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Animal center struggles to quell public concern over out-of-state transfers

Tuesday, March 22, 2022 by Kali Bramble

Animal Advisory commissioners continue to question the shelter’s transfer of animals to partner shelters, but thus far are still waiting for answers.

The conversation began last month, when commissioners issued a resolution to more closely monitor out-of-county and out-of-state transport of animals in a 7-2 vote, with commissioners Jo Anne Norton and Lotta Smagula against. The request for data follows community concerns about the undermining of the city’s no-kill policy via Austin Animal Center shuttling animals to cities with gloomier track records.

Acknowledging that word-of-mouth can breed exaggeration, commissioners agreed everyone would benefit from increased transparency in the form of monthly reports on the movement of animals to partner shelters and their respective live release rates. So commissioners were disappointed to hear little in the way of updates on the initiative since last month.

“That report is in a queue for the IT folks to work on for us,” Chief Animal Services Officer Don Bland said. Asked how long it would take to process, Bland responded, “I have no idea.”

Since October of last year, the Austin Animal Center has transferred a total of 953 animals to partnering facilities, with 270 of those out-of-state. While staff ensured that all of the shelters have no-kill status, there has been concern among commissioners over variations in standards for the designation, as well as the impact of citywide policies.

While the February resolution is ambitious in its demands, the commission found that general communication improvements could work to quickly manage public concern in the meantime. 

Particularly alarming was a rumor that dogs had been transported all the way to Canada, a distance many found extremely troubling.

“It’s true that we are partnering with an organization in Alberta, Canada, but we are extremely lucky to have found this resource,” Animal Services staffer Jason Garza said. “Unlike other facilities, which cherry-pick desirable dogs, they actually allow us to pick which animals to transport. This includes those with health problems and long stays, and these animals will be immediately going to foster homes.”

With the shelter struggling with the dual pressures of overcrowding and understaffing, the ability to transport animals to partner shelters will continue to play an active role in maintaining Austin’s no-kill status. Those interested can expect further discussion at the commission’s next meeting on April 11.

Photo by Ken Billington, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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