Thursday, April 30, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Audit reveals trouble in city’s animal shelters

A city audit of Austin Animal Services has revealed serious problems within the department and its shelters.

The audit found that the department does not have sufficient resources to meet its 90 percent live outcome goal while maintaining state requirements and industry best practices.

The city conducted the audit from October 2012 through November 2014. It found that its animal shelters are overcrowded, the animals in those shelters are not consistently receiving the recommended level of care and the department does not adequately monitor medications, “which may result in noncompliance with federal requirements or possible misuse.” Auditors also found the city often did not address police requests for assistance and citizen calls about aggressive and injured animals in a timely fashion.

In each month from October 2013 through August 2014, the animal shelter exceeded its capacity by an average of between 32 to 96 dogs. Though the city opened a new shelter in 2011, it has only two more kennels than the old facility. This year’s budget has earmarked $2.8 million for more shelters, but those kennels have not yet been built.

According to the audit, that overcrowding has resulted in animals being housed in temporary cages for long periods of time and grouping together animals that would otherwise remain separate due to issues like aggression.

Overcrowding also forces the department to utilize the now-substandard Town Lake Animal Shelter. As reported by the Austin Monitor last year, the state placed the Town Lake center on probation in 2012 because it did not comply with its requirements. In 2014, the shelter failed additional inspections, but at the time of the audit continued to house 60 dogs.

A September 2014 inspection of the facility found significant structural failings, kennels in major disrepair, doors in disrepair, an inadequate ventilation system and cracked floors that prevented adequate cleaning and sanitation.

The city’s own Code Department has also cited the facility for the presence of asbestos and structural code violations.

To make matters worse, the city has understaffed the kennels by 33 percent, which means the existing staff is unable to meet National Animal Care and Control Association standards. Instead of the 1,438 hours that the organization recommends, the shelter is able to provide only 965 hours.

As explained in the report, “Animal Services employees indicated feeling overwhelmed by the consistent overcrowding in the shelter, which increases the risk of negligence and increased safety issues. The continued overcrowding, combined with prolonged use of the substandard Town Lake Animal Center, could impede Animal Services’ ability to achieve its mission, which is to provide a safety net for lost and homeless animals in the community, and promote the humane and compassionate treatment of animals.”

The audit makes it clear that quite a bit is at stake:

“Continued noncompliance with state requirements could eventually lead to the City losing its license to operate the facility. In addition, by not following safety standards and best practices, Animal Services increases the risk of injury or death to animals and people, including employees and volunteers.”

As part of the report, auditors also looked at call response times, which were also found lacking. Last year, the department received 13,725 active emergency calls; 29 percent of the time, Animal Services did not respond to them until 12 hours or more had passed.

However, the department responded in a timely manner to most active emergencies, with an animal control officer arriving within two hours 54 percent of the time. Active emergency calls include those related to aggressive animals, injured animals and police requests for assistance.

The average response time for nonactive emergency calls was 54 hours.

The report explains that part of the problem — if not the entire problem — is that the department does not dispatch officers for calls received after 5 p.m. until the next morning.

According to the audit, record-keeping for calls is also problematic. Data for response times was missing for 21 percent of the calls received. And, though the department did not respond at all to 7 percent of calls received during the audit, there was no documentation explaining why.

Additionally, the difference between active emergency calls and other kinds of calls remains indistinct, with no written criteria. This led to animal services dispatch classifying calls in an inconsistent manner.

Finally, the audit found that there has been inadequate monitoring and safeguarding of medication. The findings include a lack of accounting for all controlled drug inventory. Donated drugs and some expired drugs were not included in the inventory, and required inventory counts have not taken place.

A memo from acting Chief Animal Services Director Chris Noble says that he concurs with the findings and recommendations of the audit and will work to “develop detailed strategies to address the recommendations” by June 2015. A representative for the department told the Monitor that, at this point, officials had no comment and were currently in the process of reviewing the audit.

City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee will also review the audit at today’s meeting.

 

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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 Animal Shelter: This shelter is the official shelter of the city of Austin, opened in 2011. It is located in East Austin on Levander Loop.

Austin City Council Audit and Finance Committee: a sub-group of the Austin City Council. It's members are charged with oversight of city fiscal operations and anything that falls under the purview of the Office of the City Auditor.

Office of the City Auditor: This city department is created by the city's charter in order to establish and ensure "accountability transparency, and a culture of continuous improvement in city operations."

Town Lake Animal Shelter: Former city of Austin Shelter, city overflow shelter and the home of Austin Pets Alive!

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