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New Chief Animal Services Officer stresses adoption

Thursday, July 2, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Austin’s new chief animal services officer says the city’s no-kill status was what persuaded her to take the job. But Tawny Hammond told the Austin Monitor on Tuesday that for Austin to sustain its no-kill status, more people need to be adopting shelter and rescue animals.

“If the city of Austin and the community of Austin wants Austin to be no-kill, we need them to be our partners,” she said.

Hammond called it “holding the hill.”

“There was a lot of energy and push and blood, sweat and tears to get us up that no-kill hill in 2011,” she said, referencing the fact that the city has kept 90 percent of the animals entering the shelter alive each year since 2011. Holding that hill, she said, means “not just building new, bigger facilities every year and throwing more money at something, but actually figuring out how to leverage our resources.”

One idea, Hammond said, was marketing. She said she has plans to convert the front lawn of the Austin Animal Center into a play yard, where several dogs can play at a time, often in full view of anyone driving by or visiting the facility. This way, Hammond said, the dogs would get exercise and advertise their own adoptions.

“When the public sees dogs interacting with each other and cats interacting with each other, they can see that animal in their living room playing with their family, or laying on their sofa watching a football game or walking in a park or going on vacation,” she said.

And then, of course, the post of the chief animal services officer is also intended to serve the people of Austin who don’t have pets but might encounter them out in the city nonetheless. The city’s Animal Advisory Commission recently formed a working group to reconsider the city’s vicious-dogs ordinance, to determine whether animals that attack other animals should be treated the same as those who attack humans. (As it stands now, if a dog attacks a human, it is deemed a dangerous dog and put on a publicly available list, in accordance with state law. A dog deemed vicious is one that attacks another animal, and there’s no publicly accessible list of these animals.)

Hammond stressed that moving forward with possible revisions to this ordinance would require dismissing single opinions or single incidences.

“It’s not an aberrant behavior for a dog to use its mouth, nor is it an aberrant behavior for a dog to bite. When they’re fussing with each other, they use their mouths as tools – they don’t have opposable thumbs,” she told the Monitor.

“But what we want to look at is the inappropriateness of a behavior. If we’re looking at the dangerous-dog ordinance, and we’re trying to either put a finer point on that or diversify that or strengthen that, we want to look at science, not one person’s opinion. … Taking things out of context can be dangerous.”

Her current and most pressing concern, Hammond said, was overcrowding in shelters, with animals being held in the hallways and meeting rooms after being displaced by recent flooding. “We’ve got sick animals that we don’t have space for because we are at critical capacity,” she said. “That is paramount.”

Until the end of July, Austin Pets Alive!, the Austin Humane Society and the Austin Animal Center are offering discounted $25 pet adoption fees.

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