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Animal advocates decry Austin Animal Center intake policy changes

Tuesday, July 7, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

In a video making the rounds on social media, a woman is standing near the entrance to the Austin Animal Center with a medium-sized dog on a leash. She’s telling a staff member she cannot keep the dog, who is a stray, and that she has already completed the online form to schedule an appointment to bring in a found pet.

The staff member tells the woman that the dog seems well-fed and socialized, and therefore should not be taken to the shelter where she will not “receive proper care.”

“If you can’t keep her, and if no one on your NextDoor or Austin Lost and Found Pets can hold on to her, you probably should just let her go where you found her,” the staff member says in the video. “If it’s relatively safe, then she’s going to go back home.”

More than two dozen speakers signed up for the citizen comment period at yesterday’s Animal Advisory Commission meeting to share their concerns about changes to the Austin Animal Center’s intake policy during Covid-19.

The speakers, many of them former or current AAC volunteers, offered further anecdotal evidence that center staff and 311 operators are encouraging people to leave homeless pets where they find them, instead of bringing them to the shelter, which is now accepting stray animals on an appointment-only basis (unless the animal is sick or injured).

Multiple speakers said that the city’s shelter services are essential, and therefore the department shouldn’t restrict intake at all. The restricted intake has left dogs vulnerable to being hit by cars or winding up “starving” in the streets.

Chief Animal Services Officer Don Bland, in a follow-up to his June 22 memo to City Council, told the commission that the shelter is not closing its intake, and that its post-Covid-19 standard operating procedures will be the same as they were pre-Covid.

“We are trying to do the best we can to keep our employees safe and to take care of the animals that need our help,” he said.

Bland told the commission that the 311 operators telling residents to return strays to where they were found on the street was the result of a “miscommunication” that should now be remedied. Currently, AAC is taking strays through a limited number of appointments, which could mean that a good Samaritan could have to house the dog – possibly for multiple weeks – until the shelter is able to process it.

AAC Program Manager Mark Sloat told the commission that finding ways to limit intake are imperative, because the shelter “cannot continue to take in an exorbitant amount” of animals and maintain its services.

The shelter is continuing its reopening plan despite Mayor Steve Adler’s new executive order putting back into place social distancing requirements. Volunteers, who have been banned from AAC’s premises since the quarantine began, were allowed to return in a limited capacity yesterday in order to walk dogs.

“We know with our staff shortage, and with less animals leaving than are coming in, we need assistance, so we continue to move forward with allowing the volunteers to come in,” Bland said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Several commissioners asked clarifying questions, but didn’t take any formal action. Chair David Lundstedt said that while the commission meeting slots are limited, he will work to schedule another meeting in early August.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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