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Austin Pets Alive! poised to stay at Town Lake site

Friday, November 5, 2021 by Amy Smith

City Council overwhelmingly approved a resolution Thursday that appears to give Austin Pets Alive! greater leverage in negotiating a new license agreement with the city to replace the existing deal that expires Nov. 23.

The two sides had reached an impasse over several changes APA wanted in its agreement with the city, which provides rent-free space at the city-owned Town Lake Animal Center on Cesar Chavez. In exchange, APA serves as the city’s primary partner in keeping Austin’s live-outcome rate at 95 percent or higher.

Austin has been a no-kill city since 2010, and APA, a national leader in the no-kill animal welfare movement, has operated out of TLAC since 2011, taking over the space that once housed the Austin Animal Center before its move to the Levander Loop site in East Austin. The long-standing relationship between AAC and APA has had its share of bumps and bruises over the years, but a longer view reflects a partnership between two organizations that are equally committed to animal welfare.

The near-unanimous Council vote Thursday – Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison and Council Member Mackenzie Kelly were off the dais – does not guarantee that APA will get everything it wants in the new agreement.

The nonprofit wants more geographic latitude in rescuing animals beyond the five-county Central Texas region outlined in the existing agreement. APA also wants to revise the method used to determine the number of animals it is required to pull from the Austin Animal Center each year.

The resolution, sponsored by Council Member Leslie Pool, would permit APA to expand its no-kill efforts beyond the five-county area. The resolution also calls for a new methodology for APA to take a “specific percentage” of AAC’s incoming animals while requiring APA to provide monthly reports to the Animal Services Department and Animal Advisory Commission.

“It’s not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination,” APA president and CEO Ellen Jefferson said after the vote. “But it is a huge win … so the fact that we’re 50 percent of the way there is pretty good.”

Leading up to Thursday’s decision, APA had been looking for land to acquire for a new facility in the event it did not have sufficient support from Council to move forward. The nonprofit polled its volunteers to determine if they would be willing and able to extend their travel time to potential sites in the outer reaches of the city – one in Southeast Austin and another in the southwest part of the city.

Still, acquiring a parcel may be a necessity for Austin Pets Alive!, as power lines and other obstacles at the TLAC site limit the organization’s ability to rebuild, rendering the buildable area to a noncontiguous acre.

“A whole bunch of different departments have made it clear that most of the land is not buildable, even though the master plan clearly showed that it was back in 2016,” Jefferson said. The flood-prone TLAC buildings have been in a constant state of deterioration for decades. Assuming the two sides can agree to a revised license agreement, APA would demolish the buildings and rebuild on the strips of land that the city has deemed buildable.

The Town Lake site would largely be used for pet adoptions and administrative offices. Once APA has located an additional tract, it would likely relocate its behavioral center so the dogs would be in a place that’s quieter than the TLAC facility, a move that would benefit the longer-term canine residents with their rehabilitation and treatment, Jefferson said.

Before the vote, Pool noted that more than 2,000 Austinites had registered in support of the resolution, while 54 residents registered their opposition. “No matter where you sit on the spectrum of animal advocacy, we all want the same thing,” Pool said. “We want happy and healthy outcomes for Austin’s animals, and I appreciate the perspective that everyone is bringing to the conversation.”

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