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Chief Animal Services Officer Smith to resign

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 by Michael Kanin

The head of the City of Austin’s Animal Services is leaving to take a position in Kennebunk, Maine. Abigail Smith, who oversaw the majority of the city’s transition to no-kill status, will depart before the end of the year.

Smith, who is from New England, told the Monitor that her new job affords her the opportunity to be closer to family. As for the charged atmosphere that has sometimes permeated her work, Smith was circumspect. She said, “I always tried to act on behalf of the city in the community that I served.”

To a broader question about the challenges of her position, Smith embraced the difficulties of achieving no-kill. “Bringing the largest municipality in the country to no-kill and keeping it there was certainly challenging work,” she said.

After many years of debate, City Council signed off on the City of Austin’s No-Kill policy in 2010. The term refers to a 90 percent live-outcome standard for its animal shelter.

Subsequent discussion of the policy became heated as advocates pressed on Smith, who arrived in 2011, to carry out that mandate. Some of that pressure took the form of opposition to a partnership with Houston’s animal shelter.

Conflict also came as Austin Pets Alive sought and received permission to operate the city’s former Town Lake Animal Shelter. Tuesday, however, Smith called APA a “tremendous partner” in the effort to make Austin a no-kill city.

Council Member Mike Martinez, a supporter of both APA and the no-kill policy, said that Smith’s departure was “a very big surprise.” He told the Monitor on Tuesday that Smith has “been great for us,” adding that she has done “a tremendous amount of incredible work” and that he couldn’t fault Smith for wanting to be close to home.

Austin Animal Advisory Commission Chair David Lundstedt told the Monitor that losing Smith “is obviously a tremendous loss for the city.” Lundstedt noted her work on no-kill and her ability to keep the shelter’s results above the key 90 percent line.

Looking forward, Lundstedt said he would be watching for a replacement who would share “the no-kill philosophy we set out here in Austin.” When asked if the charged environment might dissuade any candidates, he said he did not believe that it would.

“Austin is a great place,” Lundstedt said. “We’ve got a great thing going here.”

Lundstedt said he would look to call a special meeting of the Animal Advisory Commission — not previously scheduled to meet next month — for Nov. 12.

Martinez commented that it “matters who is in the mayor’s seat” regarding who will be selected for the next chief animal services officer job. Martinez, of course, is running for that seat.

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