Austin Animal Center restricts animal intake due to overcapacity

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Facing overcapacity issues at the Austin Animal Center, the shelter will temporarily restrict intake to emergencies only, the shelter announced Monday.

The shelter is at 148% capacity for dogs and 137% capacity for cats, a spokesperson said.

“AAC has made multiple efforts to avoid restricting intake and to promote adoptions, but we
continue to take in more animals than we adopt out,” Chief Animal Services Officer Don Bland wrote in a memo to Austin City Council.

The intake pause will start Tuesday. The shelter said it will accept animals on a case-by-case basis and for emergencies, including injured animals or animals that present a public safety risk. The shelter said it has stopped intakes three times before: in 2020 due to the pandemic and twice in 2016 for capacity issues.

The shelter said it will resume intakes when all animals can be placed in regular kennels instead of pop-up crates. The shelter is housing 67 dogs in pop-up crates, and 54 dogs need kennels, the memo said. Many dogs are also doubled up in suites.

“This space challenge is not only impacting the animals in our care it is also taking a toll on the staff and volunteers,” the memo said.

The shelter will resume Sunday adoptions starting Sept. 25. It is currently open Mondays through Saturdays.

Austin Animal Center, which is the municipal center for Austin and unincorporated Travis County, has a no-kill policy. This means the shelter has at least a 90% live animal outcome rate. The shelter has a 97.3% live outcome rate currently.

The center has made several changes in recent months to encourage adoptions, including temporarily waiving adoption fees and emergency calls for animal fosters. Current adoption fees range from $30 to $100 depending on the animal.

The Austin Animal Advisory Commission met Monday at 6 pm One agenda items included discussion and possible action on the center’s “space crisis.” Commissioners did not take any action when the item was discussed.

Austin Pets Alive! sent KXAN the following statement on the intake restriction Monday evening.

Restricting intake is concerning for companion animals and their advocates. Instead, Austin Pets Alive! would like to see Austin Animal Center immediately adopting the recommendations passed in 2021 by the Animal Advisory Commission Space Crisis Working Group. Austin Pets Alive! continues to take in more than the required number of animals every month from Austin Animal Center, and will continue our lifesaving work including the Parvo Puppy ICU and Neonatal Kitten Program.

Dr. Ellen Jefferson, President and CEO of Austin Pets Alive!

Commission chair Craig Nazor said commissioners have offered recommendations to increase adoptions, fosters and volunteers, but the group is limited in what action it can take. The commission can only make recommendations to city council and cannot require the shelter to make changes.

“We’re not surprised that we’re having this crisis. We saw it coming months and months ago,” Nazor said. “We made suggestions, we put together a working group, we tried to be very proactive.”

He said reopening Sundays is something that commissioners proposed months ago, because weekends are when adoptions happen and when more volunteers are available to help with adoptions and walk the dogs kept in crates.

In June, the Animal Advisory Commission approved a “no-confidence” resolution in AAC’s Chief Services Officer Bland. The draft resolution specified concerns directed at both the chief animal services officer as well as the shelter’s management team. One concern in the resolution was AAC’s alleged alienations with partner organizations and volunteers “which has contributed to shelter overcrowding and lack of volunteer support for shelter pet care and adoptions.”

“To be honest, that was a very hard vote to take… no one likes doing that,” he said. “This is the shelter, we’re trying to work with the shelter. I’ve worked with the people there. We know they’re doing a lot of good for the city. But when we see things happening, and we’re trying to say ‘look, try this, try this, try this,’ and none of those things are being tried — we have to do something.”

Nazor said the city council voted to request an independent audit of the shelter and get a recommendation. He was told the audit would begin in October.

The animal commission will also talk about transferring animals from the shelter to other communities. AAC began partnering with non-local rescue partners in July 2021 “after pulls from local rescue partners significantly decreased,” a spokesperson said. This has been generated in 803 dog transfers to 37 partners.

AAC’s largest partner is Austin Pets Alive! followed by Minnesota-based Midwest Animal Rescue & Services.

“Many of our receiving rescue partners are foster-based and have fosters, and often adopters, lined up prior to the animals leaving AAC,” a spokesperson said.

The shelter will hold a “Clear the Crates” event Saturday where people can adopt dogs that are staying in crates. The event will start at 10 am