San Antonio’s Lefgren manages largest municipal animal shelter in South Texas with community help

August 17, 2018

Animal Care Services is turning its focus on people who sell animals for profit without concern for their welfare as the agency continues to work toward better interaction between humans and animals.

Since Heber Lefgren took over in 2015 as director of the largest municipal animal shelter in South Texas, he’s been emphatic about involving the community in decisions for the benefit of pets across the city through increased education as well as enforcement.

He’s instituted a regular meet-the-director meeting where residents could address concerns or just stop by to chat. Lefgren and several of his staff members were present at Thursday night’s SA Speak Up meeting at Morgan’s Wonderland about next year’s city budget, speaking to constituents and answering questions about present and future programs. The agency’s current budget is $14.7 million.

Since Fiscal Year 2015, ACS has consistently increased the live release rate from 85 percent to more than 90 percent. As of July, 92 percent of the dogs and cats taken into the shelter left alive.

One of the agency’s latest initiatives is the district officer program, which takes a community policing approach to animal control in San Antonio’s high risk neighborhoods.

Lefgren said though ACS personnel — the agency has 136 employees — are proud of their achievements, they’re not satisfied.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “I found that when we start feeling that we’re the best that we settle, and that’s not who we are as an organization. We continue to want to grow and to be better.”

Last year, ACS sponsored nine community meetings where residents weighed in on topics such as making it unlawful to sell animals at roadside stops, flea markets, festivals and garage sales.

The measure was one of several revisions that the City Council passed without opposition. Other changes included increasing the number of chickens within city limits to eight with one rooster and banning chains of any weight as a tether for dogs.

Recently, council members passed an ordinance requiring residents to provide natural or artificial shade for animals left outdoors.

ACS spokeswoman Lisa Norwood said community engagement is a big part of the director’s mission to work on behalf of the city’s pets and animals.

“One of the things he heard and listened to was a call for enhanced communication between the community, neighborhood advocates, everyday citizens and businesses,” Norwood said. “Because they’re impacted by the work that we do.”

Future plans includes a partnership with the nonprofit K-9 For Warriors for a pilot program training shelter dogs to become service animals for veterans. There are also plans for a new training area that allows ACS staff to work with shelter dogs and assess what is needed to help the canines become more adoption ready.

And Norwood said the agency also is looking at bringing in volunteer educators as part of a revamped volunteer program.

Petco President Susanne Kogut said that the success of any organization is dependent upon the engagement of the community at large. She said that most people underestimate the complexities, challenges and the emotional impact that one deals with in leading a large municipal animal shelter.

“It is one of the most difficult jobs around,” Kogut said. “There are high expectations by the community and local government and often limited resources with which to accomplish laudable goals. But most importantly there are the faces of hundreds of animals looking up to you every day to save their lives. Saving these lives requires a leader that empowers staff, other nonprofits and the community at large to come become part of the lifesaving solution.”

“During Heber’s tenure at Animal Care Services, he has continued to further the progression of the organization and their lifesaving work,” she added. “The Petco Foundation has been proud to partner with Heber, the entire Animal Care Services team and the San Antonio community and support their lifesaving efforts.”


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