is that ultimately they will be returned to their owners or put up for adoption.

Smith’s workday begins around 1 p.m. and ends just as many people are drifting off to sleep—around 11 p.m.

However, ACS has officers on-call throughout the night to handle animal-related emergencies.

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