Katy officials propose plan for no-kill animal control

Katy officials propose plan for no-kill animal control

The investigation, which began in December, yielded a case file consisting of more than 700 pages. (Laura Aebi/Community Impact Newspaper)

Katy City Council members have introduced a plan that would put the city’s animal control department on a path toward a no-kill policy after an investigation into allegations made by a city employee against the department was completed.

Since the allegations were made, the department has adopted new practices promoting transparency and accountability since the allegations—but some council members are supporting additional modifications, such as a spay and neuter program and implementing a no-kill policy for the department.

“[Council Member] Jenifer Stockdick and I have worked hard on [an animal control] plan that should build support across our divided community,” Council Member Rory Robertson said. “We have many issues facing our community. The welfare of our animals should not be one of them.”

Case closed

The six allegations made by Chelsea Gerber, a Katy Animal Control employee who began working at the facility in May 2019, were made in mid-December—accompanied by a flash drive with over 40 gigabytes of digital evidence, Gerber said. The flash drive included photos, messages and videos taken in the facility that were shared on social media—many of which showed Animal Control Officers David Brown and Spencer Antinoro, whom the claims were made against, said Detective Lt. Lee Hernandez of the Katy Police Department’s criminal investigations division.

Of the six allegations Gerber made, improper records handling and falsifying records were the only allegation sustained after the investigation. Hernandez said he was able to locate two instances of euthanasia not being properly recorded during his investigation.

“I can only investigate what is in front of me,” Hernandez said. “Based on my investigation and the videos, there’s not sufficient evidence.”

Hernandez said he spent about three months on the investigation, which was the first animal control case he has worked on in his 30-year career. His research led to a 700-page case file.

“I’ve worked triple homicides, and it’s never been this thick of a file,” Hernandez said.

While it does not directly adopt out animals, Brown said the department partners with more than a dozen rescue groups—but at an April 12 council meeting, Stockdick said she felt the partnerships could be improved.

“I know there have been some that are listed [as] a partnership, and we’ve only done like one thing with them ever,” Stockdick said. “When I reached out to [the organization], they’re like, ‘No, we really don’t have a partnership,’ so I think there’s definitely areas there where we can improve.”

In 2020, 88% of the animals brought to the facility were sent home or to a rehoming rescue—up from 80% in 2019, Katy police Chief Noe Diaz said during a February meeting.

As of April, the department has euthanized four cats in 2021—all in January. In compliance with new policies, the cats were euthanized after being deemed feral by a veterinarian. As of the end of March, the department was at a 92% placement rate for 2021.

Department reform

At the February meeting, Diaz presented a list of changes that have since been implemented—such as digitizing intake records, a new camera system and a body camera policy.

Prior to the changes, animals at the facility were given a kennel card, which included basic information on the incident and animal involved. While cards were previously only saved on paper, the department repurposed a program used by the police department for booking people into jail as a booking system for animal intake. Now, the card—along with a photo and other documents, such as a past release form, if the animal has been picked up before—are saved in one digital location, Brown said.

“[The program] was not completely designed for this, but right now we didn’t have to budget for expensive animal shelter software,” Brown said.

Despite implemented improvements, budget and facility constraints continue to present hurdles. For example, while the department has purchased a body camera, funds allowed for only one—making it impossible for both employees to wear it if they work simultaneously—and the facility’s cat area is too small to effectively place a surveillance camera, Brown said.

Community concern

As for the investigation, Hernandez said he expects community pushback.

“I’m sure some people aren’t gonna be happy with the outcome of [the investigation],” Hernandez said. “It’s a [time-consuming] process. We hope people understand it’s a process—it’s not just a one-sided deal. [We want to] be transparent. We’re not looking to cover up anything.”

Gerber, who has since left the department, said she found the investigation’s conclusion disappointing.

“I find it puzzling that the Katy Police Department concluded a four-month-long, 740-plus-page internal investigation with a one-hour interview with myself, the complainant,” Gerber said.

Gerber said she is also concerned reform is taking place too quickly and that long-term solutions are not being considered. She also expressed frustration in department staff remaining in their positions. Gerber said she is elated the facility is allowing volunteers—but there is work to be done.

“I am most concerned that the root of the problem is not being addressed,” she said. “The changes are superficially based at this point; if something is not broken, why fix it? And if it is broken, fix that first—then reform.”

As for that reformation—Gerber sided with Stockdick and Robertson.

“I would like to see a no-kill resolution adopted,” Gerber said. “Adopting a resolution would make the largest positive impact.”

According to the Animal Humane Society, a facility must have a 90% placement rate to be considered no-kill—only resorting to euthanasia in cases of “irredeemable suffering.” Under this policy, the four cats in January would not have qualified.

“We can easily shift the euthanizing budget to the medical side of the budget,” Robertson said.

At the April meeting, Robertson and Stockdick introduced their plan to the council, proposing a budget amendment for a pilot program. The plan starts with implementing a vaccination program priced at about $5 an animal. That policy would be followed by a spay and neuter program. The final step would be an adoption program.

“When we send [an animal] to a rescue, we’re donating $25 to the rescue,” Robertson said. “For just a little bit more, we can spay and neuter and open up those animals to adoption. Let the people of Katy adopt from Katy.”

The program would add a significant workload to the department, Robertson said. He encouraged volunteers. Robertson also said they had “earmarked funds to cover several pilot programs that can protect the animals of the community.”

“We’re looking for realistic, inexpensive strategies that can save our animals,” Robertson said.

Once the pilot program demonstrates the policy’s effectiveness, Robertson said, the city could shift the budget from euthanasia drugs and animal disposal toward treatment.

“There’s $6,500 in the budget for disposal,” Robertson said. “If we can cut that in half and have $3,000 shifted over to medical care where we only have $2,000 now—that can save a lot more animals.”

As for next steps—Katy Finance Director Andrew Vasquez said he will review the budget and share his findings at an upcoming council meeting.

“[I will] take your recommendations and figure out … what we need in this budget,” Vasquez said. “If financial statements are the way they should be, we can make good decisions.”

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