Austin Pets Alive threatens to leave town over dispute with town

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In a movement that could to compromise Austin’s pledge against the slaughter of protected animals, the nonprofit Austin Pets Alive has threatened to pack his bags and leave town unless changes are made to their licensing agreement with the city.

Since 2011, Austin Pets Alive has partnered with the city by taking in stray and abandoned animals from the Austin Animal Center, which is Austin’s taxpayer-funded shelter.

Austin Pets Alive does not accept city money, but is licensed to operate a downtown shelter on city-owned land on West Caesar Chavez Street.

With the help of the association, Austin achieved a 97% savings rate through adoptions, which is above the national standard of 90% needed to be considered a city without destruction and also above the 87% economy rate of the city in the year preceding the partnership. start. The only pets currently euthanized have terminal health problems or were responsible for serious injuries during an unprovoked attack.

But Austin Pets Alive’s partnership with the city has deteriorated, raising questions about whether the city can maintain no-slaughter standards if its longtime ally were to go elsewhere.

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The fight is over the restrictions that prevent Austin Pets Alive from housing animals from outside five central Texas counties – Travis, Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays and Williamson. The nonprofit wants to expand this reach to bring in animals from other jurisdictions that do not have kill protection.

Austin Pets Alive also wants to end the annual requirement to accept 3,000 animals from the town’s shelter that are at risk of being killed.

The city denied both requests, suggesting that Austin Pets Alive should continue to serve only local pets as long as it continues to operate on city-owned land. This has led to a deadlock that neither side seems confident will be resolved by the contract expiration on November 23.

“More and more resources are being added to the city’s budget, so fewer and fewer animals should fall through the cracks and onto our plate,” said Dr. Ellen Jefferson, president of Austin Pets Alive.

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She said Austin Pets Alive would be willing to accept any animal on the city shelter’s euthanasia list – typically around 1,500 to 2,000 a year – but opposes accepting. animals not on this list, preferring to reserve a kennel space for animals at risk from outside the immediate area.

“We prefer to take those who are actually going to die, because that is our mission,” she said.

After negotiations with city staff broke down, Austin Pets Alive recently turned to Mayor Steve Adler and asked Austin City Council to order the city shelter to accept the changes sought by the city. ‘association. Adler’s office declined to comment for this story.

Board member Leslie Pool said she was pushing to schedule an executive board session to determine the legality of Austin Pets Alive’s proposals.

“If what the staff are saying is indeed correct, we will actually have to go our separate ways,” Pool said. “I see this as more negative for the city than for APA, because APA will be successful everywhere with its mission. Their departure would be a big void for the city of Austin.”

As of Monday, the town’s shelter had welcomed 9,241 dogs and cats this year. During that same period in 2019 – the most recent year unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic – it took in 14,109 dogs and cats. The shelter’s budget for next year is $ 16.4 million, a 20% increase from three years ago. Jefferson said it’s the highest budget for animal services per capita in the country.

In rejecting the request to extend the reach of Austin Pets Alive outside the five-county territory, Don Bland, the city’s director of animal services, said the protection of pets in the Austin area must remain at the center of concerns.

“The main objective of the city is to ensure that the investments of the city’s taxpayers are focused on supporting the animals found within the city’s jurisdiction,” he said.

As for the 3,000 pet admission requirement: “Removing this provision entirely would negate the reason for free use of the property,” city spokeswoman Jennifer Olohan said. “The city values ​​its partnership with APA, which is why we have been open to negotiating this number of animals.”

Olohan said the city made a counter-offer in July after rejecting Austin Pets Alive’s requests. Austin Pets Alive then rejected the counteroffer, which Jefferson said would have forced the nonprofit to accept 2,000 dogs with behavioral problems. Austin Pets Alive refused, she said, because she believed it was important to protect a wider selection of animals that were at risk of being killed.

The disagreement comes just months after the city sounded the alarm over a city shelter spacing crisis. At the end of June, Bland wrote a note to city council saying the shelter had no additional capacity to house animals and discouraging residents from bringing stray animals. Bland threatened to euthanize animals with behavioral problems that had been housed in the shelter for a long time.

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At the time, the city said it was forced to house around 30 animals in the refuge’s back rooms, out of public view. That number fell to 16 this week, the city said.

A municipal ordinance approved in 2010 requires the city to have a 95% economy rate. The departure of Austin Pets Alive could make it difficult for the refuge to reach that mark without assistance, Jefferson said.

“If our agreement expires and a new one does not take effect, there is no formal mechanism on the books to comply with the order,” she said.

Olohan, the city spokesperson, said the city has tentative plans if it fails to secure a renewal deal with Austin Pets Alive, but said “we’re not ready to release them just yet.” .

If he can resolve the dispute with the city, Austin Pets Alive says he’s looking to sign a 75-year deal. The association said it was planning to renovate the downtown shelter, but needed assurances first that it would be there for a long time.

Jefferson said that even if Austin Pets Alive eventually leaves town, the association hopes to continue to help Austin in an informal relationship by accepting animals from the town’s shelter that are at risk of being euthanized. She said Austin Pets Alive was looking for properties on the outskirts of town, perhaps a challenge for some of the association’s volunteers who are used to a short drive downtown.

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