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Austin Animal Center reopens on-site adoptions

Friday, June 5, 2020 by Savana Dunning

Starting this month, the Austin Animal Center will again offer on-site adoptions as part of the city’s phased effort to reintegrate city employees back into their physical workplaces.

City Manager Spencer Cronk released a memo May 29 on the reintegration plan for four city departments: Animal Services, Parks and Recreation, Austin Public Library and the Austin Code Department. According to the memo, data and work environments will be assessed every 28 days to see whether the city can add more employees to the workplaces, but the plan is subject to change as the situation evolves.

Austin Animal Center plans to offer on-site adoptions by appointment only, with two appointments per hour, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Sunday, “if staffing levels allow.” Jennifer Olohan, AAC spokesperson, said the number of appointments is limited by the occupancy guidelines set by the state for reopening businesses.

“AAC requires quite a lot of staff to be onsite to take care of the animals every day, which eats up our occupancy allowance,” Olohan said in an email. “As those occupancy percentages increase, we will be able to accommodate more customers into the shelter and facilitate more adoptions.”

An assigned staff member will guide potential adopters around the shelter to meet animals. Both visitors and staff will observe social distancing and wear face coverings.

Since closing on March 16, the center has focused on foster-based adoptions and adoption appointments conducted outdoors, where adopters select the animals they’d like to meet on the center’s website before the appointment.

From March 1 to June 1, AAC has facilitated 734 adoptions, which is less than half the 1,895 adoptions from the same time period time last year, according to the center’s data.

Unlike AAC, the nonprofit shelter Austin Pets Alive! has seen an uptick in adoptions compared to the same time last year. Between March 1 and June 1, 3,328 dogs and cats were adopted, up from 2,112 pets last year.

Since Austin Pets Alive! is not government-funded, the shelter has not had to limit operations in the same way AAC has, said Katera Berent, APA spokesperson. The organization has also eliminated walk-in adoptions in favor or appointment-only adoptions, with no limits on how many per hour. Instead, the appointments are staggered and the waiting room is closed to ensure social distancing requirements are adhered to.

Austin Pets Alive! has also increased its animal intake to aid nearby shelters. Austin Animal Center has had to pause animal intake, only accepting sick or injured animals, so the city’s Animal Services Office and Austinites have relied on social media like Nextdoor to post found pets and request microchip scans. Olohan said reports and follow-up calls and emails show that more than half of lost animals have been reunited with their owners since the shelter was closed. That’s a boost from the 20 percent chance lost animals that have been turned in to the shelter have of being reunited with their owners, based on data the center has collected.

“This process is key in preventing our shelter from getting overwhelmed, as we usually are operating at capacity, with very few (and sometimes zero) open kennels for incoming animals,” Olohan said. “We hope our community will continue to help us keep animals with the families who love them.”

The Animal Services Office will be able to reassess its ability to add more adoption appointments every two weeks. Austin Animal Center also plans to start rescheduling volunteers – who were sent home from the shelter on March 16 – in July. Olohan said on-site staff have been sharing photos and videos of shelter animals with volunteers to keep everyone feeling connected.

“It has been tough on volunteers and staff alike, as we all form bonds with the animals and we’ve been without those interactions for two-and-a-half months,” Olohan said. “We know our volunteers are itching to get back, and staff really can’t wait to have them back, too. But keeping everyone safe and healthy has to be our first priority, so we will be following occupancy guidelines set by the state and implement an incremental reintegration of volunteers.”

This story has been changed since publication to correct the date of the memo. Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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