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Austin Animal Center continues to struggle with capacity

Friday, June 18, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

Earlier this week at the Animal Advisory Commission’s monthly meeting, commissioners discussed the reopening process of the Austin Animal Center as the risk of coronavirus continues to decline locally.

In recent months, the shelter has been running out of kennel space for incoming pets – a development that jeopardizes the shelter’s no-kill status.

One of the contributing factors to the kennel space shortage is the gradual return to normal the city is experiencing right now. As people begin to re-engage with the world and return to in-person work, more animals have entered the facility – and up until recently, many coronavirus restrictions were still in place.

As a result, the animal center implemented some policy changes. In May, the shelter began offering adoption events that didn’t require an appointment – the first time in more than a year that appointments haven’t been required.

The center further loosened restrictions when it opened to full capacity to visitors and adopters earlier this month. Masks are no longer required and the center has stopped conducting temperature checks. Adoption fees have also been waived for the time being. This is all being done in an effort to mitigate the space constraints the shelter is currently experiencing.

Chief Animal Services Officer Don Bland told commissioners that the center “went to the health authority and to the (city’s) legal team and they looked at it and they allowed us to open 100 percent for people to come into our facility to help move animals out, since we’re in dire straits.”

While these efforts have helped, the overall issue still remains. The first weekend the new policies were enacted, the center saw 117 adoptions, exceeding its goal of 100 adoptions. But that same weekend, the center took in 105 animals. Last month alone, more than 1,300 animals were brought to the shelter.

Bland told the commissioners, “While we made space, we’re still getting (animals in) at a record pre-pandemic number.”

Another issue the animal center is confronting that’s hindering its ability to fire on all cylinders is staffing shortages. Bland said, “We’re having a hard time. We’re trying to hire staffing for the (Pet Resource Center) and we just can’t – just like every other employer.”

In spite of the broader capacity and staffing issues, the center’s May report reveals a number of bright spots. Last month, the center had 490 adoptions – nearly 200 more than in April and in March. The center also maintained a high 96.6 percent live outcome rate, representing the percentage of animals who leave the center alive.

At two adoption events last month, 20 dogs were adopted – including one who had been in the shelter for almost seven months.

The shelter also remained productive in administering veterinary services. In May, 242 emergency cases were attended to, 322 neuter surgeries were performed and more than 1,100 vet exams were administered.

Another highlight in the May report is community participation. Last month, 79 volunteers donated nearly 13,00 hours of their time to the center, and more than 200 families around the city provided foster care to pets.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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