In some parts of Austin, runaway pets are likely to stay lost.
That’s what an analysis by the city’s Animal Services Department has found. While roughly one animal for every 100 residents gets brought into a shelter citywide, three ZIP codes in East Austin – 78702, 78724 and 78617 – have intake rates two and three times higher than the average. According to a recent affordability report by the city, most of the households in these ZIP codes make less than $52,458 a year.
The city also found that the number of 311 calls about loose animals is much higher in these areas, while the rate at which pets are returned to owners is much lower.
“There’s something happening in the lives of the pet and the family where a bond is being broken and the pets are simply not being reclaimed,” said Chief Animal Services Officer Tawny Hammond. “So we kind of want to talk to the community and find out what (their) needs might be.”
Beginning in February, the city of Austin will hire four additional animal protection officers to staff a two-year pilot program in these ZIP codes. The goal is to determine, and then put into place, what the community needs in order to bring down high intake numbers and increase the likelihood that a pet is returned to its owner.
The first priority, said Hammond, is to assess what pet-related resources these neighborhoods currently have.
She offered the following as potential queries: “Are there low-cost clinics? Are there veterinarians? Is there affordable pet-friendly housing? Are there dog parks? Are there recreational opportunities? Are there pet stores?”
Hammond said solutions could be as simple as assisting families with pet identification or advocating for more pet-friendly housing in the area.
“Sometimes a microchip might be the answer,” she said. “A collar and tag. A leash. Help with fixing a gate. Help with fixing a fence. Temporary housing help.”
The program will be paid for by part of a $1.1 million grant from Maddie’s Fund, an organization that awards grants to no-kill shelters. If it proves successful, said Hammond, the department might consider taking a more community-centered approach to other parts of Austin with high animal intake rates.
This story was produced as part of KUT's reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.