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Council approves measures to make animal shelter a no-kill facility

Friday, March 12, 2010 by Jacob Cottingham

Council voted unanimously Thursday on a number of items designed to make Austin’s animal shelters one of the most humane in the country. Aiming for an ambitious 90 percent live rate, Council members voted to construct an RFP that would allow a non-profit organization such as Austin Pets Alive, Emancipet or the Humane Society to act as a third-party pet adoption agency.


At the beginning of the month, the Council Public Health and Human Services Committee approved the recommendations from the Animal Advisory Committee but added a few items and changes. The committee recommended that the current Town Lake Animal Center site be maintained for a period of six months after the new Animal Services Center is opened on Levander Loop, and include the 90 percent live outcome goal into a broader mission that reflects the full scope of responsibilities and “impose an immediate moratorium on killing any animal (except for humane reasons or aggression validated by a behaviorist) when there are cages or kennels available.”


In 1997 the city first committed to achieving no-kill goal with the original intention of reaching that by 2002. However, Larry Tucker, chair of the Animal Advisory Committee told In Fact Daily said that wasn’t necessarily due to lack of will. “What we haven’t had in the past is other cities to model after. ”With a more concrete plan in action, he believes momentum going forward will remain positive and called the vote “cause for celebration.” He said, “the focus has not been on the animals to this level for many, many years so any focus on animals increasing live outcomes and decreasing animal intake is a great success – but this is just the beginning.”


Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez was impressed with the lengthy collaboration between interest groups and staff. He told Council, “out of 35 items we were able to reach consensus on 31 and the remaining three are just semantics. I think that’s incredible work and something I thought we’d never see.” The resolution included all 31 agreed upon actions as well as the recommendations of the PHHS committee.


Martinez said keeping the TLAC intact for another six months would allow for potential spillover when the new shelter is opened. He said staff had projected up to a 25 percent increase in animals due to the publicity. As he covered the other recommendations, Martinez was met with thunderous applause from the dozens of animal supporters who had packed chambers. He announced the creation of an RFP for a non-profit partner saying, “the bottom line is outsourcing adoptions will be a critical component of achieving no kill.” However, he also cautioned that, “Somehow this plan has to come before this body and be implemented without laying off city employees and achieve no-kills.”


He also recommended the city proceed with a moratorium on euthanizing animals. “Staff agrees it’s a good thing, they don’t agree that they should implement it right now. At the end of the day I think the PHHS committee felt like implementing it right now only does good in terms of live outcomes. Where there is doubt is days when we’re already at capacity, Martinez said, adding, “to me it doesn’t make any sense to not implement the moratorium.”


Dr. Ellen Jefferson, president of Austin Pets Alive was excited at the prospect of competing for the RFP. She told In Fact Daily, “By doing that our hope is a non-profit will come onboard and leverage the support in the community. The city can’t fund-raise, they can’t go out and promote themselves in the way a non-profit can. What we’re really hoping is that by being a non-profit, if Austin Pets Alive were chosen for that position we would use marketing, our volunteer force and the media to get the stories of these animals out, fundraise for their cases and really engage the community.”


She said the city had 75,000 homes looking for pets and that Austin needed to find homes for 5,000 animals a year. “It’s going to take a massive marketing effort but we’re excited to get started,” she said. Jefferson didn’t think that the competition for the RFP would fracture the pet organizations, “if somebody will commit to the same numbers we’re proposing – to save at least 5,000 animals a year, then APA would be supportive of any organization that would do that.”


Tucker was still cautious about the future though, saying, “the hard work has just begun, there also has to be a budget process and a fiscal impact that needs to be vetted… then we’ll have the hard work making sure none of these critical components fail. This is one step, the beginning really.”


Currently projected costs of the no-kill policy are roughly $1.15 million, spread over FY 2011 and FY 2012 – although council passed no funding for the resolution. Martinez and Council Member Sheryl Cole both stressed the potential for savings down the line if intake and costly services can be abated.


“Today the City Council took a major step forward in adopting a plan to achieve ‘No Kill’ status (90 percent live outcomes) as soon as possible.  We will now begin the work of truly determining the costs and savings associated with the plan and make final funding decisions via the budget process in the coming months,” Martinez said.

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