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Monday, November 7, 2016 by Cate Malek

Council votes to spay/neuter stray animals on first impoundment

A proposal that requires that stray dogs and cats be spayed or neutered so they can’t reproduce moved forward this week, despite questions over whether the measure actually addresses the problems it’s meant to solve.

City Council voted 8-1 to pass a proposal that dogs and cats be spayed or neutered the first time they are picked up by Animal Services, with some conditions. Council Member Ora Houston opposed the measure, and Council members Ellen Troxclair and Sheri Gallo were absent.

Austin Animal Services currently spays or neuters animals the second time they’re impounded. This proposal was originally meant to require that animals be spayed or neutered on first impoundment, a change that could potentially affect around 500 animals a year, according to a report provided by Animal Services.

However, because of concerns over forcing pet owners to spay or neuter their pets, Council passed an amended version of the proposal that allows for exceptions if the animal could be harmed by the surgery because of age or health conditions, if the pet owner objects to the surgery up to three days after the animal has been impounded, or if the animal shelter is at or beyond capacity and the surgery would require that the animal stay overnight.

These additions prompted Houston to vote against the amendment altogether, saying that it made the proposal overly complicated. Before the amendments, Houston had been a strong proponent of the measure because of her concerns over stray animals in her district.

“As we all know, Austin is not only weird, but it loves its pets,” she said. “This shows how much people care about not only their own personal pets, but those that are running loose in the community.”

She presented data showing that stray animals are a bigger problem in lower-income communities, such as those in East Austin, which she represents. “To me, it is yet another concrete example of the tale of two cities,” Houston said.

An animal behavior specialist at the meeting said that dogs that are not spayed or neutered can be more aggressive, especially when they’re mating or protecting a litter of puppies, which could lead to stray dogs attacking people. This seems to have been the case for an Austin woman who was mauled to death by a pack of dogs when she was visiting a northern Travis County property on business last June.

But there were also a substantial number of people at the meeting who felt that the proposal would not affect enough animals to be worth passing. Ellen Jefferson, the executive director of Austin Pets Alive!, compared the proposal to “trying to swat a fly with a grenade.” She said that while this proposal may have some effect on loose animals as well as on other problems – such as the abuse of animals for the sake of breeding them and overcrowding of animal shelters – it didn’t directly address any of those issues and could also have unintended consequences for the shelter.

The Austin Animal Commission also failed to recommend the proposal in September because its members believed that the proposal wouldn’t reduce the number of dogs filling up Austin’s shelters.

“I think we’re missing the mark completely,” Jefferson said. “The quality of a solution is directly proportional to how well we have defined the problem, and I don’t think we have defined the problem well enough to create a solution.”

Photo courtesy of FEMA/Jocelyn Augustino, made available through Public Domain.

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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.

Ora Houston: Austin City Council member for District 1

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