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Animal shelter provides report on vaccination rates and protocols

Thursday, May 6, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

A Council committee heard a long-awaited report on the state of vaccinations at the city’s animal shelter Wednesday, but did little to quiet the concerns of some members of the Animal Advisory Commission and local animal-rights activists, who have criticized the shelter’s policies.


Staff from the city’s Health and Human Services Department and the Town Lake Animal Shelter presented the report to the Public Health and Human Services Committee. Members of the Animal Advisory Commission asked for the report in March after calling the shelter’s vaccination protocols into question.


The report – which was created on April 28 and sent to the committee yesterday in response to a request from Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez – provided much of the basic information those groups had requested. It showed that as of May 3, there were 453 vaccinated animals in the shelter. Two animals were not vaccinated for medical reasons, and 23 were not vaccinated because they were too young.


In addition, the report was the first since the shelter implemented new tracking capabilities into its database that allow them to see where in the shelter newly acquired animals had been vaccinated. Between April 28 and May 3, 198 animals were vaccinated in the holding, or intake, area; four had been vaccinated in kennels; 13 had not been vaccinated because they were too young; and two had not been vaccinated for medical reasons.


According to shelter Director Dorinda Pulliam, the animals that get vaccinated in kennels are generally injured and coming from emergency clinics. They go directly to kennels because that’s where shelter vets examine them


The issue of vaccination location was a particular sticking point for shelter critics. They claim that vaccinations for diseases like distemper have a nearly 98 percent effectiveness rate when they are administered on an animal in holding. Once the animal has been introduced into the general population, however, that effectiveness rate drops to about 2 percent. 


According to HHS Director David Lurie, the shelter is now able to produce reports that show vaccination locations, something its database didn’t do before.


But that did not satisfy Larry Tucker, the chair of Animal Advisory Commission, who first made the request to city staff about the vaccination report. He told the committee that Pulliam had told him and his colleagues, including members of Austin Pets Alive!, that a report  featuring exact times of both intake and vaccination were forthcoming. “We’ve had five weeks of back-pedaling,” he said.


Pulliam told the committee that the issue concerning exact times and dates in the database were strictly a logistical matter. She said two main issues were slowing down the process, noting that animals that are brought into the shelter in the middle of the night when vaccination staff is not on hand often have to wait eight hours before being vaccinated, which skews the intake/vaccination-time numbers. She added that, according to shelter protocol, all animals ready for vaccinations are vaccinated at the same time, after which they are entered into the database, meaning there is a discrepancy between the time of vaccination and the reported time of vaccination. 


“So we’re looking at how we can get the time in there but not change the efficiency in how staff gets it done,” Pulliam said. “Because we don’t want it to take longer, but we still try to get the time closer to the time the drug was administered. It would be inefficient if they’re vaccinating 50 animals and they have to stop after every one to input data. So we’re working on that.”


She told the committee she and her staff hope to have the system taken care of by the end of the week.


Council Member Laura Morrison then spoke to Pulliam and Tucker at the same time to make sure “we’re all on the same page.”  She asked Tucker if knowing the time of vaccination would be sufficient for the AAC. Tucker responded that he would also want the exact time of intake and a “a commitment that (all animals) are being vaccinated on intake.”


“I reject the notion that they can’t be vaccinated because they’re injured,” he said. “What’s the point of rehabilitating them when they’re likely to die of parvo or distemper? (E)very single animal that goes through the door … should be vaccinated on intake so you prevent suffering and you don’t squander taxpayer money,” Tucker said.

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