EMANCIPE+ Blog


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.


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 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.



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.