WEEKEND READ: Pet owners mourn animals killed in fire, school masking debate continues, snakes in Austin

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A candlelight vigil was held the evening of Sept. 21, 2021 at San Gabriel Park for the 75 pets lost in a weekend fire at Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown. (KXAN Photo/Andrew Choat)

A candlelight vigil was held the evening of Sept. 21, 2021 at San Gabriel Park for the 75 pets lost in a weekend fire at Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown. (KXAN Photo/Andrew Choat)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s never a shortage of news in Texas.

As of Friday, there are 2,908 active COVID-19 cases in Austin-Travis County. There are 441 people hospitalized, including 188 people in the ICU and 123 patients on ventilators. While the Austin-Travis County area dropped down to Stage 4 of COVID-19 risk-based guidelines this week, the pandemic — and precautions — go on.

Here are this week’s other big stories.

Grief in Georgetown

It was just one week ago when 59 families lost beloved pets in the late night fire at Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown. At least 75 animals died, most believed to be due to smoke inhalation.

“We are working through the fog of our own grief, but we know each family is pained more than we are. It is soul-wrenching to lose a friend suddenly and without warning. I realize this, and grieve for each life lost, and the families disrupted by this tragedy,” Ponderosa Pet Resort owner Phillip Paris said in a condolence message to those affected.

Georgetown authorities are still working to determine the fire, though it’s not believed to have been arson.

For the families, the grief and questions go on.

KXAN spoke to Don Richard and Pam Richard, who got married only the day before the fire. They’d housed their two puppies, Bunny and Clyde, at Ponderosa and planned to pick them up Sunday.

“Yeah, we never thought this would happen,” Don Richard said. “That’s for sure.”

Snakebite

This week, KXAN spoke to Jay Middleton, a Denver man who received a rather unwelcome welcome to Austin.

Back in July, Middleton says he was on a hike with his wife in northwest Austin when he felt a sting on his foot.

“I sort of look back to say something to my wife and I felt a sting on my foot,” Middleton said. “I turned to say something to my wife about it and she’s like, ‘Oh look, a snake.’ And I’m like, ‘I know. It’s a Copperhead. It just bit me.’

He’s only one of the 353 people bitten by a snake in Texas so far this year, according to Texas Poison Center Network. Read more about why snake sightings are on the rise at the link below.

Drama in Round Rock

Despite ongoing tensions at Round Rock ISD school board meetings, the district voted Wednesday night to extend mask requirements.

At Wednesday’s meeting, public comment went on late, as concerned parents (both in favor of and against mask requirements) and students spoke.

“The words of Gov. Abbott announced, ‘Any mask mandating will be renounced.’ Why should I follow the rules but not you?” said RRISD student Lilly Barten.

Extended public comment aside, this week’s events were far less eventful than a Sept. 14 meeting, which led to the arrests of two men — both charged with disorderly conduct.

Austin ISD parents file lawsuit over masking

At Austin ISD this week, a group of parents filed a lawsuit against the district and its leaders, saying that the district’s masking and quarantine policies are unsupported by Texas law and “violations of the Texas Constitution.”

The group’s 278-page lawsuit claims the policies are harmful to children — and the group of parents say the move is about choice, not anti-masking.

“We are not a group against masks whatsoever, we absolutely want choice. Parents should choose for themselves,” said plaintiff Loni Neuffer.

Austin ISD said Thursday it had not yet been served the lawsuit and couldn’t comment until that happened.

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