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Animal shelter increases live-outcome rates to near “no kill” levels

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Supporters of Austin’s plan to make its animal shelter a “no kill” facility received some encouraging news from the Animal Services Office late last week. In a memo sent Friday to the Council and the Animal Advisory Commission, Filip Gecic, the interim chief animal services officer, reported that live-outcome rates at the Town Lake Animal Center had reached a new high and that the closing of the shelter’s night-drop boxes had resulted in a steep decline in its animal intake rate.


Council members approved an implementation plan in March instructing city staff to increase Austin’s live-outcome rate to 90 percent, the statistical delineation for “no kill” status. According to the Animal Services Office’s figures, the shelter had a live-outcome rate of 88 percent for December.


Though optimistic about those numbers, Gecic was quick to point out that winter is the shelter’s slowest time of year in terms of intake and that adoption numbers were up partly as a result of a series of holiday promotions – including a “Home for the Holidays” adoption fee reduction and adoptions that came with free tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.


“This is our slowest season, so when I say ’88 percent live outcome rate,’ we have to take the time of year into consideration,” Gecic told In Fact Daily. “But during the bigger months in spring and summer, when all the litters come due, we will probably need even more community support to maintain such a high live-outcome rate.”


In addition to expanding and outsourcing its adoption program, the city is in the process of growing its foster program as a way to increase live-outcome numbers. To reduce shelter intake, the no-kill implementation plan calls for an expanded spay/neuter program and the hiring of an animal behaviorist, among other directives.


The live-outcome rate was not the only piece of promising news Gecic delivered on Friday. He also announced that between Oct. 1, when the shelter closed its night-drop boxes, and Dec. 31, the shelter took in 652 fewer dogs than it did during the same period last year. “That’s 652 dogs that were not in danger of being euthanized and that we didn’t have to feed or place,” Gecic said.


The closing of the night-drop boxes had been a source of contention among animal-welfare advocates. Supporters argued that closing the boxes would allow shelter staff to communicate with pet owners who were considering getting rid of their pets and give them the resources they might need to help them keep their cats or dogs. “And we also didn’t want to sanction people just dropping off animals that might be hurt or abused, something that we wouldn’t have any control of because no one is there when that happens,” Gecic added.


Advocates for keeping the boxes open, meanwhile, argued that the boxes, which were available whenever the shelter was closed, provided a resource for pet-owners to drop off animals without having to face bureaucratic red tape or unwanted counseling, thereby increasing the chances that mistreated animals would, at the very least, be freed from bad situations. They also worried that closing the boxes would lead to an increase in “loose-dog call volume,” or calls Animal Control would be taking to find and trap stray animals that otherwise might have been brought in by good Samaritans during off-hours.


According to the shelter’s numbers, however, that has not been the case. On the contrary, Gecic reported that the number of loose dog calls received during the three months since the boxes were closed actually decreased by 100-200 calls per month. “Despite the closing of the night-drop boxes, people aren’t just dumping their animals on the streets,” said Gecic.


Gecic directly addressed critics of closing the night-drop boxes, saying it was the most responsible thing to do given current financial limitations. “In fiscal year 2010, we received 4,200 animals in our night-drop boxes,” he said. “Many had no papers with them, so we didn’t know if they were dropped off by owners or if they were strays. If people want us to stay open overnight, why don’t we get funding to extend our adoption hours, not just have cold mailboxes for people to drop their animals in when nobody’s watching?

“If people are really concerned about animal welfare, give us more funds.”

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