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Animal Commission reviews audit criticisms

Monday, May 18, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

While members of the Animal Advisory Commission acknowledged Wednesday the deficiencies identified in the city’s first audit of Animal Services, they also argued that scrutinizing city animal shelters differs from auditing other city departments.

“Housing animals is not an exact science,” said Commissioner Babette Ellis. “And with an open-intake shelter, you never know what’s going to be in front of you. It’s a very different animal, so to speak.”

Acting City Auditor Corrie Stokes and Assistant City Auditor Walter Persons briefed commissioners Wednesday on what they found after a year of investigation: shelters crowded with animals, inconsistent response times to urgent Animal Services calls and a system of labeling and handling medications that the auditors called “inadequate.”

Commissioners said the auditors’ first finding — animals crowded into shelters — frustrated them. Commissioner Larry Tucker said that in 2009, members fought against the recommendation of David Lurie, then director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, to outfit shelters with kennels that would house multiple animals.

According to a letter Lurie sent to the mayor and City Council in 2009, these larger kennels were more humane and would allow shelters to increase their capacity. Commissioners lost this fight, and these larger kennels were installed.

“Now fast-forward to this audit, where you’re saying that isn’t the case,” said Tucker, referring to the reasoning that these kennels would increase capacity and lower the chance of overcrowding.

While commissioners did not like what the auditors had to say about shelter capacity, they agreed that Animal Services has a problem with call response. According to the audit, the department took more than 12 hours to answer 29 percent of priority calls.

Interim Chief Animal Services Officer Chris Noble suggested that those numbers could partly be due to caller behavior. For example, he said, if someone waits four days before calling about an animal, the incident is recorded as happening four days prior — making Animal Services already several days behind on its target response time.

Regardless, Noble said, these types of calls could account for only some of the department’s delinquent response times.

Ellis said the commission was aware of this problem. “We know it’s been deficient,” she said.

However, while Ellis was willing to accept the auditors’ criticism of emergency response, she was not happy with what she said was a lack of direction and specificity in the recommendations city staff had written to wrap their audit. (Commissioners received an abbreviated version of the audit at the meeting.) These included recommendations that Animal Services draft procedures for handling drug inventory and identify the number of additional staff members needed to care for what auditors said are shelters operating over capacity.

Ellis said these procedures and additional staff numbers could have been sorted out by the auditors themselves. “If you’re being paid by the city to look at this, there should have been some recommendations that say you need to have these following things in place to meet the goals that you, the auditor(s), have,” said Ellis.

The commission voted to form a work group to discuss its issues with the audit, which it will then report in a letter to the city. Commissioners passed that item unanimously, with Commissioner Meghan Wells absent.

 

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