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Shorthanded shelter temporarily shuts down on Sundays

Friday, January 14, 2022 by Willow Higgins

The Austin Animal Center, which provides shelter for more than 16,000 animals each year, announced this week that it will close its doors to the public on Sundays, beginning Jan. 23. Historically, the shelter has been open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, a schedule it hopes to soon return to. But a staffing shortage has given the shelter no other choice for the time being.

Operating with an overcapacity of animals and not enough staff, the shelter has its hands full. As of Jan. 13, the shelter housed 452 animals on-site, and is seeking to fill a whopping 28 open positions – a glaring shortage further exasperated by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Kelsey Cler, a program manager at the Austin Animal Center, said that they’re struggling to get people to come out and interview for the openings. 

Recently we have had several days where we only had four or five animal care staff to clean and feed the hundreds of animals on-site,” Cler said. The department is encouraging community members to keep pets out of the shelter when at all feasible.

“We are promoting our volunteer program, our Pet Resource Center staff are trying to defer intake by providing resources and education, and we are exploring new partnerships to transfer more of our pets to other no-kill adoption programs,” Cler said.

While Don Bland, the chief animal services officer, called the decision to shorten the shelter’s hours “a difficult one,” the choice was designed to give the animals more attention. Sunday is the shelter’s lowest adoption day: Taking other data points like intake and reclaim rates into account, it was deemed the best day of the week to close to the public.

“Being closed on Sundays will help the animals already in our care because on Sundays our staff will be able to focus solely on caring for them, and we can move additional staff to the other days of the week,” Cler said. “Our animal protection officers will remain on duty on Sundays to address emergencies such as sick or injured stray pets.”

That said, the shelter still fears that the closure may present a barrier for some people to access its services, or could simply make it inconvenient for people at a time when adoptions are desperately needed.

“Because our first and foremost priority is the humane and safe treatment of animals in our care, we are deeply concerned about the long-term implications of the difficulty in hiring new staff,” Cler said.

The Austin Animal Center isn’t the only shelter in town that is having a hard time right now. Last week, Austin Pets Alive! asked the community to pitch in as foster homes to take 50 dogs off its hands, as many of its staff members were out sick with the coronavirus and unable to give the shelter animals the level of care they required. As of Monday, APA was still looking for help with nine dogs, according to KVUE.

Those interested in volunteering with the Austin Animal Center can find volunteer opportunities here. If you’d like to apply for a job with the center, find employment listings here.

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