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No-kill animal shelter plan finally on the way to City Council

Friday, March 5, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

After months of heated debate and passionate stakeholder meetings with animal welfare advocates, the question about whether or not Austin/Travis County is going to be a no-kill community is finally going to the City Council.


At a special called meeting Thursday, the Council Public Health and Human Services Committee voted to recommend an implementation plan developed by city staff and the Animal Advisory Commission (AAC) to reduce animal intake and increase live animal outcomes in city shelters, with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of animals killed by 90 percent.


The reason for the special called meeting concerned issues that have been sticking points between the AAC and city staff since staff presented its recommendations last week. At the conclusion of Monday’s PHHS meeting, the committee had voted unanimously to approve staff’s plan but to direct staff to work with commission Chair Larry Tucker to reinsert all the recommendations made by the commission. It was clear Thursday, however, that staff had not done so to the satisfaction of the animal welfare community, particularly when it came to the issue of a moratorium.


Under the terms of the AAC recommendation, the city would “impose an immediate and permanent moratorium on the killing of any animal (except for humane reasons or aggression validated by a behaviorist) when there are empty cages and kennels available.” Staff has been reluctant to support such a recommendation, however, because of issues concerning disease and stress.


On Monday Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Director David Lurie had told the Council committee members that many veterinarians don’t advocate running shelters at maximum capacity because it increases the chances for disease and leaves no space available for possible emergency situations. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez rejected this argument, saying it was merely speculative.


Yesterday, Lurie presented staff’s alternative recommendation, which essentially says that in order to achieve the moratorium goal, certain programs need to be in place in the city’s shelter system. For example, he said, it doesn’t mean much to say that aggressive animals need to be examined by a behaviorist if the city doesn’t employ one. 


Martinez agreed, telling the audience that in order to implement a successful moratorium, the city would need to first hire a behaviorist and implement the AAC-proposed off-site adoption program, which would be outsourced to a local nonprofit group and which would cut down on the number of animals in city cages.


“What we discussed is taking 90 days after Council approves this plan,” Martinez said. “We hire a behaviorist and we launch the four off-site adoption areas in that 90-day time frame, and then we implement a moratorium on euthanasia when cage space is available. It’s a step in the right direction. We don’t want to be euthanizing animals when they can be saved, but quite frankly we don’t have the mechanisms in place to rescue all of them.”


The other committee member present, Council Member Laura Morrison, admitted that she was uncomfortable with the idea of stretching the timeline for a moratorium. “The pieces that staff think are critical (such as a behaviorist and additional veterinary capacity),” she said, “can be put into place very quickly and we can find funding for them.”


The other primary issue of disagreement between staff and the AAC had to do with the fate of the Town Lake Animal Center after the new Levander Loop Shelter opens in November 2011. According to a Council directive, only one building on the site, the Davenport Building, is slated to be used for animal adoption purposes once the new shelter is open. The AAC, however, recommended in their draft plan to make all of the buildings and facilities on the site available for animal welfare needs – adoption, medical, shelter, make-ready – in order to create a “safety net” in case there are problems with the new shelter.


Lurie told the committee that staff’s implementation plan recommends maintaining the Davenport Building and some kennels for animal adoption programs but not setting aside the entire facility. For one thing, he said, staff has concerns about potential infrastructure problems, drainage/flooding problems, and deteriorating structures.


In the end, the committee struck a compromise. Martinez suggested that the city maintain all the facilities at TLAC for a period of six months after the new shelter opens “just in case we have a breakdown or a meltdown and we need that space to keep services up and running,” he said. “Staff will then come to us at that time if they felt it was appropriate to move forward with plans for other uses.”


With that, Morrison made a motion to incorporate staff’s no-kill animal welfare mission statement; preserve all the TLAC facilities for six months after the opening of the new shelter, after which Council will re-evaluate the site; proceed with drafting the RFP for the outsourcing of off-site adoption services and the comprehensive adoption plan; and implement AAC’s recommendation for a moratorium on the killing of animals when there are empty cages.


Her motion was seconded by Martinez, and both then voted in favor of the motion. (Committee Member Randi Shade was absent.)

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