Presidio Animal Shelter seeks help to cope with high number of animal surrenders

PRESIDIO — Early Tuesday morning, Presidio Animal Control Officer Sergio Carrasco could be found outside the city’s shelter in what looked like a spacesuit, tending to a swarm of bees a neighbor had reported. “They’re on a tree branch,” he said. “It looks like a temporary set up — there’s maybe four or five hundred of them.” 

Carrasco had dropped everything to respond to the bee call in between trips to the vet in Fort Davis to provide care for sick pets and vaccinations for new arrivals to the shelter. It was just another busy day on the job for Carrasco, who has been the city’s lone animal control officer for six years. 

Carrasco’s skill with all creatures great and small — from confused bees to neglected horses — has made him an invaluable resource to the city of Presidio, but it’s also made taking a day off impossible. “Sometimes, there’s just too much that I’m supposed to do,” he said. 

If he has to leave town for an afternoon, pretty much anyone can handle feeding the animals — but taking care of the animals for longer periods of time requires skilled help. In February, former City Administrator Brad Newton and Finance Specialist Malynda Richardson went before the Presidio County Commissioners Court to assess their options. 

“We’ve got limited resources and we’re taking care of just about everything that comes through the door as best we can,” Newton said. “That said, we are overwhelmed. This poor guy can’t get a day off.”

Newton, Richardson and Carrasco decided to approach the county first because Presidio’s animal shelter often ends up becoming the de facto animal shelter for all of southern Presidio County. “A significant portion of the dogs are coming in from outside city limits,” Richardson said.

That’s a huge problem given the shelter’s constraints: there are currently five pens that can fit large dogs. Some folks who surrender dogs to the shelter are repeat visitors, dealing with a never ending cycle of puppy litters. “There are so many dogs coming in from all over that there are times where you have to put two dogs into a pen or euthanize them. That’s not the first option anyone wants to go to, but sometimes it has to be done,” she explained.

Newton blamed some of the uptick in animal surrenders to new state-level anti-chaining laws that penalize pet owners for keeping their animals tethered outside. Carrasco pushed back on that idea — he has not been enforcing that law aggressively because he just doesn’t have room for dogs seized under the new regulations. “The reality is, I am not able to be as strict with that as I should,” he said. “I will act on it if somebody tells me that the animal looks like it’s not being taken care of. That’s what I concentrate on.”

Carrasco instead attributes the problem to relatively low rates of spaying and neutering in the local community. Terlingua’s Sam Bottenfield used to commute to Presidio a few times a month to perform vaccinations and spay and neuter surgeries but retired at the end of last year. Presidio residents have few options closer than Alpine for preventing unwanted litters of cats and dogs.

“A lot of people don’t have the resources or the transportation to take their animals up there,” Richardson attested. “And to put it bluntly, some people are just lazy about this kind of stuff. It’s not something they prioritize.” 

With help from the Alpine Humane Society, Carrasco helped host a spay and neuter clinic in Presidio in December that served over 40 pets. He’s hoping for a repeat performance in June, and has been negotiating with the city to find a site that can safely accommodate as many cats and dogs as possible. 

Prevention is key because Carrasco’s resources are limited and the demands of his job leave little time for structural improvements. The facility by the Presidio Stockyards is cramped and poorly lit — to reach needed supplies, he has to climb a ladder and grope around in a dark loft. The shelter’s aging swamp cooler system makes Presidio summers miserable and, should it fail, potentially dangerous for the animals and for Carrasco. 

In the first week of April, Carrasco led Municipal Judge Viviana Cataño, Police Chief Margarito Hernandez, and Presidio Municipal Development Director (PMDD) Jeran Stephens on a tour of the shelter to discuss possible next steps. PMDD had offered to pitch in money for a new air conditioning system, but Stephens wanted to see if there were other improvements that needed to be made. 

“There’s a lot of people out there who could potentially do good for the shelter, they just need to know what condition it’s in,” she said. In addition to soliciting grants and city funding to upgrade the facilities, she suggested that Carrasco set up an Amazon wishlist so that pet lovers outside of Presidio could contribute to the cause. 

Carrasco worried that if the air conditioning system was not brought up to par, he may have to euthanize animals to keep numbers in the shelter down and stay in compliance with state regulations. “The law is really clear — protect the animals,” Stephens said. “We don’t want to [euthanize], we want to protect the weakest among us. You’re doing an amazing job by yourself, but it’s time for others to pitch in.” 

The air conditioner project is currently in limbo — city officials made a trip to Ojinaga to price units, and returned with less-than-favorable estimates. Recent shake-ups in City Hall leadership have also contributed to the delay. Still, Carrasco remains hopeful that a solution will be found before the worst of the summer heat. 

For now, he’s focused on keeping his numbers as low as possible. “Right now, the best thing to do is to help keep the cost of the spay and neuter clinics down,” he said.