Concerns arise over handling of violent animals in proposed city ordinance changes

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Key changes may be coming to Austin City Code, specifically how the Austin Animal Center deals with animals in its care.

The City Council has postponed a decision to amend regulations for impounded animals until Oct. 17. Council members said they need more time to study the language of the amendments.

It’s that language that has people within the community fearful that the amended ordinance protects the animals, but only at the expense of the people and their pets.

The amended ordinance is a grab-bag of changes. It makes requires certain immunizations for animals upon intake, amends waiver fees and establishes a formula for calculating the live release rate, better known as the “no-kill” rate.

Austin City Council is considering postponing item 84 related to an amendment of city code related to the Animal Advisory Commission (KXAN/Alex Caprariello)

But one of the more controversial issues being discussed are the new standards and guidelines before an animal is euthanized based on its disposition.

The amendment says that an animal may not be euthanized unless it has a documented history of severely injuring a human unprovoked. That means it can still be put up for adoption or re-sheltering despite a history of less extreme violent behaviors toward people or pets.

One shelter volunteer argues there are a lot of violent animals out there, and by re-sheltering them, we aren’t treating the dog, the potential owners or the pets humanely.

“It could put a dog that is really dangerous into the house next door,” Andrew Loomis said. “We are so anxious to show that we save all the dogs at the shelter level that we often don’t look at the community.”

Last year, Austin boasted a 98-percent no-kill rate at its shelter. It is the largest no kill city in the nation.

This month, the New York Times found euthanasia rates dropping nationwide. The paper found the desire for rescue adoption; shuttling pets to areas with more need; and the growing acceptance of spaying and neutering practices are behind the trend.

Loomis is working toward an applied animal behavioral certification and volunteered with behavior dogs at the city shelter and Austin Pets Alive for a decade. He said this new amendment will allow dogs that are very dangerous to be released to rescue, offering no protection for pets in the community.

“The dogs that have killed multiple other pets, there is nothing to prevent that rescue from successfully saying to the shelter you have to give us that dog,” Loomis said.

Instead, he suggested these violent animals be sent to humane sanctuaries or require the animal shelter to come up with specific requirements for how these dogs would be kept for the remainder of their lives. In some instances, Loomis admitted that euthanasia is perhaps the best option.

Dr. Ellen Jefferson, the executive director of Austin Pets Alive!, said the code needs serious revamping, and this amendment reflects Austin’s desire to maintain it’s outstanding no-kill rate. But she also shared the difficulty of striking a balance in public safety and the needs of the animals under city watch.

“Animal behavior is a really difficult subject to tackle,” Dr. Jefferson said. “Not even the industry knows everything there is to be known about the behavior of dogs and cats.”

“[City Council] is in the unique position in being an enforcement agency and trying to protect public safety and having a high release rate,” Dr. Jefferson said. “What we desperately need is an update to the animal code that reflects the current thinking of Austin.”

Tonight on KXAN News at 9 and 10 p.m., Alex Caprariello will speak to both animal rights advocates about the changes to the city code related to the outcomes of animals in custody of the city.

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