Thursday, January 14, 2016 by Vicky Garza

Mandatory pet sterilization not recommended to help reduce number of animals in shelters

Austin animal owners should not be forced to spay or neuter their animals, said Chief Animal Services Officer Tawny Hammond in a briefing before the City Council Health and Human Services Committee.

The presentation, which comes just as Austin is about to celebrate five years as a no-kill community, was requested by Mayor Steve Adler in response to calls that his office and those of his fellow Council members have been receiving regarding animal-control issues and shelter overcrowding.

“There is no doubt spay and neuter programs are an important part of the life-saving equation, but the impact on the community varies depending on how it is implemented,” said Hammond. “Mandatory spay/neuter ordinances have the potential for many unintended consequences.”

In cities such as Los Angeles and Kansas City that have implemented a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance, the number of animals entering shelters and having to be euthanized has increased, said Hammond, likely because some pet owners unwilling or unable to comply with the law choose to surrender pets in lieu of citations and fines. It can make them reluctant to reclaim lost pets for the same reason.

“Additionally, it has been shown to make some pet owners less likely to comply with other ordinances, such as obtaining rabies vaccinations,” Hammond said.

What major animal welfare organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States and the American Veterinary Medical Association do support is “effective community outreach to give residents the information they need to make a decision on the topic and facilitating access to spay/neuter services,” said Hammond, “all of which our current programs strive to do.”

Every animal that is adopted or transferred to a rescue partner is spayed/neutered prior to leaving the shelter. Additionally, said Hammond, sterilization services are offered to owners reclaiming stray pets, and on second impound a pet is required to be altered prior to being reclaimed.

Austin Animal Services partners with 140 rescue partners to provide other services.

The city funds spay/neuter surgeries for owned pets through its partner organization Emancipet, and if pet owners need assistance with transportation to a clinic, there are public educators on staff to help, Hammond said. Through this program, almost 8,000 pets have been spayed/neutered and vaccinated, and an additional 900 pets have received free rabies vaccines and their owners have learned about spay/neuter options.

Additionally, through a partnership with the Austin Humane Society, 1,200 stray cats were spayed or neutered and returned to the community last year. These programs, which are based on best practices, are working.

“Austin is a beacon of hope for other cities and towns throughout the world,” said Hammond.

Since the no-kill resolution was passed in 2011, Austin has become the largest no-kill city in America, with Austin Animal Services able to achieve at least a 90 percent live animal rate every month. In December 2015, the Austin Animal Center released 97 percent of its animals alive. Also, the number of animals entering the shelter has decreased from more than 20,000 a year to less than 18,000. All of these outcomes are despite Austin’s steadily increasing population size, said Hammond.

Hammond had also been tasked with providing the committee data regarding animal-related 3-1-1 calls. She said such calls increased 24 percent, from 25,237 in 2012 to 31,501 in 2015. A further increase is expected as the population continues to grow. However, the number of calls for stray or injured animals has decreased — from 16,342 in 2012 to 15,107 in 2015.

Hammond took over as the city’s chief animal services officer in June. She was previously the director of the animal shelter in Fairfax County, Virginia.

No further action was taken by the committee on this item.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Animal Advisory Commission: The Animal Advisory Commission advises the Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners Court on Texas Health and Safety Code compliance regarding animal shelters and on animal welfare policies.

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 City Council Health and Human Services Committee: An Austin City Council committee charged with looking at such issues as income disparity, the regional SNAP program, and healthcare.

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