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Austin Pets Alive seeks complete takeover of Town Lake shelter

Thursday, February 23, 2012 by Josh Rosenblatt

Four months after the city of Austin signed a temporary license agreement with the rescue group Austin Pets Alive to operate the former Town Lake Animal Center as a overflow adoption space, APA executive director Ellen Jefferson is asking the city to amend and expand that contract to allow her group to move their entire operation onto the site.

At Tuesday’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting, Jefferson told Council members that APA will be losing its main headquarters at the corner of Manchaca and South Lamar in May, when the owner sells the property. She requested that the committee recommend to the full Council that they amend the current contract to allow APA to move their entire operation into the TLAC site in May for the period of one year.

Jefferson said doing so would allow the city to maintain its 92 percent live outcome rate, a situation that wouldn’t be guaranteed if the group had to move to a smaller site or operate without a permanent facility.

“TLAC is already outfitted for animals, it’s already sitting vacant, and there would be no cost to the city and no gap in saving lives,” Jefferson said. She also said that a capital campaign is under way to generate money for a permanent APA space and that the group would only need to stay at the Town Lake site until next May, which would correspond with the end of the current contract’s first extension period.

According to APA’s proposal, Council would need to vote to amend two parts of the current contract. The first states that the maximum number of dogs allowed onsite is 60 and the maximum number of cats is 50. That restriction would either have to be increased or lifted altogether to accommodate the animals APA would be bringing from the Manchaca site. That site currently has 79 dog kennels, 75 cat kennels, space for between 10 and 20 puppies with the disease Parvo, and space for 60 “bottle-baby” kittens.

The second stipulation states that only animals sent by the Austin Animal Center can be sent to TLAC. Since APA takes in animals from all over the county, and even from areas as far south as San Antonio, that stipulation would have to be erased.

“I know there’s concern about the fact that we help animals from outside the city,” said Jefferson. “But we don’t help animals from other cities that are high expense. We actually use animals from other cities that are easy to generate funds to help us save animals that cost us more.”

This is a particular concern for many Austin animal-welfare advocates who worry that APA will be bringing easy-to-adopt animals from areas surrounding the city and putting them up for adoption against city animals that may not be as inviting or free of flaws.

“It’s a significant concern,” Chief Animal Services Officer Abigail Smith told In Fact Daily. “The only intent of the current Town Lake agreement is to operate as an overflow and off-site adoption site for the city. I don’t think it will bode well for city animals to have significant amount of competition from animals that are presumably easier to adopt.”

Jefferson addressed the issue during her Tuesday presentation. “We’re open to making it as tight a contract as you want to protect the city, if there are any concerns that we wouldn’t keep helping the city,” she said.

Though the committee members seemed to look favorably on the general idea of the proposed amendment, they did request that city staff open a dialogue with APA and come back with a written response within a month.

Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras also requested that the Animal Advisory Commission weigh in on the proposal before it returns to the committee, possibly during a special called meeting. That raises some questions as two Animal Advisory Commission members, Jefferson and Palmer Neuhaus, are in executive positions at APA and would most likely have to recuse themselves from any discussion or vote on the matter.

Also Tuesday, advisory commission vice-chair Lisa McClain came out in favor of the proposal even though her group has yet to formally consider it.

“There’s no reason why the contract can’t be expanded to allow Austin Pets Alive to move into the facility on a temporary basis,” McClain said.

In the meantime, Abigail Smith said she and other members of city staff need to take a good look at the details of the proposal to see if it would serve the best interests of the community.

“We need to see the financial picture and get more information about the planned use of the facility,” said Smith. “That includes animals coming in from out of our jurisdiction that would be put side-to-side with Austin animals, competing for adopters. We want to see the details and extrapolate from the impact the proposal would have on our current no-kill programs.”

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