AUSTIN (KXAN) — Should the City of Austin undo a 2019 section of city code that prohibits Austin’s city shelter from spaying a visibly pregnant animal (unless medically necessary) until rescue groups have had the chance to step in? It’s something the Austin Animal Advisory Commission recently took up for consideration.

“I work really hard, and have taken extreme lengths that I’m pretty proud of to save lives of puppies and kittens but that’s very different from the veterinarians and the experienced animal welfare workers at the shelter being told they can no longer make a decision about a pregnant cat or dog,” said Dr. Paige Nilson, a relief veterinarian who contracts with the Austin Animal Center. She brought the discussion forward during a commission meeting last month.

Nilson said the rule contributes to the overpopulation problem at the shelter, and even though puppies and kittens might be quickly adopted, additional animals impact city services. She also said it impacts people who care for cat colonies and try to bring cats in to be spayed and neutered so the colonies don’t grow.

“When members of the public bring them into the shelter to do the right thing, to have them spayed or neutered, because of this ordinance sometimes they’re told, ‘I’m sorry. You’ve done the right thing for your city but because this cat is pregnant your city shelter can’t give you the services that you brought this cat here for,'” Nilson said.

What that often means is the people bringing pregnant animals to the city shelter are given a choice: Allow the animals to be offered up to other shelters, who will allow the animal to give birth and try to adopt out the babies, or to return and reclaim the animal without the spay.

One of the groups in Austin that would be notified of a possible animal spay of a pregnant animal would be Austin Pets Alive!, which sees the issue a bit differently.

“We have multiple studies that showing that there are many more adopters than we could possibly have enough animals for, and most adopters want puppies and kittens, so it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to us as to why this is even being discussed,” said Dr. Ellen Jefferson, president and CEO of APA!

Jefferson said APA! takes in 100% of the pregnant cats and dogs the city shelter offers to them and that those puppies and kittens don’t stay long at the shelter.

“The code simply asks the city shelter to not spay any visibly pregnant animal until rescue groups have had a chance to take that animal. It doesn’t require them not to spay that animal, it just requires them to give notice,” Jefferson said.

APA! told KXAN they’ve taken 21 pregnant cats from the Austin Animal Center so far in 2022, resulting in 73 kittens being born. They also took in 16 pregnant dogs from ACC, who had nearly 100 puppies.

“We don’t have a problem getting puppies adopted, we’ve never have puppies grow up in our facility and stay here forever and all of our kittens get adopted as well,” Jefferson said.

But Nilson said this city code puts an unnecessary restriction on a procedure often recommended by a professional at the shelter, or delays the process for that procedure.

“We need to make decisions on this based on our experience and our specialized training and we don’t need laws that prevent us from making the right decisions for the cats and dogs and people of our community,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Austin Animal Center said that in compliance with the 2019 ordinance they have not spayed any pregnant animals at the shelter.

“Occasionally, an animal will give birth here at the shelter prior to being picked up; sometimes the family isn’t ultimately picked up by a rescue. This means that if we can’t find a foster home, the puppies or kittens are housed at the shelter for up to 2 months,” that spokesperson wrote.

The commission voted down a resolution by Nilson to pass the possible change to Austin City Council, but Nilson said it’s a conversation that’s going to continue to be had.

“I think this is a discussion worth having and I think it’s a discussion that people are interested in having and I’m definitely going to bring it up more,” Nilson said.