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More animals must leave the shelter before Austin Animal Center will accept them again

A dog inside a kennel with its paw on the gate
Patricia Lim
KUT News
The Austin Animal Center is overcapacity and is not accepting animals at its shelter, except in emergency situations.

The Austin Animal Center has stopped accepting any more animals until further notice.

Jason Garza, deputy chief animal services officer, said the shelter has so many dogs and cats that it's overcapacity. As of Tuesday, there were 683 animals on site, including about 300 medium to large dogs. The shelter has only 252 dog kennels.

Garza said the center is doing everything it can to make space for the animals.

“It's a game of Tetris played every morning,” he said.

AAC closed intake in hopes that more animals would be adopted and fostered than accepted into the shelter.

“On average, we were seeing about 14 more animals coming in then going out each week," Garza said. "So we need to get animals out in order to comfortably intake animals again.”

The center is only taking in animals with a life-threatening injury or illness, or if they present a clear public safety risk. They must be bought in by an animal protection officer, city officials said.

A space problem

At the Southeast Austin facility, puppies and kittens are coupled together — if they can stand it. Volunteers run around feeding the animals, and cleaning crates and litter boxes. Some take dogs out for walks.

A cat reaches its arm through a metal crate. A sign on the crate says, "Stop! I can't be pet yet."
Patricia Lim
KUT News
Animals had been coming into the shelter faster than they were going out.

This time around, animals aren't being held in pop-up crates in office and meeting spaces. The city announced earlier this year it would move away from the practice because it did not comply with state law.

But Garza said that has exacerbated the space problem. Now the shelter must place large and medium dogs in boarding facilities. There are currently 24 dogs living in local facilities — at a cost of $5,000 to $6,000 per week.

The cats are being held in temporary kennels and open play spaces. Many of them are grouped together.

Solutions to overcrowding

Garza said there is a push for adoptions, fosters and rescue transfers.

Adoption fees are being waived until further notice. You can browse available pets online or visit the shelter daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. to see the animals in person.

AAC is looking for fosters to host animals temporarily. The program offers a range of time commitments. Fostering helps free up space and gives shelter staff a sense of how an animal interacts in a home.

To get animals out of the shelter, the center is also offering rescue groups $50 per cat and up to $500 for each dog they take.

One solution to overcrowding is preventing animals from being surrendered. Garza said the center helps families financially with pet deposits, food and other items to keep them in their homes.

“Where we can help, we do,” Garza said. “We try to do everything we can to keep that pet with its owner and keep that family together.”

While intake is paused, residents are still encouraged to call 311 if they see a stray dog. A dispatcher will advise them and assign an animal protection officer to the case. Garza said sometimes pets get loose and helping reunite them with their families instead of bringing them to a shelter can go a long way. The center’s Lost and Found Pet website has guidance on how to do that.

Reconsidering no-kill

To combat the chronic overcapacity issues, Garza said a conversation is needed about creating more shelter space or reconsidering the city’s no-kill status.

The center has been no-kill since 2011. The designation required the shelter to euthanize no more than 10% of animals. In 2019, the Austin City Council changed that to no more than 5%.

Garza said the center has consistently met the 5% goal, but that has come at a price —like restricting intake.

Some advocate groups argue the city shelter doesn't have an overcrowding issue, but rather a lack of resources, including staff. Others argue the no-kill policy is making the problem worse.

“We are starting to see trends that the population is not decreasing,” Garza. “It's getting harder each day to maintain that, and we are doing the best we can.”

Mayor Kirk Watson said the city does need to find a solution and soon. But reconsidering the no-kill policy isn't the answer.

"In my opinion that creates a false choice," he said. "We want to continue the policy of making sure we are taking care of these animals, and that we are dealing with them in a humane way, and the city is failing in that regard."

Watson said one of his priorities during this upcoming budget process is finding solutions to help the shelter avoid this chronic problem — although what that looks like is yet unknown.

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Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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