May 3, 2023 719 PM
PRESIDIO — On April 14, longtime Presidio Animal Control Sergio Carrasco clocked in for his last day after seven years of working for the city. To celebrate, a pair of animal rescue nonprofits helped him wrap up upgrades to the shelter in order to mark a fresh start for the facility and threw a going-away bash in his honor.
In his seven-year career at the shelter, Carrasco rescued hundreds of animals. He joined forces with Terlingua-based rescue The Underground Dog in 2019 — which helped find homes for 531 of the dogs Carrasco picked up from South Presidio County.
When Carrasco was hired, the Presidio Animal Shelter euthanized 75% of the dogs that came through its doors. Under his management, that number dwindled down to practically zero.
Carrasco still keeps tabs on a few of the animals he helped find homes for. One in particular — a battle-scarred pitbull he later named Canelo — still tugs at his heartstrings.
“Initially, when he got [to the shelter], it looked like he had been in dogfights,” he said. “The pictures of Canelo now with his owner — it’s great seeing that.”
He’s always had a soft spot for the underdogs — no pun intended. “I’m partial to pitbulls,” he said of the blocky, widely misunderstood breed. “All the pitbulls we’ve gotten here at the shelter in Presidio have been really, really nice dogs.”
Most of his by-the-book responsibilities include trapping and releasing pest animals, responding to animal hoarding situations and taking in surrenders at the shelter. Helping find homes for needy animals requires time and commitment that go beyond the typical duties of an animal control officer.
Carrasco was willing to go the extra mile. In addition to his regular job duties, he provided potential pets with vaccinations, forwarded pictures of candidates to rescue organizations and conducted initial behavioral assessments to get a sense of each pup’s personality.
Typically, those responsibilities would fall to professionals and volunteers involved with animal rescue organizations — people like Heather Hall of The Underground Dog.
Hall and Carrasco came together in late 2019 to help find loving homes for Presidio’s stray and surrendered dogs. Hall recognized the dire need: typically, there are between two and five adoptions a year directly out of the Presidio shelter, which sees dozens of animals come through its doors every month.
It turned out that Carrasco had a particular knack for reading dogs. His trick was to ignore the dog’s initial reaction to being caught — many shelter animals arrive scared and confused. After allowing them a few days to get used to his presence, he’d offer treats and monitor their next moves. “I’d wait for them to come to me,” he explained.
His patience yielded invaluable data that helped match shelter dogs with their ideal forever homes. “Usually my interpretation of how the dog’s going to turn out has been spot on,” he said.
Hall and Carrasco were in near-constant communication for years. The morning of Carrasco’s going-away party, Hall got a notification on her phone that she was almost out of memory.
She broke down the data: her text thread with Sergio was a whopping 18 gigabytes, over half of her phone’s storage. “I went ahead and deleted my text thread with my husband — I couldn’t delete the one with Sergio,” she joked to the crowd at Sergio’s going away.
The two exchanged pictures of dogs, vaccination records and behavioral assessments in order to start matching dogs with homes. Many of the Presidio shelter dogs ended up in Portland, where a sister organization called One Tail at a Time helped identify potential adopters.
In April, the One Tail at a Time team flew to El Paso and spent four days in Presidio at the Three Palms Inn. With Hall’s and Carrasco’s help, the volunteers helped set up a grooming station, poured concrete in the fenced-in play area and replaced rusty wire in each kennel.
The upgrades to the shelter were much-needed after years of neglect, but Hall hoped the volunteers’ efforts were just the tip of the iceberg. There were other changes the city could make to help its animal control officers, too.
For one: Carrasco consistently visited the shelter on the weekends to provide clean food and water and clean up kennels. The city did not pay for him to come in on weekends; those hours were purely on a volunteer basis.
Hall hoped that the city might provide a part-time weekend employee to come in for an hour or two on Saturdays and Sundays. “It’s not reasonable to ask someone to work seven days a week,” she said. “The dogs aren’t happy — they’re going 48 hours without somebody to say hello to them, to clean up their kennels.”
The weekend gap also made it difficult to rehabilitate sick pups. “You can’t give antibiotics Monday through Friday and then take the weekend off,” she explained.
Since resigning from the city, Carrasco has relocated to the Permian Basin to seek work in the oilfields. After years working low-paying jobs in the tri-county — at the tomato farms, at the Presidio County Jail — he decided to roll the dice.
He didn’t have prior experience in animal control before he applied for the job in Presidio. “I thought it was something I might enjoy — and for the most part, I did. It was just that the pay wasn’t very good,” he said.
Despite the many obstacles he faced, Hall was forever moved by Carrasco’s talent for caring for animals. “You walk into a typical shelter and you hear a lot of barking, you feel really sad for the dogs,” she said. “Sergio’s shelter was like summer camp — I called it Camp Sergio.”
Carrasco denied that he had any special gift. “I guess it feels normal to me that we should be a little more considerate,” he said. “For dogs, I’ll do just about anything that I can.”