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Council agrees to multi-year TLAC agreement with Austin Pets Alive

Friday, April 27, 2012 by Josh Rosenblatt

When dozens of representatives and supporters of nonprofit animal-rescue group Austin Pets Alive! showed up at City Hall yesterday, they were merely hoping Council would approve their request to move their operations into the old Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC) for a little more than a year. What they got instead was an agreement by the city to negotiate a multi-year deal for the site.

APA’s request for full use of the Town Lake site, which first came to the attention of Council members this past February, has been on an expedited schedule, as the group will be losing the lease on their current Manchaca site, which houses about 80 kennels, in May. APA currently has a license agreement with the city to run an overflow adoption facility on a third of the TLAC site. Under the terms of that agreement, no fewer than 30 and no more than 60 of the dogs from the city’s Levander Loop shelter can be kept at TLAC at any one time. APA has been running that site since November.  

That original license agreement stipulated that APA could remain on the TLAC site for one year, with an option for a six-month extension, meaning the agreement would have expired in May 2013. APA President Dr. Ellen Jefferson told Council yesterday that her group was asking that the agreement be amended simply to state that APA could take over an additional portion of the TLAC site for that same time period. She made no mention of an extension in the length of the contract.

Instead, it was Council Member Mike Martinez, a longtime supporter of APA, who proposed negotiating a multi-year deal with the group beyond the May 2013 boundary of the current license agreement.

The promise of a multi-year agreement, which still needs to be negotiated by staff and APA representatives, is dependent on APA agreeing to certain provisions. Those include committing to saving all healthy and treatable bottle-fed kittens, Parvo puppies, and small dogs on the city’s at-risk list; committing to saving an additional five behaviorally challenged large dogs per month (traditionally the hardest animals for Austin Animal Center to save); and committing to refurbishing the TLAC kennels and cages to meet Texas animal shelter health and safety standards. (All of these provisions are subject to revision.)

Jefferson said she would agree to those terms. Smiling after the meeting she told In Fact Daily, “I don’t know why Council Member Martinez came up with the (multi-year agreement) idea. This is surprising to me but really good.”

Under the terms of the amendments proposed by APA, both animals sent from the Austin Animal Shelter and animals rescued by APA from throughout the Austin Metro Statistical Area will be legally permitted to be housed on the TLAC site. In addition, new language stresses that AAC’s “animal inventory of ’at-risk’ animals on the Town Lake premises may not fall below the minimum daily dog inventory” of 30 agreed upon in the original license agreement. Jefferson said her group wanted to assure City Council that Chief Animal Services Officer Abigail Smith would still have the authority to choose which dogs would be transferred to TLAC.

“We wanted the city to feel comfortable that we would be focused on the ‘at-risk’ animals and not just any animal at AAC,” Jefferson said.

The new $12 million animal center on Levander Loop was built, oddly enough, to house 60 fewer dogs than the old TLAC shelter. As a consequence, the shelter has been at or over capacity nearly every day since it opened last November. This has raised concerns among staff that bringing animals from outside Austin onto Austin-owned land could make it more difficult to adopt Austin animals and maintain the city’s 90 percent live-outcome rate.

Smith reiterated those concerns to Council yesterday.

“I still have concerns that a substantial numbers of lives that APA saves are outside the Austin Travis County area where we service,” Smith said. “I still have concerns that bringing animals into our community to compete for adoptive homes is potentially challenging for us.”

But Martinez pointed out that APA has been instrumental in helping Austin maintain its no kill status over the past year even though it has a policy of rescuing dogs from all over the area.

“We’ve been able to achieve no kill while (APA was) taking animals from outside of Austin,” he said.

Staff will bring the negotiated agreement back for Council approval on May 24.

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