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Council committee examines Animal Services audit

Friday, May 1, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Unlike the majority of city audits, the troubling Animal Services audit did not come with an immediate plan of action from the department. However, City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee did find some answers to the many questions its members asked at Thursday’s meeting.

Animal Services concurs with the findings in the audit. However, Auditor Corrie Stokes explained that there are “a lot of moving parts” in this case and that some of the solutions would require Council approval. Because of this, along with the department currently not having a permanent director, officials plan to return to the committee in June with a detailed proposal.

However, there were some answers for committee members concerned about the audit and its findings. For example, the department does not expect the $5.4 million kennel project designed to help alleviate consistent overcrowding at the new Austin Animal Shelter to be complete until August 2017 at the earliest.

Acting Chief Animal Services Director Chris Noble said that, in the interim, he had been working to establish a temporary kenneling facility, but construction will take 18 months, making it an unreasonable option. He told the committee he had also looked into renting storefronts in other parts of town to help increase adoptions. However, he said, there just is not enough staff to establish another off-site facility.

Animal Services has received a grant to create a mobile adoption vehicle, which it is in the midst of setting up.

Currently, the kennel construction project is in the Request for Qualifications process, which will come before Council next month.

Until then, Noble said it is “a matter of necessity” to keep the substandard kennels at Town Lake Animal Shelter open, even in their current condition. He was forthright about how he felt about that, saying, “There’s no criminal penalty to it; however, it’s not good.”

Noble explained that in April a review of the Town Lake facility found that it would cost $4.4 million to bring it up to code. Use of the facility remains subject to the Lamar Beach Master Plan process, however, which calls for a 5,000-square-foot adoption facility.

Council Member Leslie Pool noted that there was “significant community support” for retaining a shelter on the land, which is contemplated in the master plan.

During the committee discussion, it also became clear that Noble was not satisfied with long response times for animal control calls that came in after hours. Though responses currently must be delayed until the next day because no one is working, Noble said that having 24-hour call monitoring and response is a goal.

“We’re a growing city,” said Noble, “and it doesn’t stop during the night.”

Photo by Erick Pleitez (Rejoyce over touch) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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