AUSTIN (KXAN) — After an audit of the Austin Animal Center was released, parents who says their daughter was attacked by a dangerous dog released into the community by the shelter is asking the City to take its findings seriously.

The del Rio family filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin last year saying even though a dog proved dangerous at the AAC, it was adopted out to their neighbor. The pit bull mix attacked a then-6-year-old girl delivering Christmas cookies in 2021, the lawsuit says.

Noelle del Rio ended up with a concussion, a broken arm, a punctured skull and had to undergo treatment for bites to the head, which included having her “skin literally ripped from her cranial tissue,” the lawsuit says.

The family told KXAN the attack has “fundamentally changed” their lives.

After the attack, the family says they filed public information requests and found the dog had a bite history at the shelter, “including biting a child in the face,” the lawsuit claims.

“The incident is unfortunate and one that occurred 16 months after a shelter adoption. This is an ongoing lawsuit and for that reason, we cannot get into the specific allegations related to that lawsuit. What we can tell you is that we follow state law and ordinances, and if someone requests a dangerous dog designation and the dog meets the state’s standards for dangerous, we use a third-party hearing officer to hear and decide the case,” a City spokesperson said.

The lawsuit claims the City was “grossly negligent” in not euthanizing the dog and that “the City’s operation of its No Kill policy is not animal control, is ultrahazardous, and is proprietary.”

The family believes the shelter is pressured to release dangerous animals into the community to hit the City’s 95% live release rate.

“I think what’s not being talked about that we want to share is the human cost of what’s going on outside of the shelter. And there is a cost and our daughter was almost killed because of the negligence that’s in place there,” said Stephanie del Rio.

It’s the same policy a recently released audit asks the City to revisit, questioning whether the 95% live release rate is sustainable.

“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,” an external evaluation said.

KXAN reached out to every Austin City Council member, excluding Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison who is on medical leave, to ask whether they are considering a revision of the City’s ‘no-kill’ policy as the audit recommends.

“I am open to exploring any suggestions about how we can keep Austin animals safe. I am here to brainstorm and make a positive impact for these animals,” Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said.

She was the only council member willing to comment.

“The idea that there’s an arbitrary number or percentage that is going to be set without actually looking at the animals that you have in your custody or care, we think is a bad idea. And it’s that idea that led to this dog not being euthanized earlier,” said Andrew del Rio.

The “no-kill” policy was created in 2010 and the standards for that policy were raised to 95% of animals in 2019, KXAN previously reported.

In 2019, KXAN reported that several animal advocates and volunteers had stepped forward to say that while they support a recommitment to a “no-kill” movement, they worried not enough focus was being placed on the quality of life for the animals taken into the shelter. 

Others, including Dr. Ellen Jefferson, the executive director of Austin Pets Alive!, said at the time that Austin has become a “safe haven” for animals.

“The resolution is simply about not going backward,“ she said in 2019.

You can read the external evaluation from the National Center for Animal Shelter Evaluations here