AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council members on the Audit and Finance committee will walk through an audit done on the Austin Animal Center Wednesday which shows the municipal shelter is facing many challenges.
Austin City Council asked for the audit in July of 2022, KXAN previously reported.
The audit focused on why the shelter is overcrowded, why intake has been restricted since September 2022, if the animal shelter is treating animals well and if the City of Austin’s set “no kill” rate is sustainable.
The City released a draft audit this week which found the following:
- The City’s animal welfare priorities conflict with each other
- AAC is not finding enough homes for animals and is overcrowded
- Relationships inside AAC and with groups outside of it are “strained”
- AAC is not doing well managing data
It provided several recommendations to the City Manager and Don Bland, the Chief Animal Services Officer at the AAC. KXAN has reached out to the City to ask about next steps for those recommendations.
In a statement provided to KXAN on Thursday, Bland said, “We appreciate both the Office of the City Auditor and the National Center for Animal Shelter Evaluations for the immense amount of time and effort put into these reports. We look forward to working with the City Manager’s Office and City Council to address identified issues and recommendations to strive for success at the shelter.”
As a part of the audit, the National Center for Animal Shelter Evaluations was also brought in to do an independent evaluation. You can find the full external evaluation here. Here’s a breakdown of the 102-page document showing the external expert’s findings:
- The outdoor facilities on the property were described as “unkept and disorganized with many items strewn about.” The report also noted walkways and green areas near the building had weeds, tall grass, bird droppings and old dog poop
- The report said the “Sally-Port,” an area that is used for storage and shipments, “appears to be a catch-all area for just about anything and everything.” It described some of the items in that area to have bird or mouse droppings in them
“A system needs to be developed and introduced to proactively address any building and grounds issues,” the report recommended. It also urged AAC to urgently address tripping hazards, bird dropping accumulation and stray dog poop.
Inside the shelter, the report noted five “themes”:
- Disorganized and unsanitary work environments for people including an “inadequate ventilation system”
- Unsanitary and dirty spots in animal areas
- Unsanitary and dirty equipment and supplies
- Not enough primary enclosures inside
- And “animal comfort and safety not maintained”
“Unfortunately, the building’s interior shows worse than the exterior. Some animals are housed in conditions that are substandard, while staff and volunteers work in unsanitary conditions, the report said. It continued: “Substandard cleaning and sanitation practices, combined with inadequate animal housing, are not national and international models for No Kill animal sheltering.”
The evaluation noted a rub between trying to maintain Austin’s “no kill” status and humanely taking care of animals at the AAC.
“What appears to challenge AAC leadership and even City officials is AAC’s challenge to
maintain a 95% live release rate without compromising humane treatment of animals,” it said, going so far as to recommend City Council revisit it’s local code.
It asked City Council to ask itself if the 95% live release rate is sustainable followed by the following:
“Is the City interested in providing humane care that meets that needs of the animals and community they serve, or is the City more interested in maintaining the 95% live release rate for the prestige and accolades it receives? While the two are not mutually exclusive, AAC struggles to meet a 95% live release rate without compromising humane care of animals?”
The evaluation did find that overall, AAC is using best practices to adopt out animals, but recommended customer service staff training to make the process more consistent and to offer people more information as they’re leaving with a new pet.
“Customer service at AAC is good, and can be improved upon,” the evaluation said.
Over the four days evaluators were at the animal shelter, they say they did not believe volunteers knew overall knew “how to properly handle or restrain animals and lacked ability and skills to read and understand animal behavior.”
It also recommended the City look at minimizing sound between kennels, which it said the building does not provide for now, make temperatures more comfortable for animals, better clean animal spaces and stop putting animals in temporary crates.
Again, the report noted that while much emphasis has been put on the 95% live release rate, it felt AAC was not prioritizing the well-being of its animals.
The above video is a previous interview between the leader of the Austin Animal Center, Don Bland, and Grace Reader for an investigation KXAN did earlier this year on overcrowding and lack of intake at the shelter.
“The biggest weakness of the Austin Animal Center is the care of the animals and the
environment provided for them. This is ironic given that AAC is the City of Austin’s go to
resource for animals and even enforces animal regulations,” the report read.
The report also pointed to the building not being built to hold the number of animals it is receiving in 2023. That’s something Director Don Bland told KXAN in an investigation earlier this year.
The report did find positives in the Veterinary Service team and also said that AAC has a “very thorough and extensive” approach to selecting dogs for euthanasia, which has “numerous checks and balances.” The report described AAC as a national leader in that space.
The Veterinary Services Team did express challenges with volunteers “and even some staff” who do not follow best practices, adding more work for veterinary staff, the report said. Those staff members said they also felt volunteers had more access to City Council and the Austin Animal Commission, and that veterinarians were not being consulted when policies were being discussed.
The analysis found there are only two people doing communications for the AAC and that the marketing budget for the shelter is only $5,000 a year.
“As much good work as these two employees have done at managing the marketing and
community relations efforts, they are at maximum bandwidth with work responsibilities and daily
tasks. (And they do this without the guidance of a formalized marketing plan or direction from
AAC leadership.),” the report said.