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Report: ‘No-kill’ policy an asset to Austin

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 by Jack Craver

An analysis prepared by researchers at the University of Denver argues that the benefits of Austin’s “no-kill” policy outweigh its costs.

The decision to no longer euthanize stray dogs and cats has certainly cost city taxpayers, but those dollars do not disappear, according to the report “Legislating Components of a Humane City: The Economic Impacts of the Austin, Texas ‘No Kill’ Resolution,” released earlier this month. The additional employees hired by Animal Services to handle the increased number of animals (that would otherwise be killed) stimulate the economy. Keeping animals alive also leads to increased spending at local pet-oriented retailers.

Perhaps most significantly, write the authors of the report, the no-kill policy reflects positively on the city, boosting its “brand equity.”

“This impact is important as municipalities compete with each other to attract employee demographics that in turn draw new business and new economic growth to their area,” the report adds.

Who is in this employee demographic? “(T)he young, mobile, highly-educated, and innovative professional,” says the report, later noting that a Google executive was quoted as describing Austin as a desirable location for the tech giant because the city is “attractive to a young, vibrant, pet-loving workforce.”

Other parts of the report focus on other benefits of a “progressive animal welfare policy.”

Notably, it highlights past studies examining the positive effects of pet-keeping on the community. For instance, a study in Australia found that keeping a pet has been tied to improved health outcomes, saving individuals and public health agencies money.

In less concrete terms, the report also suggests that pet-keeping leads to more connected communities by providing opportunities for animal-lovers to bond.

“By connecting community members together, either by necessity to achieve operational effectiveness at the shelter or informally through the increased social connectivity that results from an increased number of companion animals in a community, ‘humane’ oriented policies like (the no-kill policy) can contribute to the social and civil health of the city as a whole,” it says.

Indeed, the report notes, love of animals is clearly higher than average in Austin. Not only is the pet ownership rate (63 percent) higher than the national (56 percent) and state average (58.5 percent), but there are nearly as many veterinarians (365) as pediatricians (400 to 450).

The no-kill policy has not been without its critics. Activist Robert Corbin periodically attends City Council meetings to decry what he views as an unethical waste of taxpayer dollars on animals at the expense of people.

The seven-year-old policy has also naturally led to overcrowding at the Austin Animal Center. In 2005, the city put down roughly 7,000 cats and nearly as many dogs. All of the animals that would have been killed in the years since the policy’s implementation now need a place to stay. Thus, Council appropriated $5.5 million to build an additional 100 kennels in 2014, a project that is still underway.

Perhaps counterintuitively, far fewer people surrender animals to the AAC now than before the policy went into effect. Nearly 3,500 dogs were taken to the shelter in 2005, when the vast majority of pets that entered the building never exited it. Last year, less than 2,000 dogs were handed over to the shelter.

The decline in surrenders is at least partially due to the shelter putting in place limits on the number of “surrender appointments” it takes. However, the report also theorizes that fewer people are abandoning pets due to “increased social awareness of responsible pet-keeping practices as a result” of the no-kill policy.

Photo by Jocelyn Augustino (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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