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Animal shelter workers demand better conditions in wake of vote of no confidence

Thursday, July 21, 2022 by Veronica Apodaca

The Animal Advisory Commission discussed improvements needed at the Austin Animal Center at its July 11 meeting. The discussion came after the commission’s vote of no confidence in AAC Director Don Bland on June 13.

The meeting began with comments from AAC staff and volunteers stating that the vote was not enough to fix ongoing issues at the shelter.

“It has now been two months since concerns about AAC’s entire leadership team, the toxic work environment they’ve created and encouraged, and the overall state of the shelter were explicitly brought to your attention,” former AAC volunteer Emily Wells said in her statement to the commission. “This management team has yet to be held accountable, nor have they done anything to help better the state of affairs at the shelter and relationships with stakeholders.”

Wells and Kayla Murray, who has also previously volunteered at AAC, used their time in front of the commission to read AAC staff’s comments from the 2021 Listening to the Workforce survey. Among the concerns stated were an insufficient number of employees for the shelter, as well as staff burnout and high staff turnover.

Current AAC volunteer Gina Destaffany stated that the lack of staff meant that the volunteers were left with a heavy workload and not enough time to give all the dogs in the shelter the care that they needed, giving the example of dogs in crates having no staff support on Sundays.

“Volunteers were essentially told these dogs were solely their responsibility. What this means in reality is that these dogs, who were entrusted to the care of Don Bland and the AAC, could very likely go unfed, without water, and left to lay in their own waste in a small crate for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours,” she said.

Commissioner Luis Herrera, who has worked at the shelter for 11 years, also expressed concern about the staff shortage. In addition to lack of staff, the shelter is running low on space. While it is not recommended for dogs to share kennel spaces, it has become necessary due to the large number of dogs entering the shelter.

Bland, who also attended the meeting, stated that AAC is currently working to fill staff vacancies. Bland said that 12 of 17 full-time positions and seven of 11 temporary positions are currently in the process of being filled as AAC moves forward with interviews and background checks for potential employees.

“Each month they’re making great progress, but … it takes excessive amounts of time to get someone actually through the whole process,” he said. Bland also said the AAC is still experiencing staff members being out due to Covid-19.

Since the resolution approving the vote of no confidence moved to City Council after the June 13 meeting, speakers urged the commission to continue communicating their concerns about the state of AAC to their Council members.

In addition to working with City Council, Herrera hopes that both staffing and space issues can be addressed through community outreach, including increased use of social media.

“We, as a shelter, are not the answer,” he told the Austin Monitor. “If we’re not … by the side of the community, we’re not achieving anything,”

Photo by SteelMaster Buildings made available through a Creative Commons license.

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