AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Animal Center is struggling against the latest in a recent string of issues after an error led to the deaths of unborn puppies. This comes on the heels of harsh criticism made against the shelter’s hiring practices.
Spaying gone wrong
Officials with the center admitted to accidentally spaying a pregnant dog, thereby killing its unborn puppies on Thursday.
According to Jennifer Olohan, the communications and media manager for the Austin Animal Center, the procedure was due to a clerical error.
Olohan said “Marley” was surrendered by her owners earlier in the week.
The shelter followed its standard protocols of notifying Austin Pets Alive! to see if it would claim the pregnant dog. APA! sent an e-mail to the shelter, offering to claim Marley, but the dog was accidentally scheduled for surgery anyway.
The Austin Animal Center sent out a statement regarding the incident:
“The spaying of Marley was an unfortunate result of human error. The Austin Animal Center veterinarian staff does follow a Standard Operating Procedure of scheduling animals who are not confirmed on by the deadline, for surgery the following day. A miscommunication occurred, causing staff to schedule Marley one day early. This situation has helped us identify a weakness in the communication process with our partner, and we will be implementing additional safeguards to ensure this does not happen again.”
Other city officials have also stepped forward, condemning the mistake by the Austin Animal Center staff.
Council Member Leslie Pool released a statement, calling the procedure “unconscionable” and questioned the leadership and the enforcement of the shelter’s long-standing procedures.
“I trust the city manager will get to the bottom of what happened to ensure it never happens again,” Pool’s statement read.
Scrutiny over hiring practices
The mistake comes at a time when the shelter is seeing additional scrutiny over its hiring practices for a new Chief Animal Services Officer. The shelter has received harsh criticism from Dr. Ellen Jefferson, the director for Austin Pets Alive!
A group of concerned citizens also held a press conference at city hall Friday morning, expressing their displeasure with the city’s hiring process.
“Austin’s status as a no-kill city is now at risk due to the complacency, inattention and indifference at the city manager’s office,” Ryan Clinton, an Austin attorney said. Clinton said he was an integral part in drafting the city’s ordinances related to animal welfare a decade ago.
The City of Austin released the following statement regarding the Animal Services Officer candidates:
“As a matter of practice the City of Austin does not comment on specific personnel decisions. Regarding this position generally we can say, after gathering information from the Austin community on what qualities and experience their ideal candidate would possess, the City of Austin went through a nationwide recruiter to search for a Chief Animal Services Officer. Candidates for the Chief Animal Services Officer position applied for the job knowing that Austin is the largest No Kill community in the nation. This standard in pet care is something many cities across the U.S. strive for, and in order for it to be changed it would need to be approved by council, who at the March 28, 2019 Council meeting, raised the No Kill benchmark from 90% to 95%. There were several rounds of interviews with highly qualified candidates, and the final two were chosen and presented at a public Meet and Greet event. The City of Austin is proud of the final two candidates and knows that both of them are seasoned public service professionals with a passion for animal care. We’re confident that the successful final candidate will lead Austin Animal Services programs and initiatives into the future.”
Investigation of the missing dogs
The Austin Police Department is also investigating a stolen dog from the animal center. This is the fifth stolen dog within the last two months.
In June, AAC reported four dogs were missing from the shelter. One of them returned after being found running near the shelter at U.S. Highway 183 and Levander Loop. Olohan said the other three are believed to have been stolen and have not been found.
The Austin Animal Center said it’s working to add more security cameras in “strategic locations where we’ve identified vulnerabilities.”
KXAN reached out to Tom Rott, an Austinite who has volunteered at the Austin Animal Center for more than three years.
We wanted to find someone who is not in management for either the shelter or outside groups, someone who could share their views about the current operations at the shelter.
He said there is a new level of transparency from the current management, what he sees as a positive. But he also identified weaknesses, like its history of overcrowding and a lack of security on premises.
“It’s not to say that everything in rosy, but I do believe that the vast majority of dogs in care, we can get eyes on and can truly determine if they are being put there to die or are getting the care that they need,” Rott said.
As for the stolen dogs, he called it “criminal” and pushed for harsh penalties. He also said there are long periods of time where animals within the buildings do not have direct supervision.
“There are buildings left unattended. There’s no question, during public hours,” Rott said.
He also chimed in about the current hiring process for the shelter’s new Chief Animal Services Officer. He said he favors a candidate who has seen success leading a team over someone who has experience in animal care.
“As someone who has seen the difference over the last five months, I would take the managerial and leadership experience everyday of the week and twice on Sunday,” Rott said.