Austin becomes ‘no-kill’ city for pets

Joe Layton

Puppies and kitties rejoiced when the city announced its status as a no-kill city this month.

The city earned the designation for the first time in February, when 92 percent of animals that went into shelters either got adopted or did not have to be put down.

In March 2010, the City Council approved the No Kill Implementation Plan to reduce animal intake and increase pet adoptions. The Animal Services Office worked with volunteers and dozens of community partners including Austin Pets Alive, Emancipet and Animal Trustees of Austin since the plan’s implementation last October.

“By far the most important factor is that the whole community pitched in,” said Filip Gecic, interim chief animal services officer for the city. “With our limited resources we would have never achieved this status without foster families’, volunteers’ and politicians’ support.”

Austin Pets Alive focused on actually saving animals from the shelter rather than advocating for political support, said Ellen Jefferson, executive director of the group. Saving animals from the shelter drew attention from the community and generated support for the animals.

The city’s goal of keeping alive 90 percent of the animals taken into the shelter is one of the most progressive goals in the nation, Gecic said. Eliminating night drop-off boxes — places where people could drop off an animal anonymously after hours — helped the city stick to the plan.

People would drop off animals that needed training or care at night without getting advice about their animal’s problem, Gecic said. In the five months since the Town Lake Animal Center closed the boxes, it received 700 fewer animals.

Spring is a more challenging season to keep kennel space available because it is mating season, city spokeswoman Patricia Fraga said.

“As part of the implementation program the city is starting a public awareness campaign about the services available at the animal center,” Fraga said. “In April and May, the campaign will run ads on buses and taxis and public service announcements that focus on spaying and neutering animals. In the summer, the campaign will focus on adopting and fostering animals.”

Fostering frees up kennel space, which reduces the risk of animals being put down. The foster families promote the pet within their social networks, and they sometimes end up keeping the animal, Fraga said.

“A lot of folks get into fostering to permanently bring an animal into their home,” said Sarah Hammond, foster coordinator of the Town Lake Animal Center. “A forever home is better than a temporary home.”

A new animal shelter expected to open in fall of 2011 in North Austin will replace the Town Lake shelter. The facility and its operations will be greatly improved, making it easier to keep animals healthy and clean, Hammond said.