Thursday, August 14, 2014 by Jenny Blair

Background checks for dog walkers ?

Fingerprinting and an eight-week wait for a background check … to walk shelter dogs?

At Wednesday’s City Council budget work session, Council Member and mayoral candidate Mike Martinez noted that some would-be Austin Animal Center volunteers decide to help elsewhere when faced with these stringent requirements.

According to Chief Animal Services Officer Abigail Smith, all official city volunteers who interact with the public must go through this process, including people just looking to offer homeless pooches some exercise. There’s no background check requirement to adopt an animal.

Martinez said he’d be happy to entertain an amendment to relax the requirement in this case.

In her budget request to the Council, Smith reported the department has logged a third year as a no-kill shelter, making Austin the largest no-kill city in the country. (The term is something of a misnomer, though, with just over 90 percent of animals enjoying “live outcomes.”)

Still, the shelter on Levander Loop is critically short on space. On Wednesday alone, kennels were short 180 slots, leaving dogs waiting in rolling cages. Animal Services proposed adding two new kennels to the Dunkerley campus at a cost of $5 million. The money would likely come from certificates of obligation.

Martinez also asked Smith why Animal Services hadn’t pushed the city for a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance. She replied that a previous attempt had stopped in the Animal Advisory Commission.

There’s already a two-strike policy, though. “On second impound,” Smith said, “you’re going to leave altered.”

The bulk of Animal Services’ FY 2014 $9.8 million budget pays for shelter services. Next year’s budget is slated at $10.7 million. The agency earned about $1.4 million in FY 2014, a slight bump up from last year, mostly from adoption fees.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Animal Services: This is the city department tasked with running the city's animal shelter, providing care to more than 20,000 animals a year, and maintaining Austin's no-kill status.

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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