City shelter benefits from partnerships with private pet groups

Austin Animal Center is wrapping up a three-month campaign to boost pet adoptions at the city-owned facility.

The spring campaign highlights the benefits of adopting from AAC, which has been a no-kill shelter—meaning 90 percent of all cats and dogs at the facility are kept alive—since February 2011, Director Abigail Smith said. The challenge, she said, is convincing Austin residents to adopt at the city shelter rather than through private groups such as Austin Humane Society or Austin Pets Alive!.

"There is a steady flow of animals in the back door, and I don't get to choose who they are or where they come from," Smith said. "When [other groups] are at capacity, they just stop. When we're full, animals keep coming through animal control."

Less than half of all stray dogs taken to AAC return to their owners, Smith said, and only 6 percent of all cats are returned home. In total, 20,000 animals come through the city facility per year, she said.

Identification and microchips help reunite animals with their owners, Smith said, but private groups and animal foster homes are needed to help accommodate Austin's growing pet population.

AAC is among many organizations helping control Austin's pet population. AHS has remained a no-kill shelter since opening in 1994, Executive Director Frances Jonon said. She credits Austin's emphasis on rescuing pets for helping the city's shelter become the largest nationally to gain no-kill status.

"I definitely think the culture has embraced rescue options and getting [pets] neutered," Jonon said. "It's become cool to participate in these programs, and it's a little uncool not to do it. I think that's very much a part of who we are now."

The humane society also has a trap, neuter and return program for feral and free-roaming cats that, to date, has served 35,000 cats since launching in 2007. That helps limit the city's free-roaming cat population, which makes up 75 percent of all cats taken into city shelters, Dr. Katie Luke of AHS said.

"We're just breaking that cycle of reproduction," Luke said.

Luke also credits prevention programs such as EMANCIPET and Animal Trustees of Austin for providing low-cost spay and neuter services for residents to utilize for their pets. Forty percent of all operations done by EMANCIPET are free, Director Amy Mills said, and discounted spay and neuter surgeries cost $29–$65.

"Our work keeps animals in their families, in their homes, and keeps them from having unwanted litters," Mills said. "Which prevents shelter intake."

As Austin's population increases daily, so, too, does its pet population, she said. In 2011—the year AAC achieved no-kill status, EMANCIPET averaged 28 spay and neuter operations per every 1,000 Austinites.

"As Austin's population increases, we need to be sure we stay at that ratio," Mills said. "That means we have to do more spays and neuters every year."