Austin is all paws in when it comes to combating graffiti

Sami Sparber

“Barksy, you’ve been caught red-pawed,” an Austin police officer said to the four-legged mastermind behind a recent string of graffiti tags. 

The pooch is one of the Austin Animal Center’s adoptable dogs that will be featured in a series of videos to educate residents on the city’s graffiti policies. The series is comprised of eight episodes that follow Barksy’s journey through the city’s justice department. Every role — from judge to emergency call center operator — is portrayed by one of the city’s adoptable dogs.

“We wanted to bring more attention to our graffiti efforts here in Austin so we can address the issue as a community,” city spokesperson Aly Van Dyke said. “We also knew the city’s animal center has been full for a couple months now, so we thought if we could get some dogs adopted and educate people about graffiti in the process, why not try it?”

City officials have been working on updating Austin’s graffiti procedures since early 2017. This followed the City Council’s request that Austin’s processes be reviewed against other cities for best practices, Van Dyke said. The city defines graffiti as marks on public or private property without the property owner’s consent.

The first video will be uploaded by December, and episodes will be released on a weekly basis, Van Dyke said. The series walks residents through every step of the city’s graffiti policies, from how to report graffiti to what happens to the person responsible, said Sammi Curless, co-director of the city’s graffiti steering team.

“The videos are serving as a vehicle to make sure people are calling the city of Austin to report graffiti they come across or witness happen because if we don’t know about it, we can’t do something about it,” Curless said. “We also want to remind people it is against the law to do this and that there are consequences.”

Project organizers hope to work with artists to find new ways for them to display their art around the city, Van Dyke said. 

“We want to create these opportunities for artists to create their work so we can all enjoy it and it doesn’t have to be cleaned up or covered over,” Van Dyke said. “We’re trying to walk that fine line where we want residents to report vandalism, but we also want to encourage and foster the artistic expression that Austin is known for.”

All the dogs featured in the video are “long-stays,” meaning they’ve been at the shelter at least 30 days, said Jennifer Olohan, spokesperson for the no-kill Austin Animal Center.

“The shelter has been full for a couple of months now, and we’ve really been asking our community for a ton of support in the form of adopters and fosters,” Olohan said. “While I don’t anticipate the video series providing an immediate help to our current situation, I do hope that it gets a lot of attention and subsequently shines a light on our shelter.”

Austinites can even adopt Barksy, the star of the series. Olohan said Barksy is portrayed by Kitty, who has been sheltered for six months and whose AAC number is A774428.

“I’m hoping that … someone sees her, falls in love and it moves them to come to the shelter and meet the animals we have here,” Olohan said.