Welcoming a New Chief Animal Services Officer by Amy
January 28, 2011, 6:38 pm
Filed under: Executive Director | Tags: , , , ,

After a long, nationwide search, the City of Austin has selected Abigail Smith to become Austin’s new Chief Animal Services Officer, a job with duties that include overseeing the municipal animal shelter and animal control.  Even though we are a separate non-profit, Emancipet partners closely with the City on many of our programs, including Free Days and Spay Street, our door-to-door outreach program; and our clinic is located on the land where the new shelter is under construction (and looking incredible, by the way).  Needless to say, we’ve been eager to find out who the new leader would be.  I’m happy to say that from what I’ve heard, we should be very excited about this selection.

Abigail has a reputation for a fierce commitment to saving the lives of animals in her current shelter, which appears to be matched by an understanding and commitment to preventing them from becoming homeless in the first place.  We don’t know Abigail personally yet, but we’re looking forward to getting to know her, and working alongside her to serve all the animals in our community, and we are optimistic about her potential to continue our City’s wonderful progress on animal issues.

Abigail has a lot of support here, starting with a committed staff at the shelter, and the board and staff at Emancipet.  And it’s a good thing – her’s is one of the toughest jobs in our community, and she’ll need the support and participation of the entire community to reach our ambitious and important goals for a humane community.

I hope you’ll join us in welcoming her, and in giving her the support she’ll need.


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.

Animal Services Center Update by Amy
February 19, 2010, 1:00 am
Filed under: Executive Director | Tags: ,

As you may have seen recently on the news or online, there has been concern about a possible delay in the approval process for the construction bid that would allow the City to finally break ground on a new Animal Services Center.  We wanted to give you the latest facts and news on this issue as we understand them:

•    At the January 28 City Council meeting, in the introductory statements, Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced that item 20, which was the approval of the construction contract for the new shelter, was postponed “indefinitely.”  Click here for video of that.

•    This caused great concern in the animal welfare community, because this particular construction bid expires on April 9, 2010, and this facility is desperately needed as soon as possible.  The current TLAC facility, with its 1950’s design, is far below the modern standard for humane and healthy housing for homeless pets.

•    Since hearing this, concerned citizens have contacted Council and staff encouraging them to get the item back on the agenda.  Responses from some Council members indicate that the removal of the item was to allow more time to first consider some of the other important animal welfare issues currently in development, namely the use of the Davenport building for adoptions, and was not intended to delay the construction process.

•    Further, several City Council Members have indicated in their responses to citizens that the item WILL be voted on in March and that the construction will continue will continue without delay.

We are relieved to hear that the item will be back on the agenda in March.  While we certainly understand that the shelter is not the only animal welfare issue facing the City Council, we do believe that it is one of the single most important things we can do to improve the welfare of animals in our community.  It is so important that it should move forward as planned, regardless of any other issues that may also be considered.

We are also very excited about the City’s commitment to utilizing the Davenport Building for adoptions, and partnering with the community to save more animal lives.  While those plans may not yet be finalized, we are confident that the City Council and staff will continue to make progress on this front, and we hope the construction of the shelter can begin without delay as these plans are fully developed and evaluated.

Background and more info:

In November of 2006, Austin voters approved $12 million for a new animal services facility. The design process occurred in 2008 and 2009, and the facility, which will be state-of-the-art and Silver LEED certified will finally allow us to house our community’s most at-risk animals in safety and health.  The new Center will be located with Emancipet at the 7201 Levander Loop site.  You can click here to see the plans.

Spay/Neuter Capacity at Austin’s City Shelter by Amy

This Thursday, September 24, the Austin City Council will consider a resolution directing the City Manager to develop a plan to increase the capacity for spay/neuter surgery at the Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC).  This would allow TLAC to provide spay/neuter services seven days per week, to sterilize all the animals that leave the shelter.  Currently, the shelter does not have the staff capacity to spay and neuter every animal in their care, meaning that some animals wait several days for spay/neuter, even if they have already been adopted, and some leave the shelter before being spayed or neutered.

I was thrilled to see this resolution, which marks a major step forward for Austin’s animal shelter.  Emancipet has advocated for more spay/neuter capacity at TLAC for some time now, and we are so glad that Council Members Bill Spelman and Laura Morrison, who have co-sponsored this resolution, understand the importance of spay/neuter, and the impact that increased veterinary capacity inside the shelter will have on live outcomes for animals.

The value of this resolution is not just that all animals will leave the shelter spayed or neutered – it can also increase the number of animals that leave the shelter alive.  Currently, adopters have to wait until an animal is spayed or neutered before they take their new pet home.  Some wait several days, depending on the day of the week they adopt the animal.  If spay/neuter is occurring every day, the wait time between an adoption and when the animal can be picked up by the adopter will decrease, resulting in shorter shelter stays and therefore more space for additional animals.  Further, if all animals are spayed and neutered in-house, rescue groups with limited budgets will be able to rescue more animals from the shelter because they won’t have the financial burden of paying to spay or neuter the animals they save.

This resolution could very well save the lives of hundreds of animals each year at the shelter.  Please take a moment to send an e-mail to the Austin City Council – http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/groupemail.htm – and encourage them to vote for Item 70 and move forward with increasing spay/neuter capacity at the City Shelter.  This is an important step forward for our City, and our shelter.

City Saves Sterilization Program! by Amy

Today is a great day for the animals of Austin!  This morning, the City Manager presented his budget recommendations to the City Council, and he recommended no reductions to Animal Services.  This means that our free sterilization and microchipping programs will remain fully funded, as will the feral cat sterilization and medical care fund.

These programs are critical to maintaining our progress towards becoming a humane community – a place where no cat or dog is ever killed just for being homeless.  I am thrilled that our City Manager and his staff had the opportunity to hear from all of us on this issue, to help them understand what was truly at stake.  Ed Van Eenoo, Austin’s budget officer, indicated this morning that the results of the Town Hall meetings largely determined what programs were spared.  It is because of you, and your attendance at those meetings, your emails and calls to City staff and Council, and your signatures on petitions, that these programs have been saved.  You prevented the City of Austin from taking major steps backwards, and reducing investment in animals at a time when animals need us most.

The experiences of the last month have taught us a valuable lesson about our role in ensuring that our local government continues to invest sufficiently in animal services, and fulfill its responsibility to prevent animal homelessness and manage our homeless pet population.  The City must continue to provide for these basic, foundation services, which the non-profit animal welfare organizations like Emancipet will build on, so that we can collectively make the greatest possible difference for animals.

We do have a role to play in ensuring that ours is a community that is moving, every single day, towards ending unnecessary euthanasia. We will be doing more from now on to keep you informed of policy issues that impact animals, and we’ll be asking for your help from time to time.  I hope you’ll continue to stay involved – and that you’ll always be willing to make the calls and send the emails that will save innocent animals.

City Budget Update by Amy

It’s been a month since Austin City Manager Marc Ott released his menu of potential budget reductions, which included proposals to reduce and/or eliminate General Fund support for Emancipet’s free spay/neuter program.  Mr. Ott also requested widespread community input on budget priorities.

I want to thank you for the incredible job you have done fulfilling his request for input! You have let the City of Austin know that the free spay/neuter program, and other programs that save animal lives, should remain fully funded.  You have made this clear with the massive volume of e-mails, phone calls, and petition signatures, and your huge turnout at the Town Hall budget meetings.

Your support has been so inspiring and encouraging to our staff and our clients who rely on our services, and I believe you are making a difference. Mr. Ott mentioned recently that he has received more e-mails on this subject than any other potential budget reduction.  Because of you and your hard work, I feel optimistic about our chances to save this program, and about the future of animals in Austin.

While we have certainly made our feelings known, we won’t know the fate of this important program until Mr. Ott makes his official recommendation to the City Council on July 22.  We will continue to keep you informed of our progress on this and other issues that will impact animals.  Whether we win or lose on this budget issue, I am so proud to know that ours is a community where people speak up and speak out on behalf of animals.  Thank you so very much for everything you have done, and continue to do, to advocate for animals.

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.