I feel compelled to reshare this stance as a video of an Austin Animal Center (AAC) employee telling a person to turn a found dog loose is still circulating and there is still a lot of misunderstanding about APA!’s stance. APA! does NOT agree with AAC's "turn them loose" incident and we are NOT recommending that as part of our Human Animal Support Services (HASS) project through our national division, American Pets Alive!. You can read about some of the differences in this FAQ post.
Before that incident, a memo dated April 21 from the director of AAC was also shared that appears to show an association between AAC’s current animal intake directives and our HASS project. When that memo was drafted, we were in early conversations with AAC about the pandemic’s effects on animal shelters locally and nationally - which we understand more and more as the project continues. The project’s intent has never been to allow animals without a safety net to be turned onto the streets. HASS is a large collaboration between 30 municipal shelters working to provide more community resources to keep people with their pets.
The City of Austin did not sign on for AAC to be a HASS pilot shelter in the national project. This is unfortunate because over the last two months, they could have been working with other pilot communities to create city programming that would quickly help people who find animals, move strays to foster as needed, start neighborhood canvassing to find owners, and perform case management-style needs assessments to determine if intake is necessary. If Austin were a pilot city, it would be supported by a leadership coalition from 12 other communities, some as large as El Paso, San Diego, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Washington, DC, as well as 31 working groups with industry experts, specifically organized to solve hard challenges related to this major industry shift in services. It would have helped them with communication to the public in a way that would bring people into the solutions rather than leaving them to wonder what is going on (hence the understandable outrage). You can read more about the model and all its goals and intentions here.
We value our relationship with the city and we know that there are staff and volunteers within the organization who want to see systemic change in animal sheltering. We are very disappointed by the lack of progressive, intentional change being made by the city of Austin regarding Animal Services. Austin has historically been a leader but we are not leading now.
We know that COVID-19 restrictions are increasing right now, and the city needs a solid plan to care for people and pets in the community, keep their staff safe from COVID-19, and prepare for a pending eviction crisis from job loss (putting people’s pets at risk too). We are grateful for the Animal Advisory Commission, which has begun the conversation, but we are actively urging the city council and city manager to give attention to this issue. We recognize there is so much other unrest happening in the world, but it cannot wait. This is an opportunity to make an improvement in the lives of animals and people in every neighborhood in Austin while doing away with the old dog pound model – a model that we managed to transform into the incredible lifesaving in Austin that we know today, but is ultimately built upon a foundation of inequity that requires an animal to be separated from its neighborhood and people in order to receive care. We are asking those interested in learning more and supporting the need for the city to make this change to sign up here.
– Ellen Jefferson