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City reaches agreement with group to keep Town Lake animal site open

Monday, November 14, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

This past Saturday morning, Mayor Lee Leffingwell grabbed a pair of ceremonial scissors and officially opened Austin’s brand-new animal shelter. The moment came fewer than 48 hours after city staff and animal rescue group Austin Pets Alive came to an agreement for a partnership to maintain the old Town Lake Animal Center site as a temporary adoption center and shelter “safety net.”  

Located on Levander Loop near the corner of Airport Boulevard and US 183, on the eastside, the Austin Animal Center features 41,400 square feet of space that the city says will provide a safer, more efficient, and more sustainable atmosphere for homeless animals and the people who take care of them.

The shelter’s final price tag was $12 million.  

Despite the new, state-of-the-art facility, the city will be keeping open the Davenport Center on the old Town Lake Animal Center campus open for at least one year as an adoption center to ensure that the transition to the new location doesn’t adversely affect the city’s coveted 90 percent live outcome rate, its “no kill” rate.

In order to do that, the No Kill Implementation plan, which was approved by Council in 2010, called on the city to partner with a nonprofit organization to run the Davenport building as an adoption site for one year. Austin Pets Alive – which has been instrumental in helping the city reach no-kill status – was the only group that expressed interest in the partnership.

Time became a factor in the success of that plan at last Thursday’s City Council meeting, when it became clear that Austin Pets Alive President Dr. Ellen Jefferson and her group’s Board of Directors had problems with certain sections of the temporary licensing agreement between their group and the city. Those sections included wording about opt-out clauses and the definitions of which animals APA will be required to take.

The Council didn’t address the shelter issue until around 8pm, and the day found numerous discussions and negotiations in City Hall between Jefferson, Chief Animal Services Officer Abigail Smith, Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras, and recent Animal Advisory Commissioner Chair Larry Tucker about the nature of the licensing agreement. By the time Council took up the item, the various parties – particularly Smith and Jefferson – had reached an agreement.

“We came here with some concerns about the agreement but we have actually worked with staff during the day,” Jefferson told Council. “We’re really excited about partnering with the city, and we believe all our concerns have been addressed.”

The main disagreement concerned the initial agreement’s determination of which animals APA will be required to take. Under the terms of that language, APA would have been required to take physical possession of any and all animals referred to them by Austin Animal Services, most of which would be those identified by animal services staff as the most at risk for euthanasia.

To alleviate Jefferson’s concerns about that demand, Smith came up with a compromise whereby APA will choose animals from a specific list of at-risk animals that the Austin Animal Services Office will provide on a daily basis. The compromise also lays out a minimum daily average capacity of 30 dogs and a maximum of 60 at the adoption site.

Smith told In Fact Daily that those numbers make sense with the $12,000 APA will be getting paid per month to run the adoption center.

“For $12,000 a month, it’s appropriate to care for up to 60 dogs and 50 cats,” said Smith. “I was going to have to spend a little less to staff the place myself. The minimum number is necessary because there needs to be a guarantee the city’s getting a certain level of service so it’s not just a stipend for work that’s not necessarily being performed.”

Smith also agreed to modify language in the agreement to allow both APA and the city to opt out of the contract with a 90-day warning.  She said that both compromises were worth it to the city in order to create what could be a very effective partnership going forward.

“The city was committed to maintaining the Davenport site either way, but a partnership was preferable,” said Smith. “We’re pleased we were able to reach an agreement with APA.”

That agreement may have been reached but it has yet to be signed. Smith said she hopes to meet with Jefferson this week to sign the agreement and is looking at Nov. 26 as the target date for when APA will take over the TLAC site. Meanwhile, on Saturday, the Austin Animal Center adopted out 38 animals but took in 51, meaning the facility is very close to being at capacity.

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