Rey & Jessica Saldaña
Fostering a New Era of Pet Ownership
The first true day of fall has arrived in San Antonio, Texas. Here at Pearsall Park, hundreds of people and animals are enjoying the 505 acres of land nestled deep in the city’s south side. Once the site of a city landfill, Pearsall Park now hosts fitness areas, a dog park, pavilions, playgrounds, and the largest skate park in the city of San Antonio. The dramatic transformation that Pearsall Park has undergone is the perfect visual representation of the leadership impact of District 4 City Councilman Rey Saldaña.
After growing up on the city’s south side and graduating from South San High School, Saldaña was awarded with a fully paid scholarship to Stanford University, where he earned two bachelor's degrees (political science and communication) and a fifth year master’s degree in policy, organization, and leadership studies. Utilizing the skills he developed throughout college, Saldaña returned home to south side of San Antonio, where he was then elected to serve as City Councilman for District 4. Throughout his years of service, Saldaña has been actively involved in promoting and creating educational opportunities for the city’s youth. Saldaña is expanding his focus to help educate the pet owners of San Antonio with a program called the Comprehensive Neighborhood Sweeps Initiative.
The Comprehensive Neighborhood Sweeps Initiative is a program that aims to educate the community on how to properly care for their pets and improve areas of the city that have the highest number of bite cases and stray animal calls by going door to door and addressing problems within the community.
“This initiative means you are actually going into the communities where you know you have the biggest problems, and you’re diagnosing them at somebody’s doorstep. You’re learning from the community as much as they’re learning from you.”
Saldaña believes that this hands-on approach provides an effective way of targeting areas that require the most overall assistance.
“The Comprehensive Neighborhood Sweeps Initiative involves going into neighborhoods and putting a lot of sweat equity into the outcome - which is having more responsible pet owners. You’re doing that by providing people with resources and making those resources easily accessible to them.”
“It can feel a little bit like you’re going one at a time, but that’s really the level of investment you need to take because people want to be able to do the right thing.”
As the city works to promote more responsible ownership, the focus is on doing so as efficiently and effectively as possible. As Saldaña explains, education is a good way to increase the number of responsible pet owners while properly utilizing the city’s resources.
“Educating the public is what the real solution looks like,” Saldaña says.
Educational services will not only extend to the adult pet owners of San Antonio. The city is also putting programs in place that focus on the city’s youth, who, according to Saldaña, will play an important role in shaping the future of responsible pet ownership. City leaders like Saldaña have recognized this and are pushing for initiatives that go out into the schools to educate the children.
“Our goal is to educate the kids so that they can be the new ambassadors for animal care.”
According to Saldaña, people are finding out that the lesson of compassion being taught to the children not only extends to animals, but also extends towards all other living beings that the students interact with.
Over the last several years, San Antonio has turned interactive educational courses into traveling roadshows, which visit schools from all across the city. Saldaña believes that lessons learned from these school roadshows have had an important, lasting impact on the youth of San Antonio.
“These roadshows are really effective because you educate the public in a different way by focusing on the children. These kids are in a place, at school, where they are there to learn and their minds are open to different ideas and initiatives.”
As Saldaña explains, the students learn valuable lessons; such as how a dog would feel out in the cold winter. The children then share the lessons they’ve learned with their families.
Saldaña understands that in order to be effective with implementing change, a proper balance between educating the public and enforcing the laws must be made.
“Being a responsible pet owner is a very new concept to some of those in our community. Vaccinating their dogs, keeping them in an area that is covered, and providing them access to food several times a day is new to pet owners who, in the past, may have only seen dogs as a form of security.”
“Roaming, and the amount of multiplication that was happening was just not working out. We’ve been getting smarter over the last five or six years. The city has contributed to building more space, providing more spay and neuter services, and working with partners so that they can help foster and adopt.”
It’s an up-front cost that Saldaña believes will benefit the city in the long run.
Experts have stated that if only 5% of the city’s total population fostered at least 1 animal per year, the city would save thousands of animals. Councilman Saldaña and his wife Jessica are active supporters of the animal foster programs in San Antonio, and have even fostered several animals themselves. Councilman Saldaña provides a simple reason for the value of fostering a pet.
“If the dog is in my house, it’s not in danger of being euthanized.”
Over time, he has undergone his own journey of becoming a responsible pet owner. Saldaña now shares a home with two adopted dogs, one foster dog, and one cat. Rey and Jessica Saldaña are strong believers that the inside of your home should be shared with all your family, including your dogs and cats. The Saldañas encourage anyone who is able, to foster a pet.
Compassion and education are the driving factors of Councilman Rey Saldaña’s leadership. On this beautiful first day of fall, I watch Saldaña as he reaches the latest beneficiary of his compassion, a small spider on the patio of the District 4 Field Office. First, Saldaña alerts us to the web’s location. Then, after we have safely avoided the spider’s web, he carefully grabs a small strand of webbing and moves the it to another wooden column. In this instant, his small act of compassion has not only saved another person from walking into the spider’s path, he has also created a better, safer environment for the spider as well. This act itself is symbolic of the actions and initiatives that Saldaña has championed to improve the quality of life for all of his constituents, human and animal alike.
As Jessica Saldaña walks towards the District 4 Field Office at Pearsall Park, she’s being led by Lumi, a beautiful hound mix with endless energy. Sweetie, a yorkie terrier mix, confidently trails behind them, keeping a watchful eye on Jessica as any protective friend of 13 years would.
Together, Lumi Sweetie, Jessica, and Rey make up the Saldaña family, active members of the San Antonio pet community. Jessica is a frequent volunteer and supporter of local shelters and foster programs. In addition to her volunteer work, she currently serves on the board of The Humane Society. We talked with Jessica about her pets and what we can do to promote a healthier environment for all animals. She recalled to us her experience with pets growing up.
“I’ve always had dogs,” Jessica says, “Sweetie has been with me since college. She was rescued off the streets of San Antonio, hairless and in bad shape. Now, she’s the best dog I’ve ever had and is extremely loyal. We just recently rescued Lumi, who was a foster when coming to us. We tend to foster a lot of pups at hour house.”
To Jessica, Rey has played an important role in contributing to the family’s active involvement in the pet community.
“Rey has been great. He wasn’t always used to dogs sleeping on the bed or eating menudo with the rest of the family,” She says jokingly. “Together, we help as many dogs as we can. We work to find them good homes and foster them to keep them from being euthanized.”
When it comes to taking care of animals, Jessica believes there are key things that everyone can do to contribute.
“As pet owners, we have to all do our part, which includes having our pets spayed and neutered, making sure pets are on leashes, and rescuing from shelters when we can.”
“I think Animal Care Services is doing a phenomenal job of helping our community and helping our residents become more knowledgeable as pet owners.”
While the city has made great strides to improve the lives of its pets, Jessica believes that everyone shares the same task of making San Antonio a safe place for animals.
“We have a responsibility to make the lives of our pets better, so that we don’t have our dogs running around on the streets and possibly getting hit by cars, or causing concerns to other residents,” Jessica says.
“The city has a lot of great resources,” She adds, “It’s up to all of us to raise our hands and talk to our city council representatives, reach out to ACS, and take advantage of the resources that are available.”
Jessica believes that as long as we act humane and treat pets and animals as family, we’ll be in a better direction as a city.
“One animal at a time I say! It makes a difference!”