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Advocates object to Town Lake shelter alliance with Houston facility

Friday, September 9, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

A failed attempt to share the burden on overtaxed animal shelters may have the city re-evaluating its emergency plans.


On Sept. 5, Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC) accepted an offer from Houston SPCA to take on up to 60 animals to help ease the stress put on local organizations from the wildfires. Though the Austin shelter itself was not experiencing overcrowding, having taken on one pot-bellied pig and one dog, they accepted the offer and arranged the transport of 16 cats and three dogs to Houston.


However, objections to the transfer from local no kill advocates created what Council Member Mike Martinez termed “a mini firestorm,” causing local shelter officials to change their minds about sending animals to Houston.


“For me, obviously, the issue is we need some policy on what is the protocol for …an incident such as this. And even in the spring during breeding season we had a large number of cats, so we need some protocol for when (the Austin shelter) is bursting at the seams and at capacity, we need to have some response,” Martinez told In Fact Daily. “In this case, I think it was all good intentions.”


“My feeling is we shouldn’t partner with anyone who hasn’t already adopted the same live outcome policies that we have here in Austin. But that’s going to be difficult because we’re the largest city in the country that has adopted no kill…So, we may not be able to find partners that have the same live outcome rates but at least have the same policies (and) hold the same values that we do,” said Martinez.


According to a memo from Chief Animal Services Officer Abigail Smith, “Austin Animal Services viewed the transfer as a good will gesture from a sister city and a proactive measure in anticipation of what strain the days ahead could put on our resources.”


Local no-kill advocates disagreed.


“What does that mean? That we want to give good faith to a shelter that slaughters pit bulls? That makes no sense,” said attorney and no kill advocate Ryan Clinton.


Clinton told In Fact Daily that HSPCA has a practice of killing all pit bulls, and there was reason to doubt assurances that animals transferred from Austin were guaranteed not to be euthanized.


“But regardless, even if they saved our animals, we feared that they would pre-kill their own to make room for ours,” said Clinton.


These concerns prompted protests, and ultimately the animals were returned back to the shelter, with the head of the HSPCA, Patty Mercer, indicating that “the attempt was causing more harm than good.”


The Austin shelter wanted to move the animals to create room, should the need arise for more shelter space. That need, under the circumstances, was difficult to predict. While they did not directly take on animals displaced by the fire, Austin assumed the responsibility of sheltering pets that would normally go to the Humane Society or Austin Pets Alive.


So far, the Austin Humane Society has taken in about 81 additional lost or displaced animals that are not up for adoption.


As a result, they are not currently taking in any more animals until they have had a chance to assess the needs of the community, and they have a better idea of how long-term the care of the animals, currently in an emergency pet shelter, will be.


APA has been taking in animals from local shelters that are available for adoption.


APA, as of Thursday, had returned the temporarily sheltered animals from the Bastrop and still had “a lot of capacity,” even after taking on animals from Williamson County. They saw an outpouring of support from the community and record-high adoption rates over the past week.


For now, efforts from community organizations and Austinites have managed the crisis. On Sept. 14, the Animal Advisory Commission will address emergency preparedness and displacement of homeless animals, in light of what people are willing to chalk up as a misstep.


“I do fully support TLAC and Abigail Smith; I do,” Clinton told In Fact Daily. “I want to make that clear. They have done an amazing job, and I think that this was a mistake, and it may have even been an honest mistake.”


The Council committee on health and human services may also hear about the issue when it meets, also scheduled for Sept. 14.

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