Austin Pets Alive! ‘S Town Lake Animal Shelter (Photo by John Anderson)
Dr. Ellen Jefferson, President and CEO of Austin Pets Alive !, has spent the past two weeks touring approximately 10 facilities that could become the new home of her nonprofit. She said the process was daunting. “Of course we try to stay as close as possible, that’s our goal. But it all depends on whether we can afford something close,” she said. All locations were more than 20 miles from the Town Lake Animal Center – the organization’s current central home on Cesar Chavez Street.
The relocation pressure comes as APA! and the City of Austin stalled negotiations on a contract that would allow them to use the city’s TLAC rent-free. The deadline for renegotiating the contract is November 23, but Jefferson said the Austin city council has not posted an agenda item on the issue by Thursday, October 7, that will advance planning for his exit.
APA! has been located in TLAC in the heart of downtown Austin since 2011. In exchange for accepting a certain number of animals from the Austin Animal Center each year for housing, the nonprofit can use the building that was the city’s main animal shelter for years prior to the construction of the current AAC facility in East Austin.
In this year’s renegotiation of this contract, APA! resists conditions that prevent it from bringing in more animals from non-killing jurisdictions. In addition to requiring animals from outside of the Austin Five County metro area, APA! wants to give up the obligation to take in 3,000 animals annually from the taxpayer-funded AAC that are threatened with killing.
Problems at the city lake
So far, the city is showing little sign that it will move. In a statement accompanying the negotiations, the city’s animal services department said it was working “to ensure that the city’s investment in taxpayers’ money” [is] focused on helping animals found in the city’s jurisdiction. “
However, Jefferson said her organization’s unwillingness to continue the terms of the current contract was more than a rebellion against micromanagement. She said she felt cornered by the conditions at TLAC. “I’ve spent a lot of time in developing countries and it reminds me of that,” she said of the 70-year-old building.
It is common knowledge that TLAC falls short of generally accepted kennel standards, let alone the expectations of a city that has the largest no-kill program in the country. The new AAC, which Austin voters approved bond funding for in 2006, was to replace TLAC entirely; Instead, community pressure led TLAC, under the leadership of APA! was kept open. “The kennels are all concrete and rebar, and they’re crumbling,” Jefferson said.
“Of course we try to stay as close as possible, that’s our goal. But that depends entirely on whether we can afford something nearby. ” – Austin Pets Alive! President and CEO Ellen Jefferson
The building is on the floodplain of Lady Bird Lake, and when it rains heavily, the water on the floors stagnates. Though she said her organization was willing to pay for upgrades to the building to make it usable, Jefferson says it couldn’t be done under the terms of the current contract. In addition, her organization has made it clear again and again that she will not make this investment without a guarantee from the city that she will use the land for decades to come.
Jefferson fears that the current army of volunteers from the APA! But the nonprofit organization faces even greater challenges than a shortage of volunteers if the contract is not renegotiated before the deadline: The right of use of the APA! at TLAC expires on this date.
Failure to agree would mean APA! will not have access to a shelter unless the city grants a temporary extension or until they are able to establish a facility and build kennels in another location. Jefferson said she hoped the city would step in and give instructions. Even if the city doesn’t put anything on its agenda until October 7th, Jefferson says, “We still hope they give us time to get out. There’s no way we can get all the animals out and be safe.” about that until November 23rd. “
To transcend his welcome?
Austin Pets Alive! President and CEO Dr. Ellen Jefferson in 2017 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)
So far the council members have made no commitments. Councilor Leslie Pool, the councilor on the matter, said in a statement Friday that the council is still weighing its options. “I am considering offering that direction and it should be done before the license agreement expires on November 23,” the statement said. “As part of this action, we will also need staff to extend negotiation time so people can keep talking and TLAC adoption operations can continue uninterrupted.”
“I’m considering [direction to] Staff to extend negotiation time so people can keep talking and TLAC adoption operations can continue uninterrupted. – Councilor Leslie Pool
Some Austin animal rights activists who have been around since the APA! Acquisition of TLAC are frustrated that the negotiations have got to this point. Abigail Smith, former chief animal service officer for the city, recalls that when the original agreement was signed, the timeframe was three years and the expectation was on APA! to find and prepare another location, possibly near downtown.
“City lake [Animal Center] was basically reprehensible when we left; That’s why the city built a new one. We wouldn’t have built a new $ 12 million facility if we had stayed there, “said Smith, who moved to Austin in 2011 and moved the Austin Animal Center to its current home on the city’s Betty Dunkerley Health and Human Services campus in front of Levander Loop near Montopolis. Smith left Austin in 2014, unsure how APA! ‘s contract was extended for so long. Although she understands APA!’ s commitment to TLAC and its prime location, she believes that the group could have found a more convenient location near Central Austin if they had started their search sooner.
When APA! being able to stay with TLAC, as Jefferson hopes, she said it would still be looking for additional land to expand its operations on. Due to the constraints of the property due to the floodplain, pipes, power lines and the city’s Lamar Beach master plan, the group will be able to use less area of TLAC in the coming years. “We know it won’t be everything we need anyway,” said Jefferson. “We hope to keep something on Town Lake and then have the rest elsewhere.”
Does the city need APA !?
The contract negotiations uncovered some philosophical differences regarding the importance of a no-kill city. While APA! tends towards altruism, the city seems to be more interested in pragmatism.
Jefferson argues that while Austin was once at the forefront of the no-kill movement, the city’s current politics are not innovative enough and that it should strive to lead the national initiative to save animals. “We should think about what Austin can offer in terms of mentoring and leadership,” and not just in Texas, she says. Jefferson envisions a world in which APA! was encouraged to expand operations outside of the five-county area. “It’s about getting innovations.”
The city’s location is more Austin first. It would be hard to find an animal rights activist in Austin who is unhappy that the only pets currently being euthanized have incurable medical or behavioral problems. However, some argue that the city could do better to provide a more humane environment for the animals that come to its facilities than to maintain the unacceptable status quo at TLAC. Pool said it’s important to remember that no-kill isn’t, or shouldn’t be, just a numbers game about how many animals can save the city. “If that’s all we focus on, we are off point,” she said.
The city has claimed that it is committed to keeping Austin a no-kill city “regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.” The disintegration of APA! and AAC’s relationship doesn’t make it impossible to meet that commitment, but it will be decidedly more difficult.
The nationally accepted definition of “no-kill” states that 90% of the unhoused animals that enter animal shelters have to leave them alive. Austin raised the bar at 95%. But even though AAC reported a live exit rate of 97.5% for the month of August, it was struggling with capacity issues despite a large budget and extensive program network. The city’s current chief animal services officer, Don Bland, said in a memo to town hall and community this summer that AAC is having difficulty accommodating the animals arriving there.
“Currently every kennel is full and staff had to double dogs in every suite,” wrote Bland on June 25th. “Maintaining a no kill shelter requires the support of the entire community and we ask the community to help us with this challenge.” operated shelter to work on solutions to avoid a space crisis. At its meeting on September 13th, the commission decided to amend its statutes and set up a standing committee to oversee Austin’s no-kill program. meet every month, but some problems still have to be resolved – the city shelter has been operating with limited opening times for months and is completely closed to the public on weekends.
Smith says when she came to Austin in 2011, just a month after the city first hit 90% no-kill status, it was true that Animal Services needed all the help it could get. “The city needed partnerships with every animal welfare organization in the jurisdiction so that we could all contribute to the solution.”
Since her tenure, and even since Bland took over in 2019, the city’s animal welfare budget has skyrocketed – next year it will be $ 16.4 million, a 20% increase over three years. Today it relies on an extensive network of nursing homes, rescue groups and other partners, as well as its own programs, to achieve its goals. And even if the formal relationship from APA! With the city ending, says Jefferson, “Our mission is to make sure animals don’t die for euthanasia … Austin is our # 1 priority for this mission.”
If AAC and APA! If they part ways, the city shelter could soon be put to the test to see whether its programs, on their own, are effective in maintaining no-kills. Jefferson said the effects caused by the end of the state eviction moratorium could soon spill over to the accommodations. “A month ago this time around there were 26,000 households in Austin that were behind on their rent. That means 38,000 animals that may be evicted. Where should they go if we don’t have a sustainable system?”