Austin in Crisis

The city of Austin has maintained no kill status for more than a year via a partnership between the city shelter, Austin Animal Services (AAS), and non-profit groups Austin Pets Alive (APA) and Austin Humane Society (AHS).  On Friday, there was a catastrophic failure of commitment when AAS killed 17 dogs due to overcrowding.  Today, AAS is threatening to kill 23 more dogs unless 40 pets are adopted by 9 o’clock tonight.  I could not be more disappointed to report this news.

One of the major factors contributing to the overcrowding situation is the city’s decision, made several years ago, to move the shelter to a new location which is very difficult to reach and contains 60 fewer kennels.  Decreased adoptions and capacity were easily foreseeable as a consequence of this recent move, particularly in light of the fact that AAS does not do offsite adoptions. Nathan Winograd advised the city against the move in 2007, and today says:

I discussed how most communities were trying to relocate from remote areas to more populated centers, while Austin was considering taking a step backward by doing the exact opposite, “taking the shelter from a prime location and placing it in a more remote location, … an action which is contrary to the prescription for a No Kill Austin.”

I debunked the arguments made by those urging the move including the ASPCA, HSUS, and the pound’s notorious former director who killed 100,000 animals during her tenure that the location of a shelter should not be based on adoption potential or that fewer kennels in the new shelter were acceptable because the animals themselves weren’t adoptable, and I concluded [a letter to the city advising against the move] with what turned out to be a prophetic warning:

[I]t is clear that the relocation is not in the best interests of saving the lives of animals. I have no doubt that due to the surrounding publicity, there will be a momentary spike in adoptions regardless of where the new shelter is built. But that spike can only be maintained by rebuilding the animal shelter on its existing location. In my opinion, relocating Austin’s animal shelter would be a death sentence for dogs and cats who would otherwise find loving homes.

Despite the admonition, the City approved the relocation.

While adoptions are down, intakes are up – another foreseeable challenge.  Abigail Smith, Chief Animal Services Officer, says in the city’s latest press release:

Last year was a quiet season and we saw significantly less kittens and cats, most likely due to the drought.

The country has been through a very mild winter.  Now it’s spring – kitten season.  The fact that there hasn’t been a drought is a surprise to no one.  AAS should have been planning for more kittens than last year and aggressively marketing animals via offsite adoptions.  They were apparently doing neither.  Remarkably, the city issued a press release on Saturday asking the public for tips on how to handle the increased intakes.  Like, We don’t know how to do our jobs – do you?

In order to gain some perspective on the issues at hand, I spoke at length with Lorri Michel, a local attorney and member of Fix Austin – the group who worked so hard to bring no kill to Austin.  Ms. Michel is very upset about the latest developments and explained her view on how things went wrong while underscoring her belief that all three animal groups remain committed to no kill.  She believes that AAS has come to “rely too much on its non-profit partners” and adds, “The city should be stepping up its marketing efforts.”  She would also like to see Abigail Smith take ownership of foreseeing trends which lead to crises at the shelter.

Ms. Michel does not lay blame exclusively at the city’s feet:

There has been a loss of focus by APA and AHS on saving Austin’s animals.

The article in the Statesman indicates that “[a]bout 20 pets from outside the area were housed at the nonprofit [APA] as of Monday”.  And while the article does not draw this conclusion, it seems obvious that, had those 20 animals not been imported, APA may have had space for the 17 dogs killed at AAS on Friday.  Ms. Michel appreciates the desire to help other communities but believes Austin’s animals must come first.  Both APA and AHS have reportedly agreed to stop importing animals until the current crisis has passed.

The city’s press release from this afternoon does not give me much faith in its commitment to no kill.  Not only have they needlessly killed animals, but they are threatening to kill more within hours.  Worse still, they are setting up the possibility of continued killing for months ahead:

Since February 2011 the City has been able to maintain its No Kill goal of saving 90 percent or better of the animals.  This year because of the high level of animal intakes versus those animals that are being adopted and rescued the City’s No Kill goal will be difficult to maintain for May and possibly into the summer months.

Ms. Michel however was more optimistic.  She believes this setback is an important lesson for the city and for every community interested in saving pets.  That lesson is that no kill is not so much an “achievement” in the finite sense but rather a continuing, daily effort which must be nurtured in order to be maintained:

As sad and absolutely tragic as it is for the animals who were killed, it will not be in vain.

I truly hope that is the case.  Austin has earned a lot of credibility due to the hard work of saving animals’ lives over the past year.  I want to see them get back on track – today, if possible.  And it is possible.  All they need to do is stop killing animals.

If anyone knows who the 23 dogs are that are on the kill list at AAS tonight, please let me know.  I will be happy to help network every one of them.

14 thoughts on “Austin in Crisis

  1. If you are interested in adopting a pet from Austin Animal Services, “all ready-to-go dogs and cats one year and older” are free through May 19. Your pet will be neutered, vax’d and chipped. You can’t beat that with a stick.

  2. Twenty dogs at the Austin Animal Shelter that were slated to be euthanized are now safe after the Austin Humane Society took them in.

    Many thanks to the Austin Human Society and Austin Pets Alive! who are collectively taking a total of 52 pets from the shelter today, which is freeing up much needed space. The AAC is open till 9p.m. today and the adoption fee is waived on all ready to go cats and dogs 1 year and older.

      1. My understanding is that they did kill 17 dogs on Friday and then threatened to kill more which is when AHS and APA stepped in. Tragic, indeed.

  3. Thank you for telling the truth!!! This situation (and others like it) is due purely to poor management and incompetence. How about importing some brain power with creative solutions… of which there are MANY. As uncomfortable as it is… PLEASE KEEP TELLING THE TRUTH. Thanks.

  4. What awesome news! I am afraid it will only be a temporary fix. I was afraid when they moved out and away from their previous location that there would be a decrease in adoptions strictly due to the change of venue………….

  5. This is so sad to read and I thought they might run into trouble this spring. There are puppies and kittens everywhere I look! I hope they are can work together and bring the save rate back up and keep it at 90% or more.

  6. I have been contacted by AAS about a stray that I brought in while on vacation. She is in danger of being put down, I live in on the east coast and am not able to get her in time! Not sure if she was one of the ones saved. Her ID is A625718 and would love to be able to save her.

  7. As glad as I am that AHS swooped in and saved 20 dogs, this is disturbing for me. Many of us put Austin on a pedestal as a shining example of what can happen with the right passion for life-saving. I did not know that they went against advice in terms of the location of the building. I can only hope something is learned from this and it can be prevented in the future. Perhaps a large satellite adoption center in a better area? Some type of checks and balances quarterly to make sure things are on track? I’m not sure where Abigail sits with all of this or who made the call to kill the 17 for space. If anyone knows, by all means share. I’ve encouraged my folks here to interact with those in Austin regarding the equation and I may have to rethink that for now. Not overreacting. Just stepping back.

    1. I think that’s a reasonable and understandable reaction Brie. I am continuing to ask questions and if I am able to get any answers, I will share on the blog. I am operating on the assumption that Abigail ordered and/or approved the killings. Nothing in the Statesman article or the city press releases leads me to think otherwise. I have a number of e-mails out trying to get additional info. It concerns me that people are not being more forthcoming. They should have someone designated to answer inquiries.

  8. Operating a No Kill shelter is a full time commitment, I’m sure. The tenacity of volunteer’s efforts are admirable & deserve a metal for it, but for the city of Austin to just all of a sudden decide to ignore everyone’s work & begin killing for a temporary crowding situation, is totally objectionable.

    Thank everyone involved that stopped the killing & bless all those who continue to keep Austin a no killing shelter.

  9. I just sent emails to friends asking they contact folks who may adopt, hoping not too late, inclusive a dog lawyer in Texas.

    However, Biscuit, wish we had more notice as asked before!!! Contact other No-Kill Sanctuaries in Texas I will list and see if they can take in these dogs before these jerks who would not back there word, no excuses allowed, to not kill, kill them all cause if they have or are, they may find folks who care, like I do, may not take kindly to their going against their no-kill status and not finding a descent way in a descent length of time manner to make other living arrangements for these animals…

    There is the following No-Kill Sanctuaries in Texas that, if contacted by you or them, may find room for these animals among all of them…

    1) THUNDERING PAWS ANIMAL SANCTUARY-Central Texas Animal Sanctuary
    P.O. Box 1555
    Dripping Springs, Texas 78620-1555

    (512) 402-9725

    2) Southern Animal Rescue Association/SARA Sanctuary

    PO Box 813
    Seguin, Texas
    (830) 401 0280

    3) Charlyne’s Pound Puppies

    P. O. Box 772
    Thorndale, Texas 76577
    (512) 832 4101

    4) Dreamtime Sanctuary

    556 Roemer
    Elgin, Texas 78621

    5) Forgotten Friends – Mixed Breed Rescue

    P. O. Box 1395
    Leander, Texas 78641
    (512) 515 0722

    6) German Shepherd Rescue of Central Texas

    PO Box 1555
    Dripping Springs, Texas 78620-1555

    7) Lifelong Friends

    P.O.Box 4100
    Lago Vista, Texas 78645
    (512) 267 6876

    8) Northwest Cat Rescue

    (512) 731 2910

    9) PAWS of Austin

    7202 South Brook Dr.
    Austin, Texas 78736
    (512) 288 9856

    10) PAWS of Kyle

    48 FM 150 E
    Kyle, Texas 78640
    (512) 268 1611

    307 Lindsey, Jasper, TX 75951
    Phone: (409) 384-5352 or (409) 383-1360
    Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday thru Friday

    12) Friends for Life Compassion
    in Action Center
    246 W. 19th St., Houston, TX 77008
    Hours: Tues-Sat 12–6pm, Sunday 12-5pm

    Information line: 713-861-9500
    Office line: 713-863-9835

    Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary
    18430 K-Z Road
    Cypress, Texas 77433



    Other Animal Rescue Groups

    Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (Kanab, Utah)

  10. I just dont get how they can go to having 60 less kennels and in a more remote location and not expect things like this to happen, esp. if they were already worried before the move? But in any case, I hope they get back on track soon.

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