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Austin Reaches toward No-Kill Goal

City shelter saved 92 percent of animals in February

Photo courtesy of Austin Pets Alive

Animal protection groups and city council members in Austin, Texas, came together last Friday to celebrate a milestone for homeless pets. In February, the city shelter (the Town Lake Animal Shelter) saved 92 percent of the homeless animals who had been brought in.

“We achieved what no city or open [admission] shelter of our size has achieved anywhere in Texas,” said Filip B. Gecil, the city’s interim animal services director.

In March 2010 the Austin city council passed a resolution that launched its official drive toward being a “no-kill” city. The resolution put a stop to killing animals at the shelter if there is empty cage space, and required the city to work toward a 90 percent save rate.

Ryan Clinton, the founder of Fix Austin, a grassroots, non-profit dedicated to ending the killing of lost and homeless pets at Austin’s municipal animal shelter, is cautiously delighted.

“The trend is in the right direction in that the save rate was 88 percent in December and January, and now 92 percent,” he said. “But this is just one month, and we’re going to have to sustain it through the coming months.” He’s referring to springtime, in particular, when lots of unwanted puppies and kittens are born.

The keys to no-kill

Clinton credits two things, in particular, with Austin’s success.

First is the work of a key local rescue group, Austin Pets Alive, whose members have saved the lives of 6,000 dogs and cats at the shelter since the summer of 2008.

“They’ve fine-tuned offsite adoptions,” he said, “taking the animals to where the people are, all over the city, and doing it seven days a week.”

Members and volunteers of Austin Pets Alive are already saving every single puppy that comes to the shelter, along with every dog under 25 pounds. And the group now has this year’s spring puppy and kitten season in its sights with a commitment to saving every kitten under eight weeks old. Hopes are that this will keep the save rate at 90 percent or better.

The second key to Austin’s success, as Clinton sees it, has been the work that was done at the political level to help the city council pass its resolution, which it did with a unanimous vote. That resolution was backed by programs, funded by the city, that have expanded spay/neuter, organized foster homes, and hired a behaviorist to help prepare shelter dogs for adoption.

“It was important to embrace no-kill at the highest levels of leadership,” said Clinton. This includes the hiring of Abigail Smith (photo right) as the new director of the Town Lake shelter. Smith steps into that role this month after successfully maintaining the no-kill policies of Tompkins County, New York.

Clinton, a prominent Austin attorney, who is used to working closely with city council members, believes that having the city strongly behind a no-kill program is critical to its success. In the past, around the country, there’s often been a stand-off between the charitable organizations, on the one hand, and city animal control on the other. That’s clearly not the case in Austin.

“We wanted to make the care of animals part of the way the community defines itself,” Clinton said.