Last year, San Antonio euthanized approximately 49,000 cats and dogs—more per capita than any other big city in the United States. Complaints about its Animal Care Facility have persisted for years, including concerns about overcrowding and the excessive use of restraint devices. The pound also uses gas chambers to put animals to sleep, an outdated method that can be slower and more painful than lethal injection and is used by no other major metropolitan area in the nation. But perhaps most abysmal has been its failure to promote the adoption of its wards. Nearly nine out of ten animals brought there last year were put down, many within an hour of arriving.
The San Antonio Express-News ran an exposé about conditions at the Animal Care Facility in November, and the ensuing uproar forced the city to rethink its treatment of cats and dogs. The pound’s new director, Sam Sanchez, has called for a massive overhaul, which will include not only a reevaluation of the use of gas chambers but also a push to increase the adoption rate (in part by allying with volunteers from animal rights groups) and more community outreach to encourage pet owners to have their animals spayed and neutered.
Photographer Roberto Guerra first visited the Animal Care Facility last summer and returned many times to chronicle the cycle of life and death among San Antonio’s thousands of abandoned, abused, and stray animals. (His father, Dr. Fernando A. Guerra, had suggested that it might be a good subject for his next project; Dr. Guerra is the director of the Metropolitan Health District, which until December oversaw the management of the facility.) Along the way, Roberto also ended up documenting the work of the pound’s employees, who shoulder the burden of tending to their city’s