Jan 05, 2017 - 01:38 pm CST

Austin Animal Center is the City of Austin’s municipal animal shelter. Thanks to partnerships with Austin Pets Alive!, Austin Humane Society and more than 150 rescue groups, Austin has remained the largest No Kill community in the United States since 2011, saving more than 95 percent of the 17,000 pets who come through the doors each year.

In addition to housing and rehoming thousands of pets, Austin Animal Center provides the following services:

  • Animal Protection Officers respond to 30,000 calls each year, rescuing injured wildlife, enforcing animal laws and ordinances, and providing support and resources for pets and people in need inAustin and Travis County. Officers provide dog houses, food and even fence building supplies to help keep pets safely and humanely housed in their homes.


Officer David Ackerman saving a wounded owl

  • A team of four full-time veterinarians and 15 veterinary technicians complete spay/neuter surgeries and microchip morethan 5,000 animals per year and treat thousands of medical conditions and critical cases.
  • Outreach team members conduct free rabies vaccine clinics in the community, vaccinating and microchipping more than 1,000 pets last year.
  • Outreach team members also connect residents with resources available through Emancipet and Austin Humane Society for almost 11,000 owned pets and community cats to receive sterilization surgeries.
  • Austin Animal Center coordinates emergency response and management during weather events, including staffing temporary shelters for displaced pets and people.


Dogs enjoying playgroup

  • In addition to providing basic, daily care, an eight-person enrichment and behavior team takes dogs on walks, runs doggie play groups and provides daily, in-kennel enrichment activities for cats and dogs.

2016 Highlights

In 2016, more lives were saved than ever before! The live outcome rate for cats was 95 percent and 98 percent for dogs, making the total live outcome rate 96.4 percent.

  • 7,886 pets were adopted in 2016, which is a record for AAC and about 500 more than the previous year.


Beautiful kitty at the shelter

  • 4,715 cats, dogs and other animals were transferred to rescue partners, with Austin Pets Alive! taking 3,002 of the shelter’s most challenging medical and behavioral cases.
  • 2,760 animals were returned to their homes, and Animal Protection Officers returned an additional 700 dogs in the field, without having to take the dogs to the shelter.


Volunteer Cindy with Senior pup Dixie

  • 795 Volunteers contributed 53,797 hours of service. This is the equivalent of 26 full-time staff positions!
  • 900 foster families housed 2,500 pets and 65 percent of these animals were adopted directly from foster, without having to return to the shelter. Fosters contributed 81,830 hours of service, which represents 39 full-time staff positions.


Bunnies getting play time and socialization on the patio
 

Letter from the Director

The Animal Services Office is dedicated to sustaining Austin’s No Kill commitment of achieving live outcomes for at least 90 percent of the companion animals entering the center annually.


Chief Animal Services Officer, Tawny Hammond with a shelter dog

We are proud to share the 2016 annual report with you as there is much to celebrate. Despite having a challenging year of weather events that led to periods of high intake of pets, we achieved the highest lifesaving rate in Austin’s history, and no animals lost their lives due to lack of space or other resources. This is in large part due to the tireless efforts of volunteers, foster families and our important rescue and shelter partners. In times of space crisis, the community stepped up like never before, opening their hearts and homes to providing temporary safe places for pets in need, proving that No Kill is a community ethic.

For the fifth consecutive year, the Animal Services Office helped make Austin home to the largest No Kill municipal shelter in the country by achieving a record 96 percent live outcome rate. Animal Services maintains this level of lifesaving through its focus on
developing programs and policies that meaningfully support the needs of animals in its care and through robust partnerships with community organizations, rescue partners and volunteers.


Animal Care Supervisor, Robert Golembeski showing some love to a senior dog

Animal Services strives to maintain the human-pet bond through prevention, resources, and customer and rescue-friendly adoption and transfer processes. The goal is to keep animals in homes or get them back into appropriate homes as quickly as possible. With an annual intake of approximately 17,000 animals, the center cares for an average inventory of about 900 animals between facilities at Austin Animal Center and Town Lake Animal Center. Veterinary services staff perform over 5,000 spay/neuter surgeries to prepare animals for adoption and manage over 1,600 emergency cases. Customer service, rescue and foster staff facilitate live outcomes for more than 15,000 animals annually.

Our engagement-based Animal Protection Program receives more than 30,000 calls for service and defers more than four percent of potential center intake by returning pets in the field. This ensures animals get back home and also allows officers the opportunity to talk to residents about what is needed to keep animals safe and at home. Free and low-cost outreach programs serve more than 10,000 community dogs and cats with spay/neuter surgeries and vaccinate 15,000 against rabies. Services also were expanded to offer more opportunities for pet owners to easily get their pets microchipped.


Staff and Volunteers of Austin Animal Center

As the City’s population grows, so does the demand for services. Animal Services continues to seek partnership opportunities with Travis County and other incorporated municipalities to address animal welfare challenges and to service capacity issues on a regional level. The Animal Services Office will continue to focus on meeting the community’s animal services needs through an expansion of the foster program, improving the customer experience at the shelter, piloting neighborhood-level programs and finding innovative ways to connect community members with resources so that pets may stay in homes whenever possible.

Special Programs

  • The Humane Society of the United States selected Austin Animal Center to be a pilot city for its Wild Neighbors Program, designed to humanely mitigate conflicts between people and wildlife.
  • Austin Animal Center partnered with the Travis County Correctional Complex to provide dog care classes to inmates. This is the first partnership of its kind in Austin and Travis County, and four sessions have been held, with more planned for 2017.


Shelter dog getting some play time

  • The Austin Animal Center, through support from Maddie’s Fund, will provide adult dog foster training for leading shelters throughout the United States.Twenty four shelters will attend apprenticeships in early 2017 to learn how to start and run adult dog foster programs.

Sincerely,
Tawny Hammond, Chief Animal Services Officer

 

To download a printable version of the Austin Animal Center 2016 Annual Report, click here.

Nov 16, 2016 - 06:00 am CST

On any given day, more than 300 dogs and puppies call Austin Animal Center (AAC) home. Some are being treated for serious injuries or illnesses; others are lost and waiting to find their owners, and the vast majority are looking for new families.

Figure 1 One of the co-housing adoption suits. All AAC kennels have indoor/outdoor portions.

 

Because Austin is America’s largest No Kill city, there are no time limits for adoption, so some of our dogs may wait several months to find a home. Even though our kennels are spacious and designed with indoor/outdoor options, being confined to a kennel among other dogs can lead to stress-related behaviors that make it more difficult for dogs to get adopted. This is why both kennel enrichment and regular kennel breaks are so critical to keeping dogs happy and healthy at AAC.

On May 21, 2015, City Council approved Resolution 20150521-024 which directed the City Manager to take steps to increase opportunities to let dogs out of their kennels while housed at AAC; and to provide a report on long-term options to improve animal welfare at the Austin Animal Center and to increase the Animal Service Office's online capabilities.

Since that time, Animal Center staff have taken a number of measures to improve the standard of care for dogs housed at AAC. These include:

  • Created a six-person behavior and enrichment team including four full-time and two limited term employees to run playgroups, provide kennel enrichment and ensure most dogs receive daily kennel breaks.

 

  • Expanded partnership with Dogs Out Loud, the group that designed and lead our dog volunteer orientations and other classes for volunteers and fosters.
  • Brought on a limited-term group volunteer coordinator to recruit, train and lead daily corporate, school, church and community groups of dog walkers.
  • Hired two limited-term employees to assist with dog walking and play groups at the Town Lake Animal Center.
  • Implemented daily staff dog walks, resulting in up to 225 additional dog walks per week.
  • Grew the volunteer program from about 250 volunteers in 2015 to more than 500 in 2016.

  • Started daily kennel enrichment for all dogs to reduce stress and boredom.

  • Replaced the tag system with a walk board system to better track the number of dogs walked each day.

  • In the process of hiring an adult dog foster coordinator to focus solely on finding foster homes for adult, long-stay dogs.
  • Created a short term foster program to allow volunteers to take shelter dogs on field trips such as hikes and trips to the local pet store.

Today, the future looks bright for dogs housed at AAC. Thanks to tremendous volunteer and foster support, along with the changes listed above, our dogs are receiving some of the highest level of care and enrichment of any large, municipal shelter in the nation. Given the sheer number of dogs housed at AAC, we still have challenges getting each and every dog out of their kennels every single day, but we are getting closer and closer to achieving this goal.

Today, not only are we saving 96 percent of Austin’s homeless dogs, we’re giving them an unprecedented amount of enrichment and exercise while they’re in our care. As always, we need YOU to foster and volunteer! Sign up today by visiting us at www.austinanimalcenter.org

Oct 20, 2016 - 03:04 pm CDT

Background

In 2010, the Austin City Council unanimously passed a No Kill Implementation Plan, requiring, among other things, the Austin Animal Center (AAC) to maintain a greater-than-90 percent live outcome goal. Since March 2011, AAC has saved more than 90 percent of the more than 18,000 pets that come through its doors each year. Nationally, the average save rate in shelters in 2015 was 68 percent. In Austin and Travis County, it was nearly 95 percent.

Austin’s animal safety net has changed dramatically in the past decade. Just 10 years ago, 15,000 cats and dogs were dying each year at AAC. Today, fewer than 1,000 are euthanized, and euthanasia is limited to animals that are medically suffering and to dogs that pose an immediate risk to public safety and cannot be safely rehabilitated.

For more than five years, Austin has been the most lifesaving city in America, making it the gold standard for communities of all sizes that want to reduce euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals. In 2015 alone, leadership from more than 15 municipalities visited Austin Animal Center to learn how Austin has become America’s largest No Kill city.

In case you want to learn more, here are the basics of Austin’s No Kill plan, which for almost six years running, has formed the foundation for lifesaving in our community.

The No Kill Implementation Plan

The No Kill Plan contains 34 recommendations, each designed to enhance lifesaving efforts and to ensure the city is able to maintain a lifesaving rate above 90 percent, with the ultimate goal of eliminating the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals. The plan defines euthanasia as permissible when there is the existence of “terminal medical conditions which cause great suffering with little hope of respite” and when there are animals which have “serious aggression issues or pose an immediate health and safety risk.” All other taking of life, other than these two categories, according to the plan, is to be defined and described as killing.

Below are some of the key components of the plan and how they have been implemented.

  • Reporting public information: The recommendation called for the implementation of a performance measurement system with data being shared on the website. Today, the website has a reports page, which shows all intakes and outcomes as well as monthly and annual reports.
  • Comprehensive adoption program: This recommendation included partnering with Austin Pets Alive!, creating an offsite adoption program and adoption programs aimed at the most at-risk pets. Today, AAC has an offsite adoption vehicle and offsite adoption promotions every month. About 7,000 pets are adopted each year, and Austin Pets Alive! takes 3,000 of AAC’s pets that are most at-risk of euthanasia for medical or behavioral reasons. Visit AAC’s adoption web page to learn more about the adoption process.
  • Large-scale volunteer and foster programs: The goal of this recommendation was to increase capacity by sending animals to foster homes as well as to improve quality-of-life of pets housed at AAC. Today, AAC has a robust volunteer program, with more than 500 regular volunteers contributing around 50,000 hours of volunteer service each year. Volunteers help in virtually every area of operations, providing exercise and enrichment to cats, dogs and rabbits, greeting customers and facilitating adoptions. In addition, AAC’s foster program is one of the largest in the country. In fiscal year 2016, more than 2,200 pets went to foster with 800 families and almost 70 percent of them were adopted directly from foster. There are currently 1,000 active AAC foster families.

  • Owner relinquishment policy: This mandated AAC to create an appointment-based owner surrender system and called for on-the-spot drop-off to end, and the night drop boxes to close. Today, AAC uses a system of managed intake and provides resources and support to owners to help keep pets out of the shelter. A few of the programs which prevent owner surrender are the fencing assistance program, the APA! PASS program, and resources to help people re-home their own pets. Through Emancipet, AAC connects pet owners with free and low cost veterinary care, and the Pet Food Bank helps owners with food and supplies.
  • Increase live outcomes for feral cats: This recommendation called for the City to create trap-neuter-return programs (TNR) and shelter-neuter-return programs (SNR) and to partner with rescue groups and Austin Pets Alive! to spay, neuter and vaccinate feral and community cats and return them to the community. All of these programs have been implemented, and, today, zero feral cats are euthanized unless they are medically suffering. Austin Pets Alive! manages a barn cat program to help outdoor cats find homes, and the City partners with Austin Humane Society on TNR and SNR programs which return healthy cats to the community.

  • Public awareness and advocacy: This component included improving the Website, promoting ‘pit bull’ dogs, and organizing volunteers to promote adoptable pets, shelter needs and volunteer opportunities. Today, AAC has its own Website, which was recently re-designed to be more user-friendly and to promote adoption, fostering and volunteering. In addition, AAC has a robust social media presence with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts with total followers nearing 100,000. AAC social media messages reach approximately a million people each week. Additionally, AAC is featured on local television and news networks multiple times each week and is also featured in national stories monthly.

  • Decrease owner surrenders: Several recommendations were made in order to decrease owner surrenders. These included having volunteers present at intake to provide counseling regarding alternatives to surrender; supplying microchips to all pets; hiring a coordinator for the PASS (positive alternatives to shelter surrender) program; preparing a disclaimer to those surrendering so they understand risk of pet being killed; hiring a behaviorist to reduce intake for behavioral reasons. Currently, the PASS program is still run by Austin Pets Alive!, and funding for this has not been allocated to AAC. The shelter does provide free microchips and tags to all Austin and Travis County residents, and intake counselors provide information and resources to attempt to defer owner surrenders.
  • High-volume, free and low-cost spay and neuter surgeries. This recommendation was for the City to partner with Emancipet to offer free spay and neuter clinics and to fund spay and neuter surgeries through the ‘spay street’ program to focus on underserved zip codes. Today, the City of Austin and Travis County collectively fund nearly $600,000 in spay and neuter surgeries for owned and community pets. Through partnerships with Emancipet and Austin Pets Alive, the City funds surgeries for owned pets in high-intake, low income areas as well as surgeries for feral and community cats.
  • Additional recommendations:
    • 24-hour kill list hold: This was implemented and is now the ‘attention list’ that is distributed to partners daily. Partners are given a minimum of 24 hours to pull animals who are at risk of euthanasia at AAC.
    • Call before killing policy: Owners and finders are called and alerted before their pet is killed.
    • End empty-cage killing: This was ended from the outset of the plan and has remained in place since 2011.
    • Acclimation task force for dogs: This was meant to help dogs acclimate to shelter life prior to being killed for behavioral reasons. Today, the shelter has a four-person behavior and enrichment team as well as a volunteer team that addresses the emotional and behavioral needs of the dogs in the shelter.

 

Oct 13, 2016 - 09:00 am CDT


Cat with ear tipped to indicate she has been spayed.

In 2011, as part of the No Kill Implementation Plan, Austin Animal Center partnered with Austin Humane Society (AHS) to start a shelter-neuter-return (SNR) program. Modeled after the Jacksonville, Florida Feral Freedom program, it provides an avenue for a live outcome for cats and kittens that would have formerly been euthanized due to lack of space. Because the reclaim rate of stray cats is less than 2% nationally, cats have a better chance being found by their owners if they are returned to the area where they are found.

Here is a brief recorded presentation about the SNR program.

In 2011, 375 cats and kittens went through the program and it has grown every year since, with 1,069 cats and kittens being released through shelter-neuter-return in 2015. Between January and June of 2016, there has been a decrease in the number of cats entering the program, with just 516 in the first nine months of the year. This decrease is in part due to a decision by shelter management to not release some friendly cats during the cooler winter months when cat population is not at capacity.

Setting up cages for transport of community cats
 

To be eligible for the program, cats must enter the shelter as strays and be no younger than three months and no fewer than three pounds. They must be in healthy body weight with a body condition score between four and seven and they must not be sick or injured. Declawed cats are not eligible for release. Cats will not be released to high traffic or other unsafe locations.


Community cat

Here’s how it works: Cats and kittens enter the shelter as strays. The finder is alerted at the time of drop off that the cat will likely be examined by a vet, sterilized, vaccinated, microchipped and returned to the spot where it was found. The cat is then taken in and given a cursory evaluation by the intake counselor to determine if it meets qualifications for program inclusion. If it does, the cat is transferred to AHS where it is spayed or neutered and received a rabies vaccine and microchip. The cat is microchipped and the microchip is registered to the Austin Humane Society. 24 hours following this procedure, the cat transported back to the place where it was found and is released.


Veterinarian performing sterilization surgery

This program is critical to maintaining No Kill because AAC operates at or near capacity the majority of the year. Without the SNR program, the shelter would run out of kennels and many cats would have to be euthanized due to a lack of space.

Due to a slight, overall reduction in intake of cats since 2011, AAC and AHS leadership agrees that outside of seasonal space crises, it is no longer necessary at this time to enroll friendly kittens under six months into the program. This means that unless the shelter is at capacity, the shelter will no longer send friendly kittens under six month back to the community. Community stakeholders felt this group of older kittens was most at-risk of being unable to care for themselves when released back into their neighborhoods. Moving forward, kittens in this category will be made available for adoption or rescue and will only be placed in the SNR program during times of space crisis when SNR may be truly lifesaving.


Kitty after his ear has been tipped

 

Oct 07, 2016 - 12:54 pm CDT

It happens several times every year, all of the kennels at AAC become full. This creates a temporary space crisis, because there are no empty kennels for incoming pets. These urgent situations are typically caused by weather events like storms, floods and fires or are related to season intake fluctuations. In a traditional shelter, healthy, adoptable pets would be killed to make room for incoming animals, but here in Austin, during times of space crises, we reach out to our community and ask for their help to keep pets alive.


A volunteer showing love to a dog who recently came in as a stray.

This past Monday, October 3 the shelter reached capacity. Every temporary and permanent kennel was full, which left no room for incoming animals. Shelter management consulted with staff and made the decision to enter Code Red operational status, meaning owners and finders were asked to keep animals out of the shelter in every case possible and only sick and injured pets or true emergencies were accepted. You can read more about Code Red status in the description below. Here is one local news station’s coverage of the situation.
 
Between Tuesday, October 4 and Friday, October 7, the shelter operated at Code Red status. Even though AAC has still been taking in 25 animals per day during this time, because of public outreach and media support, the number of pets leaving the shelter to go to foster, rescue and adoption is greater than the number coming in. Tomorrow, we plan to return to normal operations.

Here is the post we shared on Tuesday, October 4:

After this was shared, dozens of families came to foster and adopt, reducing the population of pets in the shelter and ensuring no animal was at risk due to lack of space. If you want to learn more about managed intake and how AAC uses operational status levels to convey urgency of the space situation at any given time, read below.

Managed Intake and Operational Status Levels: Keeping Austin and Travis County No Kill

How many animals are there?  With around 18,000 cats, dogs and other animals coming through the shelter’s doors annually, Austin Animal Center (AAC) operates at or near capacity most of the year. The total number of kennels at AAC is 300 dog and about 250 cat kennels. The total population of animals in custody varies between about 800 pets during January and February, the quietest time of the year to 1,400 at the peak of kitten season in late May and early June. Anywhere between 300 and 750 of the total number of AAC pets are housed in foster homes at any given time. Animals in the shelter are co-housed as much as possible with consideration given to disease prevention and behavioral dynamics. Litters of puppies and kittens are typically housed together as are medium and large dogs in the 40 kennels designed for housing two dogs.

What is managed intake and when did it start? For the past five years, AAC has used managed intake as a lifesaving strategy. The No Kill plan, implemented in 2011, called for the closure of the night drop boxes and for managed intake strategies to be used. Owners surrendering pets, except those in true emergency situations or whose animals are sick or injured, are required to make an appointment to surrender their pet. During the waiting period, which is typically two to four weeks, owners are encouraged to attempt to rehome their own pet and the shelter offers the owner resources and support if they want to try to keep their pet. When we refer to ‘managed intake’, this is what we’re referring to. In addition to scheduling surrender appointments, AAC sends a daily ‘space count’ to rescue and community partners, alerting them of the animals who are at risk of euthanasia and conveying the number of available kennels for cats/kittens, small dogs and medium and large dogs.


This little yorkie was found as a stray and brought to the shelter during the space crisis.

What happens when the shelter gets full? The measures taken when the shelter is at true capacity are referred to as ‘operational status levels’ and there are three of these levels which will be discussed below.

When the shelter is at capacity, it means there are no empty kennels for new animals be housed. When population exceeds kennels, pets are placed in temporary kennels. As kennels open up through adoption and transfer to rescue, the pets from the temporary housing are placed in permanent kennels. Movement from a temporary to a permanent kennel can take up to 48 hours.

Weather, floods, fires and fireworks – when space becomes a problem. During the busy spring and summer months, AAC is sometimes truly at capacity for medium and large dogs. When all the temporary and all the permanent kennels are full, the situation may become critical because there is simply nowhere to put incoming dogs. Importantly, these critical space situations are temporary and typically resolve within one to two weeks. They are often related to weather events (storms and flooding), fireworks or seasonal influxes. Thunderstorms are particularly problematic, even if there is little rain, because the loud noise of thunder scares dogs who escape their homes and roam stray.

‘Code Red: Population Influx Operational Status’

When the shelter is at critical capacity of both temporary and permanent kennels, we enter the operational status ‘Code Red’ which is defined as, “During times of seasonal space crises, natural disasters or when the shelter is beyond capacity, which means there are zero available kennels and intakes were greater than outcomes the previous day.”

During ‘Code Red’ status, a tent or the adoption van will be set up somewhere outside of the intake office and signs are posted that only sick and injured as well as emergencies will be accepted. Typically, a news release will be issued to alert the public of the critical space situation. Owner surrender appointments are deferred and animals are evaluated for intake on a case-by-case basis. Animal protection officers are asked to drive stray animals back home once an owner is identified, instead of waiting for owners to come and reclaim their pets. The shelter’s multipurpose room is set up for overflow housing and all partners, fosters, volunteers and community members are alerted via news release and social media and asked to help. 311 is alerted to the status and the Austin Lost and Found Pets Group is asked to take extra measures to keep pets out of the shelter (such as asking stray dog finders to file a found report and to hold the dog in order to give the owners time to locate it without the pet having to come into the shelter). The shelter asked for community members to provide short term foster housing for a dog to create room for incoming dogs.

This status is atypical and is only used when animals entering the shelter are at true and immediate risk of being killed due to lack of space. At these times, if the shelter takes in every animal that comes to the door, those pets will be killed because there is nowhere to house them.

‘Code Yellow: At Capacity Operational Status’

More commonly, the shelter operates in ‘Code Yellow’ operational status which is defined as “when there are fewer than five available kennels with intake equal to or greater than outcomes the previous day.” During ‘Code Yellow’ operations, the shelter asks for temporary fosters to assist with affected groups, whether those are cats and kittens or medium and large dogs. Community members finding a stray animal may be asked to file a found report and hold it to give owners time to find their pets. An alert is sent to fosters, volunteers and partners letting them know the shelter is at capacity and the daily space count is sent to rescue partner directors with a plea for extra assistance.

Code Green: Normal Operational Status

‘Code Green’ is the shelter’s normal operating status which is described as our standard and long-practiced managed intake for owner surrendered pets.

Nov 16, 2016 - 06:00 am CST

On any given day, more than 300 dogs and puppies call Austin Animal Center (AAC) home. Some are being treated for serious injuries or illnesses; others are lost and waiting to find their owners, and the vast majority are looking for new families.

Figure 1 One of the co-housing adoption suits. All AAC kennels have indoor/outdoor portions.

 

Because Austin is America’s largest No Kill city, there are no time limits for adoption, so some of our dogs may wait several months to find a home. Even though our kennels are spacious and designed with indoor/outdoor options, being confined to a kennel among other dogs can lead to stress-related behaviors that make it more difficult for dogs to get adopted. This is why both kennel enrichment and regular kennel breaks are so critical to keeping dogs happy and healthy at AAC.

On May 21, 2015, City Council approved Resolution 20150521-024 which directed the City Manager to take steps to increase opportunities to let dogs out of their kennels while housed at AAC; and to provide a report on long-term options to improve animal welfare at the Austin Animal Center and to increase the Animal Service Office's online capabilities.

Since that time, Animal Center staff have taken a number of measures to improve the standard of care for dogs housed at AAC. These include:

  • Created a six-person behavior and enrichment team including four full-time and two limited term employees to run playgroups, provide kennel enrichment and ensure most dogs receive daily kennel breaks.

 

  • Expanded partnership with Dogs Out Loud, the group that designed and lead our dog volunteer orientations and other classes for volunteers and fosters.
  • Brought on a limited-term group volunteer coordinator to recruit, train and lead daily corporate, school, church and community groups of dog walkers.
  • Hired two limited-term employees to assist with dog walking and play groups at the Town Lake Animal Center.
  • Implemented daily staff dog walks, resulting in up to 225 additional dog walks per week.
  • Grew the volunteer program from about 250 volunteers in 2015 to more than 500 in 2016.

  • Started daily kennel enrichment for all dogs to reduce stress and boredom.

  • Replaced the tag system with a walk board system to better track the number of dogs walked each day.

  • In the process of hiring an adult dog foster coordinator to focus solely on finding foster homes for adult, long-stay dogs.
  • Created a short term foster program to allow volunteers to take shelter dogs on field trips such as hikes and trips to the local pet store.

Today, the future looks bright for dogs housed at AAC. Thanks to tremendous volunteer and foster support, along with the changes listed above, our dogs are receiving some of the highest level of care and enrichment of any large, municipal shelter in the nation. Given the sheer number of dogs housed at AAC, we still have challenges getting each and every dog out of their kennels every single day, but we are getting closer and closer to achieving this goal.

Today, not only are we saving 96 percent of Austin’s homeless dogs, we’re giving them an unprecedented amount of enrichment and exercise while they’re in our care. As always, we need YOU to foster and volunteer! Sign up today by visiting us at www.austinanimalcenter.org

Leash Life
Oct 20, 2016 - 03:04 pm CDT

Background

In 2010, the Austin City Council unanimously passed a No Kill Implementation Plan, requiring, among other things, the Austin Animal Center (AAC) to maintain a greater-than-90 percent live outcome goal. Since March 2011, AAC has saved more than 90 percent of the more than 18,000 pets that come through its doors each year. Nationally, the average save rate in shelters in 2015 was 68 percent. In Austin and Travis County, it was nearly 95 percent.

Austin’s animal safety net has changed dramatically in the past decade. Just 10 years ago, 15,000 cats and dogs were dying each year at AAC. Today, fewer than 1,000 are euthanized, and euthanasia is limited to animals that are medically suffering and to dogs that pose an immediate risk to public safety and cannot be safely rehabilitated.

For more than five years, Austin has been the most lifesaving city in America, making it the gold standard for communities of all sizes that want to reduce euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals. In 2015 alone, leadership from more than 15 municipalities visited Austin Animal Center to learn how Austin has become America’s largest No Kill city.

In case you want to learn more, here are the basics of Austin’s No Kill plan, which for almost six years running, has formed the foundation for lifesaving in our community.

The No Kill Implementation Plan

The No Kill Plan contains 34 recommendations, each designed to enhance lifesaving efforts and to ensure the city is able to maintain a lifesaving rate above 90 percent, with the ultimate goal of eliminating the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals. The plan defines euthanasia as permissible when there is the existence of “terminal medical conditions which cause great suffering with little hope of respite” and when there are animals which have “serious aggression issues or pose an immediate health and safety risk.” All other taking of life, other than these two categories, according to the plan, is to be defined and described as killing.

Below are some of the key components of the plan and how they have been implemented.

  • Reporting public information: The recommendation called for the implementation of a performance measurement system with data being shared on the website. Today, the website has a reports page, which shows all intakes and outcomes as well as monthly and annual reports.
  • Comprehensive adoption program: This recommendation included partnering with Austin Pets Alive!, creating an offsite adoption program and adoption programs aimed at the most at-risk pets. Today, AAC has an offsite adoption vehicle and offsite adoption promotions every month. About 7,000 pets are adopted each year, and Austin Pets Alive! takes 3,000 of AAC’s pets that are most at-risk of euthanasia for medical or behavioral reasons. Visit AAC’s adoption web page to learn more about the adoption process.
  • Large-scale volunteer and foster programs: The goal of this recommendation was to increase capacity by sending animals to foster homes as well as to improve quality-of-life of pets housed at AAC. Today, AAC has a robust volunteer program, with more than 500 regular volunteers contributing around 50,000 hours of volunteer service each year. Volunteers help in virtually every area of operations, providing exercise and enrichment to cats, dogs and rabbits, greeting customers and facilitating adoptions. In addition, AAC’s foster program is one of the largest in the country. In fiscal year 2016, more than 2,200 pets went to foster with 800 families and almost 70 percent of them were adopted directly from foster. There are currently 1,000 active AAC foster families.

  • Owner relinquishment policy: This mandated AAC to create an appointment-based owner surrender system and called for on-the-spot drop-off to end, and the night drop boxes to close. Today, AAC uses a system of managed intake and provides resources and support to owners to help keep pets out of the shelter. A few of the programs which prevent owner surrender are the fencing assistance program, the APA! PASS program, and resources to help people re-home their own pets. Through Emancipet, AAC connects pet owners with free and low cost veterinary care, and the Pet Food Bank helps owners with food and supplies.
  • Increase live outcomes for feral cats: This recommendation called for the City to create trap-neuter-return programs (TNR) and shelter-neuter-return programs (SNR) and to partner with rescue groups and Austin Pets Alive! to spay, neuter and vaccinate feral and community cats and return them to the community. All of these programs have been implemented, and, today, zero feral cats are euthanized unless they are medically suffering. Austin Pets Alive! manages a barn cat program to help outdoor cats find homes, and the City partners with Austin Humane Society on TNR and SNR programs which return healthy cats to the community.

  • Public awareness and advocacy: This component included improving the Website, promoting ‘pit bull’ dogs, and organizing volunteers to promote adoptable pets, shelter needs and volunteer opportunities. Today, AAC has its own Website, which was recently re-designed to be more user-friendly and to promote adoption, fostering and volunteering. In addition, AAC has a robust social media presence with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts with total followers nearing 100,000. AAC social media messages reach approximately a million people each week. Additionally, AAC is featured on local television and news networks multiple times each week and is also featured in national stories monthly.

  • Decrease owner surrenders: Several recommendations were made in order to decrease owner surrenders. These included having volunteers present at intake to provide counseling regarding alternatives to surrender; supplying microchips to all pets; hiring a coordinator for the PASS (positive alternatives to shelter surrender) program; preparing a disclaimer to those surrendering so they understand risk of pet being killed; hiring a behaviorist to reduce intake for behavioral reasons. Currently, the PASS program is still run by Austin Pets Alive!, and funding for this has not been allocated to AAC. The shelter does provide free microchips and tags to all Austin and Travis County residents, and intake counselors provide information and resources to attempt to defer owner surrenders.
  • High-volume, free and low-cost spay and neuter surgeries. This recommendation was for the City to partner with Emancipet to offer free spay and neuter clinics and to fund spay and neuter surgeries through the ‘spay street’ program to focus on underserved zip codes. Today, the City of Austin and Travis County collectively fund nearly $600,000 in spay and neuter surgeries for owned and community pets. Through partnerships with Emancipet and Austin Pets Alive, the City funds surgeries for owned pets in high-intake, low income areas as well as surgeries for feral and community cats.
  • Additional recommendations:
    • 24-hour kill list hold: This was implemented and is now the ‘attention list’ that is distributed to partners daily. Partners are given a minimum of 24 hours to pull animals who are at risk of euthanasia at AAC.
    • Call before killing policy: Owners and finders are called and alerted before their pet is killed.
    • End empty-cage killing: This was ended from the outset of the plan and has remained in place since 2011.
    • Acclimation task force for dogs: This was meant to help dogs acclimate to shelter life prior to being killed for behavioral reasons. Today, the shelter has a four-person behavior and enrichment team as well as a volunteer team that addresses the emotional and behavioral needs of the dogs in the shelter.

 

Leash Life
Oct 13, 2016 - 09:00 am CDT


Cat with ear tipped to indicate she has been spayed.

In 2011, as part of the No Kill Implementation Plan, Austin Animal Center partnered with Austin Humane Society (AHS) to start a shelter-neuter-return (SNR) program. Modeled after the Jacksonville, Florida Feral Freedom program, it provides an avenue for a live outcome for cats and kittens that would have formerly been euthanized due to lack of space. Because the reclaim rate of stray cats is less than 2% nationally, cats have a better chance being found by their owners if they are returned to the area where they are found.

Here is a brief recorded presentation about the SNR program.

In 2011, 375 cats and kittens went through the program and it has grown every year since, with 1,069 cats and kittens being released through shelter-neuter-return in 2015. Between January and June of 2016, there has been a decrease in the number of cats entering the program, with just 516 in the first nine months of the year. This decrease is in part due to a decision by shelter management to not release some friendly cats during the cooler winter months when cat population is not at capacity.

Setting up cages for transport of community cats
 

To be eligible for the program, cats must enter the shelter as strays and be no younger than three months and no fewer than three pounds. They must be in healthy body weight with a body condition score between four and seven and they must not be sick or injured. Declawed cats are not eligible for release. Cats will not be released to high traffic or other unsafe locations.


Community cat

Here’s how it works: Cats and kittens enter the shelter as strays. The finder is alerted at the time of drop off that the cat will likely be examined by a vet, sterilized, vaccinated, microchipped and returned to the spot where it was found. The cat is then taken in and given a cursory evaluation by the intake counselor to determine if it meets qualifications for program inclusion. If it does, the cat is transferred to AHS where it is spayed or neutered and received a rabies vaccine and microchip. The cat is microchipped and the microchip is registered to the Austin Humane Society. 24 hours following this procedure, the cat transported back to the place where it was found and is released.


Veterinarian performing sterilization surgery

This program is critical to maintaining No Kill because AAC operates at or near capacity the majority of the year. Without the SNR program, the shelter would run out of kennels and many cats would have to be euthanized due to a lack of space.

Due to a slight, overall reduction in intake of cats since 2011, AAC and AHS leadership agrees that outside of seasonal space crises, it is no longer necessary at this time to enroll friendly kittens under six months into the program. This means that unless the shelter is at capacity, the shelter will no longer send friendly kittens under six month back to the community. Community stakeholders felt this group of older kittens was most at-risk of being unable to care for themselves when released back into their neighborhoods. Moving forward, kittens in this category will be made available for adoption or rescue and will only be placed in the SNR program during times of space crisis when SNR may be truly lifesaving.


Kitty after his ear has been tipped

 

Leash Life
Oct 07, 2016 - 12:54 pm CDT

It happens several times every year, all of the kennels at AAC become full. This creates a temporary space crisis, because there are no empty kennels for incoming pets. These urgent situations are typically caused by weather events like storms, floods and fires or are related to season intake fluctuations. In a traditional shelter, healthy, adoptable pets would be killed to make room for incoming animals, but here in Austin, during times of space crises, we reach out to our community and ask for their help to keep pets alive.


A volunteer showing love to a dog who recently came in as a stray.

This past Monday, October 3 the shelter reached capacity. Every temporary and permanent kennel was full, which left no room for incoming animals. Shelter management consulted with staff and made the decision to enter Code Red operational status, meaning owners and finders were asked to keep animals out of the shelter in every case possible and only sick and injured pets or true emergencies were accepted. You can read more about Code Red status in the description below. Here is one local news station’s coverage of the situation.
 
Between Tuesday, October 4 and Friday, October 7, the shelter operated at Code Red status. Even though AAC has still been taking in 25 animals per day during this time, because of public outreach and media support, the number of pets leaving the shelter to go to foster, rescue and adoption is greater than the number coming in. Tomorrow, we plan to return to normal operations.

Here is the post we shared on Tuesday, October 4:

After this was shared, dozens of families came to foster and adopt, reducing the population of pets in the shelter and ensuring no animal was at risk due to lack of space. If you want to learn more about managed intake and how AAC uses operational status levels to convey urgency of the space situation at any given time, read below.

Managed Intake and Operational Status Levels: Keeping Austin and Travis County No Kill

How many animals are there?  With around 18,000 cats, dogs and other animals coming through the shelter’s doors annually, Austin Animal Center (AAC) operates at or near capacity most of the year. The total number of kennels at AAC is 300 dog and about 250 cat kennels. The total population of animals in custody varies between about 800 pets during January and February, the quietest time of the year to 1,400 at the peak of kitten season in late May and early June. Anywhere between 300 and 750 of the total number of AAC pets are housed in foster homes at any given time. Animals in the shelter are co-housed as much as possible with consideration given to disease prevention and behavioral dynamics. Litters of puppies and kittens are typically housed together as are medium and large dogs in the 40 kennels designed for housing two dogs.

What is managed intake and when did it start? For the past five years, AAC has used managed intake as a lifesaving strategy. The No Kill plan, implemented in 2011, called for the closure of the night drop boxes and for managed intake strategies to be used. Owners surrendering pets, except those in true emergency situations or whose animals are sick or injured, are required to make an appointment to surrender their pet. During the waiting period, which is typically two to four weeks, owners are encouraged to attempt to rehome their own pet and the shelter offers the owner resources and support if they want to try to keep their pet. When we refer to ‘managed intake’, this is what we’re referring to. In addition to scheduling surrender appointments, AAC sends a daily ‘space count’ to rescue and community partners, alerting them of the animals who are at risk of euthanasia and conveying the number of available kennels for cats/kittens, small dogs and medium and large dogs.


This little yorkie was found as a stray and brought to the shelter during the space crisis.

What happens when the shelter gets full? The measures taken when the shelter is at true capacity are referred to as ‘operational status levels’ and there are three of these levels which will be discussed below.

When the shelter is at capacity, it means there are no empty kennels for new animals be housed. When population exceeds kennels, pets are placed in temporary kennels. As kennels open up through adoption and transfer to rescue, the pets from the temporary housing are placed in permanent kennels. Movement from a temporary to a permanent kennel can take up to 48 hours.

Weather, floods, fires and fireworks – when space becomes a problem. During the busy spring and summer months, AAC is sometimes truly at capacity for medium and large dogs. When all the temporary and all the permanent kennels are full, the situation may become critical because there is simply nowhere to put incoming dogs. Importantly, these critical space situations are temporary and typically resolve within one to two weeks. They are often related to weather events (storms and flooding), fireworks or seasonal influxes. Thunderstorms are particularly problematic, even if there is little rain, because the loud noise of thunder scares dogs who escape their homes and roam stray.

‘Code Red: Population Influx Operational Status’

When the shelter is at critical capacity of both temporary and permanent kennels, we enter the operational status ‘Code Red’ which is defined as, “During times of seasonal space crises, natural disasters or when the shelter is beyond capacity, which means there are zero available kennels and intakes were greater than outcomes the previous day.”

During ‘Code Red’ status, a tent or the adoption van will be set up somewhere outside of the intake office and signs are posted that only sick and injured as well as emergencies will be accepted. Typically, a news release will be issued to alert the public of the critical space situation. Owner surrender appointments are deferred and animals are evaluated for intake on a case-by-case basis. Animal protection officers are asked to drive stray animals back home once an owner is identified, instead of waiting for owners to come and reclaim their pets. The shelter’s multipurpose room is set up for overflow housing and all partners, fosters, volunteers and community members are alerted via news release and social media and asked to help. 311 is alerted to the status and the Austin Lost and Found Pets Group is asked to take extra measures to keep pets out of the shelter (such as asking stray dog finders to file a found report and to hold the dog in order to give the owners time to locate it without the pet having to come into the shelter). The shelter asked for community members to provide short term foster housing for a dog to create room for incoming dogs.

This status is atypical and is only used when animals entering the shelter are at true and immediate risk of being killed due to lack of space. At these times, if the shelter takes in every animal that comes to the door, those pets will be killed because there is nowhere to house them.

‘Code Yellow: At Capacity Operational Status’

More commonly, the shelter operates in ‘Code Yellow’ operational status which is defined as “when there are fewer than five available kennels with intake equal to or greater than outcomes the previous day.” During ‘Code Yellow’ operations, the shelter asks for temporary fosters to assist with affected groups, whether those are cats and kittens or medium and large dogs. Community members finding a stray animal may be asked to file a found report and hold it to give owners time to find their pets. An alert is sent to fosters, volunteers and partners letting them know the shelter is at capacity and the daily space count is sent to rescue partner directors with a plea for extra assistance.

Code Green: Normal Operational Status

‘Code Green’ is the shelter’s normal operating status which is described as our standard and long-practiced managed intake for owner surrendered pets.

Leash Life