Austin Animal Center Runs Out of Truth

Screengrab of a portion of a press release posted on the Austin Animal Services website on May 15, 2012.

In this post, I am going to break down two events in Austin:  The killing of 17 dogs on Friday, May 11 at Austin Animal Center and the threat to kill 23 more dogs on Tuesday, May 15.

The Statesman article, posted late Monday night, May 14 says:

[…]Austin Animal Center euthanized 17 dogs Friday and might kill another 20 today to make space in the shelter, which is 18 percent over capacity.


Officials do not want to resort to euthanization, “but the number of animals we have been taking in has been off the charts,” [city spokeswoman Patricia Fraga] said. “When you have nowhere else to put the animals, it is hard to come up with any other options.”

I spoke with the reporter on May 17.  She stands by her reporting and says Ms. Fraga characterized the killings as being done for space and there was no mention that the 17 dogs were killed because they were medically hopeless and suffering.  Another reporter at the paper published an article Tuesday night, May 15 which states that “17 dogs were euthanized last week because of overcrowding at the Austin Animal Center”.  Again, no mention of 17 dogs who all had untreatable medical or behavioral statuses.

The city’s May 15 press release contains the following phrases and sentences:

…over capacity will necessitate euthanizing animals today…

Approximately 23 dogs are on the list to be euthanized today if the shelter doesn’t find homes for at least 40 pets.

…no more space…

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.

The only reasonable takeaway from this press release is that the city threatened to kill 23 dogs for space.  There is no mention made that these 23 dogs are medically hopeless and suffering.

May 16, YNN:

Just two days after the Austin Animal Center announced an overcrowding emergency, the public’s response has quelled the need for more euthanasia.

“More euthanasia” seems to me to be a reference to the 17 dogs who were reportedly killed for space on Friday, May 11.

On May 17, the city issued a press release reaffirming that it was going to kill dogs for space on the 15th but the public stepped up and therefore the killings were avoided:

Community response this week saved the lives of dogs scheduled to be euthanized in the face of overcrowding at the City of Austin’s animal shelter.

On May 15,  dozens of animals could have been at risk of euthanasia if the Austin Animal Center couldn’t find homes and/or space for  at least 40 pets.

There is no mention that these dozens of animals were at risk of euthanasia because they were medically hopeless and suffering.  It seems clear that Austin Animal Services (AAS) had planned to kill them for space, not for suffering due to untreatable health or behavioral conditions.

There are additional media reports surrounding the May 11 killings and the threat to kill more dogs on May 15 – try Google if interested.  But it’s clear to me from the articles cited above as well as the city’s own press releases that AAS killed 17 dogs for space on May 11 and threatened to kill 23 more for space on May 15.  Killing for space is not consistent with no kill.  The threat to kill animals for convenience is in itself, terribly violent.  I would like to see those in a position of leadership accept responsibility for the killings and the threat.  I am open to hearing whatever explanation accompanies ownership of these  tragedies.  And I hope to hear that this will not happen again as there is a renewed commitment to no kill at AAS.  If I hear those things, I will absolutely support AAS as it resets the clock and aims for another 12 month period of saving every healthy and treatable animal in its care so it can regain no kill status.

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything like that from shelter leadership at AAS.  In fact, there seems to be an attempt to cover up the truth.

May 15, KVUE – 4 days after 17 dogs were reportedly killed for space:

Abigail Smith [shelter director] said that so far no healthy and adoptable animals have been euthanized to make space.

May 16, a response to an e-mail inquiry I sent to the city from spokeswoman Patricia Fraga, requesting clarification on the killings:

None of the 17 animals euthanized last Friday were categorized as healthy or treatable. The only euthanasias that have happened at Austin Animal Center in the past year are animals with significant medical or behavior issues and only after our rescue partners decline to take them.

No healthy and treatable animals have been killed.

These statements can not be reconciled with the reporting on record or the city’s own media releases.  If the 17 dogs killed on Friday were not killed for space, as Abigail Smith says, and were not healthy or treatable, as Patricia Fraga says, one would have to assume they were all killed due to suffering stemming from untreatable health or behavioral conditions.  In my opinion, there is no basis for such an assumption and every reason to believe they were in fact killed due to overcrowding.

I have requested the records for every animal killed at AAS for the one week period surrounding these events.  I will share when I have received them.  In the meantime, based upon the available information, it is my view that Austin Animal Center is not currently a no kill shelter and that there is a conspiracy to cover up the truth of what the facility did to those 17 dogs.  If Abigail Smith decides to take ownership of these killings and renew her commitment to no kill, I will offer her my unequivocal support in her quest to achieve 12 months of saving every healthy/treatable pet and once again make AAS a no kill shelter.

Like many others, I was very proud of the achievements in Austin.  I can understand the desire from locals to want to protect their legacy.  I further appreciate that haters are circling overhead, ready to declare that no kill failed in Austin.  No kill did not fail in Austin.  It succeeded for more than a year until shelter leaders made some wrong decisions.  No kill is still working in numerous cities and towns all around the United States and can work again in Austin.  Anyone who says otherwise is mischaracterizing the situation in an effort to further an anti-no kill agenda.  I am sensitive to the fact that calling out the temporary failure of commitment in Austin may be twisted by naysayers into something different.  I don’t want to take anything away from the Austin advocates who have worked so hard for so long to make no kill a reality for their community.  They have my respect and support.  I am hopeful they will encourage shelter leadership at AAS to do the right thing and come clean to get the city back on track.

But I will not go along with a lie, no matter the source and no matter how haters may react.  No kill is no kill.  I stand with the 17 dogs who lost their lives at the hands of those who should have protected them on May 11 in Austin.  It is an insult to the memory of those animals and to the entire no kill movement to try and re-classify their deaths after the fact as something other than what they were – convenience killings.

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting. ~ The Buddha

20 thoughts on “Austin Animal Center Runs Out of Truth

  1. The No-Kill-Hate-Club members are of course doing exactly what you said they would; trumpeting the death of these 17 dogs as proof of the failure of No Kill. The nastiest are also throwing in some personal insults about Nathan Winograd. I hope that AAC sucks it up and returns to doing the right thing.

  2. I, like you, await a response which explains what transpired. Someone is not telling the whole truth and nothing but. I would rather hear that something totally FUBAR occurred and believe the the commitment to the ideals of the movement is alive and well than for someone to try to bamboozle us into believing we misunderstood all along. I still think about the Alabama 44. Now I have the Austin 17. Let’s hear the real deal, folks.

  3. I don’t see any news about these shelter killings on the blog — why not?

  4. Hello, I do not know many things. But I do not about those who are cruel, abusive, and liars. The Lord’s Sees the Truth. And the things done in darkness will be revealed by the Light. And the pain and suffering caused to any Animal will teturn back to those who committed the horror. Evil is a boomerang – it will go and inflict pain and suffering, once done, Evil comes back to the sender with the horror and blood of those harmed. Evil always always return to the sender.

    Love, linda.

  5. Austin has been having a problem all along with large dogs with behavior issues. Most shelters have traditionally not considered such dogs adoptable, because in order to be made adoptable they need intensive behavioral intervention and training. From what I’ve heard, it sounds like the dogs who were killed fell into this group. I’m not sure the situation is black-and-white enough to say that anyone is “lying” here. It appears to me to be more a situation where, when the shelter was stressed, it could no longer go above and beyond for these animals who, in better times, it might have been able to save. I’m not trying to minimize the problems at Austin — they are in crisis and much of the reason is a shelter that was built in a bad location (selected before the no-kill team was put in place). I just wouldn’t go so far as to call Smith a liar at this point, because the situation is complex and very difficult.

    1. I suspect you are right about the victims being large dogs who needed behavioral work. From my reading, advocates in Austin have been working on this issue.

      But it’s concerning that the city said one thing on May 14th (the animals were killed for space) and something quite different on May 16th (no healthy and adoptable animals have been euthanized to make space).

      This is an after-the-fact reclassification to make their decision fit No Kill standards, and anyone can see they are fudging and fiddling.

      This plays into the hands of the No Kill haters.

      Shirley, thank you for your careful analysis. And thank you for stating that even a threat to kill animals is violent. We have been misled our whole lives into believing that shelter killing is “humane” and “a sad necessity,” when it is neither.

    2. *If* there were 17 large dogs with severe behavioral problems who on May 10 all had a right to live but on May 11 were deemed as all simultaneously having failed rehab efforts with a poor prognosis for additional training, why was this not explained to the media? Why instead was it conveyed that the 17 dogs were killed for space and 23 more might be killed for space too? If they had killed the additional 23 dogs, should we expect to believe that they all had severe behavioral problems too and all reached the hopeless threshold simultaneously on May 15? It’s not going “above and beyond” to be truthful to the animals in your care and to the public.

  6. Additionally, the numbers don’t add up….if “40 dogs are not adopted” they intend to kill “23 dogs). Not a 1:1 ratio, even if one accepts killing for space, which I do not. I would also be curious how many rescues in Austin or elsewhere have been contacted asking them to take dogs.

  7. The only thing that has failed is the City of Austin.
    Let’s just not talk about that the new Shelter was build at a very remote location with difficult access to the public.
    Let’s just not talk about that about 60 dog kennels were scratched when the new shelter was build.
    And god forbid, let’s not talk about the 50 dogs that were pulled Wednesday.

    Of course the “No Kill doesn’t work” Experts will be all over the story without looking at all those details.
    So be it. We know No Kill is working and that is all what counts.

  8. Threatening to kill dogs, to commit the ultimate form of violence, is not No Kill. And it is not “reaching out” to the public for help. When we engage in apologia about what happened in Austin because those who killed dogs and threatened to kill others are our “friends,” we become no better than the ASPCA & HSUS, who put their own colleagues ahead of the animals.

  9. Y’all have more of an idea of what is going in Austin than I do…But what is no-kill?

    If a “no-kill” shelter suddenly puts a few dogs down for space, does that shelter immediately cease to be a no-kill shelter? That’s what I’m trying to decipher from this blog post.

    If a shelter ceases to be a no-kill shelter the moment that it puts any animals down for space, then it would seem no-kill can never fail. But it seems to be an awfully circular way to define no-kill.

  10. I guess I’ve been trying to tell myself that this wasn’t really what it seemed. There must have been some mistake. In reading Nathan’s comment above, I see that my initial reaction was correct. It’s one thing if animals are destroyed because they are suffering or because they are dogs who genuinely cannot be rehabbed, even by experts, and would pose a danger to the public. It is quite another to ride the wave for months only to hit the beach and kill for space. I know that great things are being done with dogs by Ed Fritz and his gang in New York. If I know about their programs, and if this really was a large dog issue, why did no one reach out to Ed? I’m just deflated. I still believe in the equation and the principles. No kill is working in many other places. It’s just disappointing because I know this will be used against us.

    1. I agree. Regarding the “this will be used against us” thing, well, its like anything else. If you are on a diet and you go off it, its important to get right back on it again rather than say “well, I knew this would never work” and get discouraged. So its important for Austin and every shelter out there to continue to be NK rather than just throw in the towel. Esp. since it seems like these animals werent killed for space anyway.

  11. No-Kill is defined as saving 90%+. The reason for killing is not a factor in the no-kill definition. So, a community either saves 90%+ or it does not. It is just numbers when it comes to the definition.

    That is not to say there is no reason for discussion as to why certain animals are killed. I am just saying that the kill reason does not define whether a community is “no-kill”.

    An extreme example would be if a community killed 8% of highly adoptable animals and saved the other 92%, some which had behavior or health issues. That community would still be considered “no-kill”.

    1. While your definition may be accepted by you and perhaps others, it is not the only accepted definition of no kill. I have never believed no kill was about numbers but about animals – specifically, saving every animal possible.

      1. That is the definition that Austin is measured by and can claim to be no-kill by that definition. I believe Reno uses the same definition. If I am not mistaken, Winograd’s blog refers to the save rate of 90% as being no kill.

      2. From Nathan Winograd’s blog:

        “But, as more and more communities are setting and achieving 90% target save rates, it is worth remembering and perhaps reminding people that the fundamental tenet of the No Kill philosophy is that our commitment is to each *individual* animal and that each individual animal is entitled to * individual* consideration. For the healthy feral cat who is killed in a community boasting 90% save rates, the safety net has failed. For the healthy dog who may be untrained, the fact that nine out of ten other dogs are being saved is meaningless. It is not meaningless per se. Indeed, far from it. But it is meaningless to *him or her*. He is entitled to his very life, a right that is not being honored. The 90% goal was never intended to be an excuse to kill either healthy or treatable animals, including healthy and treatable feral free-living cats, so long as the 90% threshold remains intact.”

  12. I totally agree with this! The problem is the numbers are not measured that way and the numbers are what allows a community/facility to claim they are ‘no kill’.

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