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Town Lake Animal Center in disrepair, ‘not sound’

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Town Lake Animal Center continues to operate in disrepair, and a recent state inspection has the Animal Services Department and Austin Pets Alive! scrambling for temporary fixes.

Susan Monger, DVM, conducted the inspection this year. That inspection found that the shelter is not structurally sound, nor is it maintained well enough “to protect the animals from injury, contain them and prevent transmission of disease.”

Monger further noted: “The kennels are in major disrepair. Latching mechanisms barely maintain secure closures. Aggressive, highly energetic dogs may open kennel doors upon occasion and escape, possibly causing harm to another dog or human on the premises. The doors are in such disrepair (chain link), it is easy for a dog to catch a leg or paw in the chain link, causing injury.”

Animal Services Officer Abigail Smith, who recently announced that she would be resigning, acknowledged the unsatisfactory rating in a letter dated Oct. 28, 2014, and concurred with the September inspection’s finding that the Town Lake Animal Center is in “major disrepair and that it does not meet the State’s minimum requirements for an animal shelter, nor does it meet the City’s standards of care for the animals in our charge.”

In a memo to City Council members, Smith explains that soon after the move to the new Austin Animal Center in 2011, Animal Services began to use the kennels at the old shelter in order to handle the overflow of large dogs and have been there ever since. Smith wrote that although the move was intended as a stopgap until the new shelter had been expanded, that temporary use still had to meet minimum standards under state code.

An Oct. 22, 2012, inspection of Town Lake Animal Center showed that the facility did not meet the state’s minimum standards. This year, conditions were once again found to be unsatisfactory. Though Animal Services is in the process of constructing additional kennels that were approved this budget cycle, Smith’s memo states that the organization is looking for a temporary solution in the meantime.

In her letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Smith explains that making repairs to Town Lake Animal Center and bringing the shelter into compliance with state and city codes “are cost-prohibitive given the City’s intent to master plan the Lamar Beach property on which the facility sits.”

“Animal Services has secured funding to construct 100 additional dog kennels at its new location at the Betty Dunkerly Campus on Levander Loop and will work with urgency to complete this project. In the meantime, we are in the process of securing alternative shelter for the 58 dogs we currently house at the Town Lake Animal Center and will vacate the kennels we are currently using as soon as practicable,” wrote Smith.

City of Austin Animal Services Deputy Chief Chris Noble said the group was hopeful that construction of the kennels would begin in August 2015, but didn’t have a firm idea of when they would be complete. In the meantime, Noble said staff would probably “limp along temporarily,” before making a massive push to home animals from the shelter to make room for those currently at the Town Lake center.

“The shelter is just very old. It has had a really good run and, unfortunately, it’s at the end of its serviceable life,” said Noble. He said that rebuilding the facility would be cost-prohibitive for the city, which just recently built a new shelter. The city’s new shelter was built, in part, because that option was less costly than renovating Town Lake.

Additionally, Noble pointed out that the South Lamar Beach Master Plan was looking at other uses for the land on which the shelter sits.

“It’s parkland. It always has been, and always will be,” said Noble.

Currently, the city shares the facility with Austin Pets Alive!

Austin Pets Alive! Executive Director Ellen Jefferson explained that the state inspected the city portion of the shelter because it also hosts rabies quarantine. APA’s inspection is not performed by a state veterinarian, and it did pass that inspection. Jefferson said the organization did expect the state to inspect its portion of Town Lake soon, and said it would be seeking a multiyear extension on the use of the facility while it finalizes other plans.

At its next meeting, City Council will consider a ground lease for 5.7 acres of the land at 4805 Winnebago Lane so that APA can operate a no-kill shelter there. Jefferson said that was still being negotiated, and that they would prefer to stay at the current location and rebuild.

Jefferson told the Monitor that APA will be taking part in the master planning process with the intention of having its facility on the current site.

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