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Proposal to audit animal shelter fuels debate about choice of auditor

Tuesday, August 9, 2022 by Willow Higgins

Austin’s Animal Services Office, which runs the Austin Animal Center, will soon be audited, per a recent resolution approved by City Council. The Office of the City Auditor will report on the department’s effectiveness and bring in an expert on no-kill shelter policies to help advise the facility’s operations.

Members of the public chimed in at the July 28 City Council meeting in support of the resolution, calling for an objective eye to examine the shelter’s operations, as the facility has been inundated with pets and critically understaffed. The resolution, which was led by Council Member Leslie Pool, was adopted by consent at the meeting.

Since 2011, the Austin Animal Center has been complying with a no-kill implementation plan, which means that the shelter is able to find adoptive homes for more than 90 percent of the animals in its care. But due to recent overcrowding, the center has been struggling to maintain its no-kill status. The resolution calls for the city auditor to identify an expert on no-kill policies and practices to “assist in identifying strategies and recommendations for improved flow of operations, quality care for animals and a successful, sustainable no-kill shelter.”

“Despite the laudable efforts of Animal Services department staff, animal advocacy groups and volunteers to alleviate the strain, the Animal Services Office has released multiple media advisories and memos reporting on a severe shelter space crisis, and in one case in 2021, warned of the possible use of euthanasia,” the resolution reads.

The last audit that the city auditor conducted in 2015 identified compliance issues with state policies, challenges with overcrowding, inconsistent levels of animal care and untimely responses to citizen calls about aggressive or injured animals. While the previous audit focused mostly on compliance, the upcoming audit will endeavor to provide specific recommendations and strategies.

Craig Nazor, the chair of the Animal Advisory Commission, spoke at the meeting in support of the resolution.

“It is our commitment to the principle that we will not kill animals simply because we have run out of space,” Nazor said. “We must always be an all-hands-on-deck enterprise seeking and receiving help from as large a pool of partners as possible. I recommend that the City Council pass this outside audit of the shelter to help us keep our shelter the most humane and forward-looking shelter in the nation.”

But some citizens expressed concern about who the no-kill policy expert will be and pleaded for someone who can be as objective as possible.

“I’d like to request that if you pass this resolution that this city only appoint an expert without ties to Austin Pets Alive,” Sandra Miller said. “We need an unbiased person from one of the northern states that Texas is shipping animals to (when local shelters get overcrowded). Let’s find out how to solve the source of the problem instead of continuously sending our problems to the magical north.”

Nathan Winograd, who helped Austin pass its no-kill plan more than a decade ago, wrote to City Council opposing the resolution. He also posted a statement, which includes recommendations for the challenges the shelter is facing, on the No Kill Advocacy Center’s Facebook page.

“We believe an auditor is a waste of both time and money and, depending on the choice of auditor, has the potential to take Austin further away from solving the ongoing problems at Austin Animal Center,” Winograd wrote. If the city does choose to do the audit, he added, “we believe that the city should empower stakeholders – including rescuers and advocates who have expressed discontent with the poor functioning of the ASO – to sit on a selection committee reviewing choices for that auditor. Otherwise, the most powerful vested interests in Austin, such as Austin Pets Alive or the ASO itself, may force the selection of an auditor to pursue their own agenda.”

Nonetheless, the resolution was adopted. The city auditor is asked to provide details on progress and a timeline for the project by Sept. 21.

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

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