Lesson From San Antonio by Amy
August 12, 2010, 6:10 pm
Filed under: Executive Director | Tags: , , , , , ,

I just read this interesting, but not entirely surprising article from our neighbors down in San Antonio.  SA has had a mighty struggle with animal issues (formerly the highest per capita euthanasia rates in the nation).  Recently the SA City Council, area foundations and animal welfare groups have come together to try to transform SA into a no kill community.  They have started investing seriously in programs to increase live outcomes for their homeless pets.

But they quickly realized an inescapable truth – their efforts have not been as successful as they hoped because there are far too many homeless pets to begin with.  They have learned that without significantly bolstering their prevention efforts, they cannot end the killing of homeless pets.  Specifically, they cited the need for more spay/neuter.

It’s a lesson that many communities have to learn the hard way.  The road towards ending euthanasia often starts with a focus on increasing adoptions, and then dead-ends with a realization of the need for a whole more spay/neuter.  Though a balanced approach (between prevention and management of the homeless pet population) is critical, failing to adequately prioritize prevention efforts can be a death knell for humane efforts, and the animals they are supposed to save.

Thankfully, it sounds like SA is getting on the right track and is ready to fully invest in prevention efforts.  Good luck, SA – everyone is rooting for you!


Is TLAC now “No Kill?” by Amy

The other day I was at Town Lake Animal Center for a meeting, and a sweet family came up to the front desk with a tiny kitten they found in their garage.  When they handed her over to a staff person, they said, “Congratulations on being no kill now.  We knew this little kitty would be safer with you guys since there’s no euthanasia anymore.”

The moment really took me aback.  This family had heard on the news that in March, our City Council voted to ban euthanasia at the shelter as long as cages were available, and like many other hopeful animal lovers, they had assumed that meant TLAC was now “No Kill.”  If only it were that easy.

Sadly, the moratorium passed in March has not ended euthanasia at the shelter.  Every day, more animals come in, and with every cage already full, euthanasia continues every day.  In short, our community is still producing far too many unwanted pets.

As you already know, ending unnecessary euthanasia will require reducing the number of animals entering the shelter, and increasing the number that leave alive.  Austin has been making steady progress towards both of these goals for the last few years.  Frustratingly, since the news of the moratorium started to spread, we’ve been losing ground on our race to reduce shelter intake.

Perhaps due in part to the misunderstanding caused by media coverage and mistaken beliefs about the shelter’s no kill status, shelter intake is actually up since the moratorium passed.  Since March, about 800 more animals ended up at the shelter than in the same time period last year – mostly cats abandoned by their owners. (Click here for access to the data)

Thank goodness for the hardworking staff at TLAC and the dedicated rescue groups working to get animals out of the shelter alive.  Remarkably, adoptions and transfers are actually up a little, which has meant that euthanasia has so far not increased with the uptick in intake.  But that can’t and won’t last long if intake keeps rising.

At Emancipet, we are working hard to combat this new trend by advocating for spay/neuter and offering free spay/neuter as often as we can afford to.  As owner surrender rates rise, we can’t afford for even one unwanted litter to end up at the shelter, competing for scant resources with the dogs and cats abandoned by their owners, many of which are adults and harder to adopt out.

Want to help?  Here’s two easy things you can do right now that will make a difference:

  1. Tell 3 friends about Emancipet’s free and low-cost spay/neuter clinics and walk-in wellness clinics.  Or, better yet – donate $50 so we can offer another family a free spay/neuter surgery.
  2. E-mail Sarah Hammond (sarah.hammond@ci.austin.tx.us) at TLAC to volunteer to foster kittens or other animals in need.

10th Anniversary Video by Amy

Please watch this wonderful video about our work, which we showed for the first time at our 10th Anniversary Luncheon on June 4, 2009.  I think the filmmakers, Don Swaynos and Kelly Williams, did an outstanding job capturing the heart of what we do, and what we are all about.  Let us know what you think.

Puppy Love and Budget Cuts by Amy

Yesterday, I worked at a City of Austin Free Rabies Vaccination Clinic.  These happen four times a year so that Austin’s lowest income pet owners have access to vaccinations to keep their pets, and the entire community, safe from rabies.  The City also uses these to educate pet owners about local resources to help them.  At the clinics, I set up a station so I can sign people up for free spay/neuter from Emancipet.  Yesterday we signed up 90 animals in just a few hours.

Not everyone was interested in spay/neuter, of course.  At one point, I saw a young man, maybe about 17 years old, standing in the shade off to the side.  He was holding a little pit bull puppy that was about 8 weeks old.  I asked him to come over so I could see the puppy.

He said he wanted to breed him one day and sell the puppies to make some money like his friends in his neighborhood.  What he really wanted, he said, was a free microchip for the pup, but not surgery.  I kept talking to him because I could see that he really wanted to do the right thing.  When he looked at his new puppy, his eyes told the same story that those of us who have fallen in love with a pet already know.  He looked surprised, a little embarrassed, and completely smitten with a little brown puppy.

Because of City  of Austin funding, I was able to offer him a free microchip, free vaccinations, and free Frontline for 6 months, all if he would do what we both knew was right – to neuter this little dog.  When he agreed, everyone around us cheered for him.  It was a great moment, and we have many moments just like this at every rabies clinic.

If the City of Austin budget cuts go through as proposed, not only will we lose half of our regular Free Sterilization program – where we go into neighborhoods and provide free spay/neuter from our mobile clinic, but we’ll also lose the funds to provide spay/neuter and incentives like this at Rabies Clinics and other events.  Without free spay/neuter funding, more unwanted animals will be born, more will end up at the shelter, and more will die.

We can’t let this happen.  I hope that if you agree, you’ll help us fight these budget cuts. Visit www.emancipet.org for more information on how to get involved.

City Budget Cuts Threaten Animals by Amy

The City of Austin is facing a budget shortfall, and City leaders have asked the community for input on some proposed budget cuts released this week.  There are several proposed budget cuts for animal services, but the one of most concern to me is the proposed cut to Emancipet’s free sterilization program.

The program is a highly successful partnership with the City that provides 4,000 free pet sterilizations and more than 3,500 free rabies vaccinations each year via our mobile spay/neuter clinic, primarily to pets living in low-income neighborhoods.  This program is currently funded by the City at $195,000 per year.   We estimate that it saves the City far more than that in reduced intake and sheltering costs.  A 2005 LBJ School of Public Affairs study of five years of data conclusively determined that the free sterilization program has dramatically reduced the intake of both dogs and cats at the shelter. To put it in perspective, one surgery costs about $33, while the City’s average cost to shelter one animal is $141.95.

There are two proposals for reducing the city outlay for this important spay/neuter program. One calls for a reduction of 50% of the program funding out of the City’s general fund, and funding that portion instead through unsolicited – and unguaranteed – citizen donations to the City’s donation fund (currently used to treat sick and injured animals and provide additional sterilization services). The second proposal will cut the entire $195,000 from the general fund budget, wiping out support for the free sterilization and vaccination program completely, and requiring us to rely solely on the City’s unreliable donation fund.

These proposals could reduce the number of free surgeries we can offer by 2,000, and even more as the donation fund dwindles.  And, if the City cuts the program in half to save $97,000 this year, if shelter intake increases by just 683 animals (a low estimate), the cost of housing those additional animals would theoretically be equal to the savings gained by reducing the program funding. In short, the reduction would mean zero savings, and most likely a higher cost on all fronts.

The worst of those higher costs, of course, is the cost of innocent animal lives. Without adequate funding for spay/neuter and vaccination services, there will be more stray animals, causing a higher intake at Austin shelters, and more animals will be euthanized.  This would be especially heartbreaking if it happened now, right as we are making such progress.  Just two years ago, our city was killing half the animals that came into the shelter – now less than 30% are killed.

I urge you to speak out against this budget reduction.  Please sign our online petition, join the Save the Free Days Facebook Group, and e-mail City Manager Marc Ott (marc.ott@ci.austin.tx.us) and tell him the free sterilization program should be fully funded as a part of the general fund.  And, please come out to the Town Hall meetings on Monday and Tuesday evening to show your support for animals.

If we speak up now, we can get this proposed budget cut off the table before it ever goes to Council.  Please participate and make your voice heard to save animal lives.

Ten Years and 100,000 Surgeries Later by Amy

Kelli became the 100,000th patient spayed at EMANCIPE+ on June 3, 2009Well, this has been quite a whirlwind week for us at EMANCIPE+.  On Wednesday, we successfully completed our 100,000th spay/neuter surgery on a beautiful lab mix named Kelli.  She seemed pretty happy about the news that she would be the 100,000th patient, as she barked joyously when we made the announcement in the lobby that morning.  She and her dad, Bobby, received a gift basket with goodies donated by the ASPCA, Town Lake Animal Center, and EMANCIPE+, including lots of dog treats and an iPod shuffle.  We learned from Bobby that Kelli was a new addition to the family.  They recently adopted her from a family who found her as a stray and cared for her until she was adopted, as they were unable to locate her original owners.  Bobby seems to be pretty smitten with this special dog, so it sounds like she’s got a long and happy life ahead of her.  We are proud that we got to be a part of her life for a little while.

Then, yesterday, we celebrated our 10th Anniversary with a fundraiser and celebration at the Hyatt.  10th Anniversary LuncheonI was so moved to see so many people in the crowd who cared enough about animals to spend part of a busy day with us and contribute to our efforts. In my remarks yesterday, I told our guests that we are finally seeing that it is possible to make Austin a community where no cat or dog is ever killed just for being homeless.  The facts coming out of Austin’s shelters are telling the story that programs like ours, along with the other life-saving programs in our community and at the shelters, are working.

And so, here we are.  100,000 surgeries and ten years have gone by and finally, we are seeing hope that our vision is becoming a reality.  I have always had faith that our efforts were worthwhile, but I am now 100% confident that we will reach our goal of ending the unnecessary killing of homeless pets in Austin, and I don’t think it’s that far away.  Part of my confidence comes from my strong faith in the partnerships we have built with area shelters, rescue groups, and animal welfare organizations who all share the same goal.  With all of us working together on proven, strategic, and efficient programs, I have no doubt that we will succeed, and soon.

On June 9, our “real” 10th Anniversary, we will be kicking off a special fundraising campaign.  This will be an accessible and affordable way for people to get involved and help us raise much needed funds for our next 100,000 surgeries.  Stay tuned to our web site and this blog for details in the next few days.

Cat Euthanasia Rate Reduced by Amy

In the past, a cat that had the misfortune of ending up in Austin’s city’s shelter had a slim chance of making it out alive.  As recently as last year, the euthanasia rate for cats at Town Lake Animal Center was 60%, meaning the majority of cats that ended up at that shelter were killed.   But things are finally starting to turn around.  The year-to-date cat euthanasia rate at TLAC has now reached an all time low of 35% – and THAT is cause for celebration!

This inspiring turn of events is due to a focus on reducing the intake of cats at the shelter.  The folks over at Austin Humane Society’s Feral Fix program are on track to sterilize 6,000 feral cats this year alone.  At EMANCIPE+ and Animal Trustees of Austin, we focused on sterilizing owned cats for free with our Valentine’s Week and Spring Break Specials, which we are repeating for our Summer of Love special – offering free spay/neuter, microchips, ID tags and rabies shots to pet cats in the first week of June and July this summer (all funded by the City of Austin).

These efforts are working.  While they are seeing kittens come in to the shelter now, the number coming in this year is much less than it has been in the past.  Another major factor in reducing euthanasia rates has been the network of foster homes for these kittens that are coming in.  The foster care programs at Austin Humane Society, Town Lake Animal Center, and Austin Pets Alive! are all pitching in to ensure that no tiny kittens are euthanized this year.  As the season gets going, they’ll need more foster families to sign up to help.

I encourage you to get involved with one of the organizations mentioned here.  Even though these numbers are exciting, we still have a whole lot of work to do to ensure no cat is ever killed in Austin just for being homeless.  We’d love to have you join us!