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Council committee endorses APA move to old animal shelter

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 by Josh Rosenblatt

Over the objections of city staff, the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee voted yesterday to support a request by Austin Pets Alive (APA) to allow the animal rescue group to move its entire operation into the old Town Lake Animal Center site. APA made the request last month after learning the lease on their old site on Manchaca would not be renewed at the end of May.

According to APA Executive Director Ellen Jefferson, her group’s site is currently home to 80 kennels, all of which she says they would need to continue rescuing Austin animals and helping the city maintain its 90 percent live outcome rate.

“APA carries the load of up to 3,000 animals (the Austin Animal Center) doesn’t have to,” Jefferson told the committee yesterday, “and if we lose our ability to help AAC, we may be at 80 percent or less.”

As part of a license agreement signed last November, APA runs an overflow adoption center on the Town Lake site, housing up to 60 animals sent to them from AAC. If Council approves the Health and Human Services Committee’s recommendation, APA would be in charge of 140 kennels on the site.

Chief Animal Services Officer Abigail Smith told the committee she could not recommend the group’s request because APA’s moving into Town Lake would not only limit the resources AAC has to deal with overflow at the new shelter; it would also introduce unneeded competition into an already precarious situation.

“Yes, we met 90 percent in February but it’s not without significant challenges,” Smith said, pointing out that number is down from 92 percent in January. The city has been at or over capacity since opening the new, smaller, shelter last November. On one recent day, Smith said, Austin Center was 51 kennels short.

“That’s impossible to sustain for the facility, for the staff, and for our no kill goal,” Smith said. “We’ve been very creative at finding ways to limp along … but I think we’re at the end of that road. We are going to have to move some animals to empty kennels at Town Lake. We’re out of room.”

Smith said the situation is only going to get worse. With spring and summer just around the corner, she expects intake to go up considerably. Still, she feels the city has the resources, and the Council-approved plan, to deal with the situation.

“We’re only four months into our new shelter,” Smith said. “We’re only four months into the license agreement. And for staff at the shelter, we feel it’s premature to change the infrastructure and the safeguards that have been put into place. No kill is still in its infancy. We’re going to need all the resources we can get. Until we feel that no kill is not just a lucky break from month to month, we certainly wouldn’t willingly invite competition into our market.”

That competition would be coming largely from animals APA rescues from outside the city, primarily the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area – Round Rock, Bastrop, Kyle, etc. Under the terms of the current license agreement, and the resolution passed by Council last June outlining the criteria for finding a partner to operate the overflow adoption center, only animals from Austin can be housed on the site.

Jefferson told the committee that those outside-the-city animals are often the ones that bring in the revenue the group needs to rescue the costly, hardest-to-save animals that APA specializes in (and that city staff need the most help with), such as puppies with Parvo and bottle-fed kittens. 

“As a nonprofit with limited funding, the adoptions from the MSA help us supplement the high cost of the really difficult medical and behavioral cases we take from the city. We depend upon that revenue source to rescue the hardest-to-save animals,” said Jefferson.

Along with Smith, representatives from other rescue groups also voiced their concern about the APA proposal yesterday. Concerned the city would be showing preferential treatment to APA, Prima Mosi, the executive director of Protection of Animal Welfare Services, said, “The city is forgetting that there are a lot of partners playing a role here in making Austin no kill. They pretty much forget us. If we get a part of a shelter we can also take more animals.”

The committee acknowledged that concern, including in their motion a provision stating that APA will “keep in mind” ways to include other rescues groups. If approved by the full Council, the revision would allow APA to move onto the Town Lake site for six months, starting at the end of May. If the group hasn’t found a permanent home by that point, Council could extend the agreement for another six months.

No mention was made at the meeting of a compromise measure drawn up two weeks ago by the Animal Advisory Commission that would have made APA’s moving animals from outside the city into TLAC kennels contingent upon Smith determining that no savable Austin animals would be at risk as a consequence. The measure will go before Council April 5.

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