Austin Pets Alive! (APA!) understands that the uncertainty around its formal Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC) land use agreement with the City of Austin, and all the discussion about trying to keep Austin No Kill, will be distressing to many of our supporters. We want to emphasize that while we are seeking a change to the terms of our partnership with Austin and pushing the city to double down on sustainability, we are not changing our commitment to standing by Austin’s shelter animals. Rest assured, Austin Pets Alive! will continue to serve as a lifesaving safety net for pets at risk of euthanasia in Austin and Travis County.
Q: Why can’t APA! just agree to the old terms of the licensing agreement with the City of Austin for the Town Lake property?
A: Instead of the bright future we imagined, with our city of Austin partner (Austin Animal Center) positioned as the nation’s leader in innovative government animal services, we have seen the Austin Animal Center’s (AAC) performance in key areas dip to historic lows. Terms in our current agreement have not aged well and actually prevent APA! progress. For the past five years, we have been working to negotiate a new agreement with the AAC. Currently, our agreement states that we must pull 3,000 animals per year. These arbitrary numbers were established more than a decade ago, when three times the number of animals in Austin were being euthanized for space so every single one of those animals was going to be euthanized needlessly. Our goal has been to create a partnership in which AAC utilizes proven best practices to perform to at least the standard of other prominent government shelters throughout the country and APA! serves as a true safety net for the “at risk” animals.
The proposed resolution would allow our public-private partnership to accomplish three things:
Q: Has APA! worked to negotiate with the City?
A: Yes. We have been negotiating in good faith but are now at an impasse with the AAC leadership and the City of Austin. Thus far, they remain committed to “business as usual,” and to the outdated partnership agreement crafted 11 years ago. We need a new partnership with the city, one that makes Austin the leading, pet-friendly city in the nation. We can do that if council adopts our resolution points.
Q: Austin has proudly maintained its status as the nation’s leading No Kill city for a long time now. Why isn’t “business as usual” good enough?
A: The world of animal sheltering has fundamentally changed since the days when APA! began the fight to turn Austin into a No Kill city, in large part because of the early example set by Austin. And Austin has changed too. Since 2011, the budget for AAC has increased by $10 million while intake has remained steadily the same and now historically low during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, APA! has become a thought leader in animal sheltering. APA! is now working to help the people who love their pets and are struggling to keep them. As hundreds of other cities across the U.S. enthusiastically adopt the new HASS model for how municipal animal services will operate in the future, its benefits are passing our city by. The current terms of our agreement, which once supported the innovative thinking and effective changemaking of APA! in 2011, are now holding us back and preventing our community from the full benefit of our work. As difficult as it would be to leave our home at Town Lake, we are confident we can be of greater assistance to Austin’s pets and people free from these restrictions.
Q: If APA! ends its contract with the City of Austin, will it cost APA! funding?
A: No. We receive no funding from the City of Austin. Instead, we have use of the city’s former shelter facility at Town Lake that was built in 1950. In exchange for that, we agreed to support the Austin Animal Center in keeping our city No Kill by taking in animals the city shelter cannot help and would instead have euthanized. This is what is referred to as a “license agreement,” which sets the terms to follow for that land use. We are additionally responsible for maintaining the Town Lake facility, which is deteriorating and becoming increasingly expensive to sustain as a safe place for sheltering animals.
Ending this land use agreement may actually save APA! money, as our current cost to take pets from AAC is approximately $4 million dollars annually. Many of the pets we take today were never, or should have never been, at risk of euthanasia. While we do currently operate on free property, the agreement that Council signed off on in 2017, promising APA! a large enough chunk of land to rebuild operations, has turned out to be only ¼ to ⅓ the promised size, due to restrictions. Whether we stay at TLAC or not, we are forced to find and purchase another property to house most or all of our operations. And if we stay at TLAC, we will be contributing millions of dollars to Austin through facility building on park land.
Q: If the Town Lake facility is so expensive to maintain in its current state, why haven’t we built a new facility there yet?
A: To rebuild, we have needed an agreement that commits to our right to stay at Town Lake for the next several decades, under terms that allow us to fulfill our lifesaving mission into the future. We have not been able to reach an agreement or make the land large enough for our full operations. A new facility would also require a multi-million dollar campaign, and APA! donors would not invest in a new facility meant to serve our programs without formal assurance that we would be able to occupy Town Lake long term. This is why an agreement that supports our ability to remain the leader in lifesaving innovation is so critical. Our land use agreement shapes our future, and its present terms would mean we are stifled in innovating further.
Q: Wasn’t a long term agreement to use Town Lake approved in 2017? Why would you leave now?
A: A two-year-long Lamar Beach Master Planning process, which includes the land for APA!, West Austin Youth Association, the YMCA, Austin High and the walking trail, ended and was approved by City Council in 2016. In that plan, the buildable land outlined for APA!’s use was roughly the same amount of space at Town Lake as we occupy currently-about 3.5 acres. The big change was that our assigned space was pushed back from where we currently sit, to include a field that had been previously used by the YMCA. This shift was made to accommodate a planned future move of Cesar Chavez Street further away from the lake which would eventually go through our Davenport building footprint and half of our kennels. In 2017, the council voted to allow us to use the area outlined in the master plan for 75 years but we had to actually nail down the specifics of the agreement before executing it. We have been trying to solve the issues on the land (power lines, railroad, water main, heritage trees, floodplain, etc.) and the restrictions on our operations but have been unable to reach an agreement with city staff.
Q: Why is AAC at capacity?
A: Intake at AAC has actually declined since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, even while AAC’s resources have grown dramatically. Today, AAC is at capacity because they are backsliding, ignoring basic best practices like offering public resources and support services daily, proactive lost pet reunification services, assisting pet owners with self-rehoming, and managing a high volume foster program to house the majority of pets in foster homes each year. These are just a few of the measures that would prevent capacity issues at AAC. By not following these and other basic best practices, AAC is unable to manage the flow of animals through the facility and maintain a successful operation.
Q: Why does APA! take animals from communities outside the Austin-area?
A: The mission of APA! has always been to save as many animals at risk of euthanasia as possible. Taking in animals from across the state of Texas has been one pillar of our work for the last decade and is not a new practice. Helping those shelters with fewer resources and higher intake is something that our donors expect from us and is one of the reasons our work is supported nationally. Few shelters in Texas have the support and resources to accomplish what we can in Austin. Our work as an independent, non-profit organization allows us to extend our work to those in greatest need. As our capacity grows, we can no longer operate efficiently with the restrictions put on our land use agreement.
As always, APA!’s mission is to intervene to help any animal at risk of unnecessary euthanasia, especially for those shelters that lack resources and programs to help themselves. We never want to turn away an animal in need when the only other option for them is to be killed. AAC has the resources to save many more lives than they are currently, and we hope the City of Austin will hold them accountable for the most responsible use of the taxpayer resources that are now the highest in the US, per capita. APA! remains committed to taking in, and prioritizing over any other animal, any animal at risk of euthanasia from AAC as we always have.
Q: Will APA! be asked to vacate all operations at the current Town Lake facility if the license agreement is not signed?
A: If we and the city cannot mutually agree on the terms for our tenure at Town Lake, we will have no choice but to move off the property, and APA! will need to find a new place to call home. Even if APA! does sign a new license agreement, we still would be forced to find another location for part of our operations. We hope that we will be granted an exit period that allows for us to find a new facility and move operations without major problems.
Q: Where would APA! move its facility?
A: While the loss of this highly successful, public-private partnership on a site that should be considered a crown jewel landmark of Austin will be heartbreaking, we remain committed to our mission, and we will need a new location on which to rebuild Austin Pets Alive. We need your help and networking for securing a new site(s) on which to provide medical care, house emergency medical cases, and provide longer-term rehabilitation and housing for our dogs with trauma histories and special behavior needs. If you are able to help with securing a new location, please write to [email protected].
Q: What happens next?
A: Over the next 60 days, APA! is taking its case to city council and asking for their help to enact new contract terms and build a plan for sustainability in Austin. This will need to go to Council for a resolution to be voted upon. The timeline is short because our agreement officially ends on November 23rd. We believe that advocating for our agreement is very important but addressing the space crises at AAC as well as the lack of sustainability despite massive injections of funds into No Kill is just as important.
Q: What happens if the Council doesn’t act?
A: If the land use agreement terms fail, we will need a different agreement with the City regarding the timing for our move. That agreement needs to give us plenty of time to safely plan for a new location for our animals and full operations. We hope that we can amicably agree to ensure that all animals are treated fairly and humanely while we navigate the next steps. We will continue to keep all stakeholders informed throughout the process and call on you for more advocacy if we can’t get a safe exit agreement in place.
How does the City of Austin build a Sustainability Plan as requested in the proposed Resolution?
A No Kill Sustainability Plan would include a report to council with interim progress report in three months and then a final plan submitted in six months. This plan should be done in collaboration with the Animal Services Department, APA!, animal advisory commission and other stakeholders throughout the development process. This plan would use data to oversee and drive the adoption pipeline for each type of animal that enters the city shelter and build the programs necessary to eliminate the unnecessary separation of families and pets. Finally, the plan would transparently demonstrate how the budget is used to support necessary programs and give Austinites the ability to drive further progress.
Q: Why is it ok for APA! to transport animals out of Austin but AAC draws heavy criticism for the same practice?
A: APA! does not transfer any Austin area animals, that originally came from Austin, to communities outside of Austin because we believe animals in our No Kill city are safest here. The only animals we transport out of the city are from communities across the state coming from shelters with high euthanasia rates as we act as a transport HUB for those cities that transfer at risk pets to us.