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Austin's Animal Shelter Achieves 'No Kill' Status

The City of Austin and the animal welfare community are announcing today that for the first time ever, the city’s animal shelter achieved “no kill” status for the month of February. That comes one year after the City Council approved the No-Kill Implementation Plan.

Staff at Town Lake Animal Center seem pretty happy these days. Ian Hallett, the shelter’s animal care supervisor, says that’s because 92% of the animals taken in at the shelter last month left it alive. That means only 8% were euthanized. 

“It’s understood that 100% of the animals will not leave alive because of issues of suffering, if they’re hit by a car and hurt really bad, or if they’re too dangerous to release to the community. So 90% is kind of the target,” Hallett said.

At this time last year, more than twice as many animals were being euthanized. But in the months since, with the advent of the Implementation Plan, animal welfare advocates, workers and volunteers have been busy working to reduce the number of animal deaths. Hallett says it’s been a valiant community effort.

“Town Lake has increased the number of adoptions and returns to owners that they’ve done. The rescue groups, particularly Austin Pets Alive and Austin Humane Society have increased the number of animals they’ve taken,” Hallett said.

Citywide education and awareness campaigns have helped boost adoptions rates. Prevention programs have lowered intake. Programs like EmanciPET and Animal Trustees of Austin are treating more sick animals so they have a better chance of being adopted. A total of $800,000 dollars in new city funding is also reaping benefits. The shelter has hired an additional veterinarian to get more animals checked out and into the adoption program faster.

New funding has also paid for the shelter’s foster care program to hire more coordinators who can find temporary homes for vulnerable kittens and puppies. Another important change is the moratorium.

“The moratorium says that we will not euthanize animals if there is space in the shelter to house them,” Hallett said.

Reaching the “no kill” goal has been a balancing act of housing some animals longer and moving others out sooner. Hallett recalls his days as a volunteer loading euthanized animals on a truck to illustrate the change.

 “I remember the days when it took six people fifteen minutes to do all the loading. So that’s one of the biggest things, is for the truck to show up and there’s nothing in the freezer,” Hallett said.

But a live outcome rate that surpassed the 90% benchmark last month doesn’t necessarily mean every other month will see such success. Lisa Starr is with the Austin Humane Society.

 “Historically over the next few months we have seen an increase in the numbers of kittens that come in, and then in the summer time there are more dogs,” Starr said.

She says that’s because we’re coming up on breeding season. Which means these next few months could be very telling ones. But not everyone is so cheery about February’s triumph. Delwin Goss is a longtime animal welfare activist. 

“The new shelter director has already been quoted in either the Chronicle or the Statesman that the Austin community is going to have to kick up a lot more money if they want to become a no kill city,” Goss said. “Well good God, we’re shutting down schools, we’re shutting down swimming pools, and we’re shutting down programs for kids. And they want to put more money to [pet] adoptions?”

Keeping up the enthusiasm and hard work that's bred success for Austin's plan to improve outcomes for animals that enter the shelter is going to be a tough job. That's going to be one of the big challenges ahead for the shelter’s new director. Abigail Smith will take up that task on March 15.