Williamson County

No-kill animal shelter expansion opens, doubling capacity

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) -- A new expansion to the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter opens officially Thursday, nearly doubling the number of kennels the organization has to house dogs and cats.

The new space is allowing the shelter to give each animal more room to roam. The original shelter, which is still in use as well, was too small when it was built 12 years ago, community programs coordinator Misty Valenta said.

That meant doubling up dogs in kennels and keeping portable crates in hallways. "They didn't have as much space as we would like," Valenta said, "but it was better than the alternative."

Since 2010, WCRAS has qualified as a "no-kill shelter," meaning they achieve a 90 percent or greater "live outcome" rate. Last year the shelter saved 97 percent of the animals that came through the facility.

There are more than a dozen no-kill shelters in central Texas, including several in Austin. In December, San Marcos city council members charged leaders of the San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter to achieve 90 percent survival rates within the next five years.

But how shelters hit the no-kill mark is more complicated that just having enough space to keep cats and dogs until they're adopted. 

The Austin Animal Center has qualified as "no-kill" since 2011, the same year the city opened its new facility on Levander Loop in east Austin. An expansion that included additional dog kennels opened at the site last year, but it filled up with animals immediately, said Jennifer Olohan, communications and media manager for AAC.

"We've learned that as long as we have the space," she said, "we're going to keep filling it."

Instead, the city is focusing on other programs to keep animals out of the shelter in the first place, including free microchipping, increased fostering and access to pet supplies for families that can't afford them.

AAC also started sending teams into neighborhoods with the highest intake and lowest reunification to go door-to-door to find original owners.

"They'll bring a list of pets who were found in that area to see if maybe someone lost their pet and try to reunite them that way," Olohan said.

The focus on programming instead of more shelter space helped the city's live outcome rate rise to 98-99 percent last year, Olohan said. 

"It's really important for the community to know that the answer is not bigger shelters," she said. "It's preventing animals from coming into the shelter in the first place."

That's not to say space is not important. AAC relies heavily on partnerships with rescues like Austin Pets Alive! and the Austin Humane Society to take dogs and cats out of the city's shelter.

"All of it's necessary," WCRAS's Valenta said, especially for shelters like hers that don't turn away any animals. Sick and aging animals are often difficult to adopt out, but as an open shelter, WCRAS still counts less-adoptable pets in its no-kill stats.

That shelter has also been expanding foster programs in recent years, and the staff is focusing more on transports to other parts of the country, especially the northern U.S., where shelters don't have as many adoptable big dogs.

"Every one is a piece of the puzzle," Valenta said, "and we can't rely on one puzzle piece to create the whole picture."

The WCRAS expansion opens officially at 11 a.m. Thursday. To celebrate, the shelter is offering free adoptions for all adult cats and dogs.

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