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Affordability concerns are forcing Austinites to surrender their pets. The city shelter can't keep up.

A performance called "Dances for Dogs and People Who Walk Them" takes place in front of the Austin Animal Center in April.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A performance called "Dances for Dogs and People Who Walk Them" takes place in front of the Austin Animal Center in April. The shelter is urging people to foster and adopt pets as its kennels are overcapacity.

The rising cost of rent, pet food and veterinary care has made owning a pet in Austin unaffordable for many residents. As a result, Austin Animal Center is seeing more people surrender their pets to the shelter than ever — and it's struggling to care for them all.

On Tuesday, the city-owned shelter began restricting intake because its kennels are overcrowded. AAC is now at 110% capacity, with some dogs living in temporary pop-up crates due to space issues. The shelter staff is urging the public to help by adopting or fostering pets.

Program Manager Kelsey Cler said the center had been struggling to get people to foster or adopt pets this summer. She said the shelter tried pushing short-term fostering, adoption events and waiving adoption fees but struggled to get some relief.

“We have a lot of staff that have worked here for decades, and they all say this is the worst it’s ever been," Cler said.

Cler said pet owners are making the responsible decision to give up their companions or hold off on adopting another if they feel they can’t take care of them. But AAC is struggling to keep up with animals in need.

With the increased cost of living, continued supply chain issues and inflation near a four-decade high, Austin is becoming less and less affordable for all walks of life. Cler said AAC is seeing more surrendered pets as owners are being priced out of Austin.

“Sometimes they have become homeless altogether or they’re having to move in with family and can’t take their pets," Cler said. "Some apartment complexes have things like pet fees, pet rents, pet deposits, and they all add up quickly.”

The Austin Animal Center became a “no-kill” shelter in 2011. Even with capacity issues, the center keeps more than 95% of its animals from being euthanized — a metric required by the city. The shelter only euthanizes animals suffering from health problems or those that pose a serious public safety risk.

Cler said many regional shelters, even if they’re not mandated to be, have chosen to be no-kill as well. But it's been difficult to maintain without sacrificing animal conditions.

“Williamson County, for example, is a no-kill facility. They’ve been facing a lot of the same challenges that we are," Cler said. "Any shelter that's trying not to euthanize for space is having challenges this summer."

AAC is hoping to free up space during its “Clear the Crates” adoption event this Saturday. Every dog available for adoption staying in a crate will be located in a tent on the center's front lawn starting at 10 a.m.

The shelter continues to waive all adoption fees and is providing food, supplies and veterinary care for all adoptions.

Maya Fawaz is KUT's Hays County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @mayagfawaz.
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