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The Austin Animal Center needs to rethink its goals and no-kill policy, city audit finds

A row of dogs inside crates on a concrete floor
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
The Austin Animal Center was forced to keep dogs in crates in its loading dock last spring because it had nowhere else to put them.

The Austin Animal Center has conflicting goals, unsanitary conditions, strained relationships with its partners and inaccurate data about the animals in its care, a new city audit finds.

The findings do not come as a surprise to the shelter, which has tried to address the issues it's been consistently criticized for.

"It's really difficult operating overcapacity all the time," Kelsey Cler, AAC's spokesperson, said in response to the audit. "While we do not like to see what was seen in the report, we need community assistance to make sure we can achieve the level of humane care that these animals need and deserve."

Here are four things the report found and some of the recommendations the auditors made.

Unachievable goals

The Austin Animal Center prides itself on its no-kill policy. But the audit found that comes at a cost: It's unable to maintain humane living conditions for animals while trying to ensure a 95% save rate.

“The biggest weakness of the Austin Animal Center is the care of the animals and the environment provided for them,” the auditors wrote. “This is ironic given that AAC is the City of Austin’s go to resource for animals and even enforces animal regulations. … Humane care of animals is a cornerstone piece of the organization’s mission statement and a basic, and obvious, tenet of animal shelters and sheltering.”

The auditors recommend the AAC work with the Austin City Council to create a revised policy that can balance the center's intake and no-kill goals, while also treating the animals with care.

Unsanitary conditions

The AAC facility on Levander Loop was also criticized for how it houses animals — for example, there are large dogs kept in small crates, feces smeared on the ground, dirty air vents and algae in outdoor pools.

Auditors made these observations after the facility was cleaned and sanitized. The report called the cleaning practices “unacceptable.”

The auditors recommend creating a plan to keep both indoor and outdoor areas clean and sanitary, as well as training and monitoring AAC volunteers and staff.

Inaccurate data

The AAC has no one on staff who specifically manages data. The auditors found conflicting, inaccurate or missing information in the center’s databases.

For example, the report found a lack of consistency regarding spay and neuter data; the numbers varied depending on where auditors found information.

The auditors recommend periodically reviewing data to make sure it's accurate and consistent, as well as training volunteers better on collecting information.

Strained relationships

The audit found the center has difficult relationships with its partners, like city leadership, staff and volunteers.

Notably, the audit called the veterinary service team the “smoothest running department,” but employees on the team felt challenged by other staff members and volunteers.

“This has been, and is, an ongoing source of frustration for the Vet Services Team that some volunteers appear to be above reproach,” the report said. “The vet staff does not feel it receives support from the volunteers and continually feel as if their professional expertise on animal care and behavior is questioned. Furthermore, some vet staff expressed concern that some volunteers, or partners (i.e. rescue group staff) appear to have influence and/or direct contact with Animal Advisory Commission members and/or Austin City Council members. They feel this brings about inaccurate and unnecessary criticism of veterinary care at the shelter.”

The Austin Animal Advisory Commission also took a vote of no-confidence in AAC leadership in June 2022, which further strained relationships with the city.

The audit recommends working with an independent third party to improve relationships with these stakeholders.

The city Audit and Finance Committee will present its findings at its meeting on Wednesday.

Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter, with a focus on Travis County. Got a tip? Email her at hpanjwani@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @hayapanjw.
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