Thursday, May 17, 2012

Austin - The Reality Check

Much has been said about Austin and their pursuit of the no-kill agenda in recent days after some animals had to be euthanized due to overcrowding.  The most amusing of which was the story Tragedy in Austin and particularly the commentary about the subject is below:
"Naysayers who are committed to a paradigm of killing will argue that No Kill is not sustainable. Naysayers who want it to fail will argue that No Kill inevitably leads to overcrowding. Naysayers who want animals to be killed will argue that there are too many animals, not enough homes. You can practically see them salivating, privately celebrating the deaths of dogs. They want animals to die and they are going to exploit Austin’s missteps to advance their pro-killing, killing-apologia agenda. But they are wrong on all counts." - Nathan Winograd - Tragedy in Austin
Let's be clear, no one is "celebrating" or "salivating" seeing animals animal die.  Yes, I've questioned whether Austin's plan is fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of Austin as their Animal Services budget grows year after year, while they give up other services.  And I've also questioned whether it's sustainable without even larger budget increases in years to come, to cover an ever expanding foster network.   But let's be honest, no one would say a parent was celebrating or salivating to see their child tragically die while drunk driving just because they warned the child it could happen, so the insinuation is just ludicrous and juvenile.  Keep in mind that I'm not the one making up derogatory names and calling anyone a killer like the no-kill movement does so readily, so I have no doubt about who the adult in the room is.  If there wasn't a concern that we were right, there wouldn't have been the previous blog post setting up the excuse making to come for Austin, and we wouldn't be seeing all the references in recent months on various no-kill movement pages using some of my favorite terms fiscally responsible, cost effective, sustainable, etc.  

So maybe it's worthwhile to go down the list of excuses to see what we learn from the experience.

New Location With Less Kennels
"One of the major factors contributing to the overcrowding situation is the city’s decision, made several years ago, to move the shelter to a new location which is very difficult to reach and contains 60 fewer kennels." - YesBiscuit! - Austin in Crisis
The fact is, Town Lake Center is still handling overflow from Austin Animal Center, and part of the facility is being used by Austin Pets Alive.  So in fact there is more capacity now than before the new shelter opened.  In fact, the original plan didn't include the continued use of Town Lake Center, so as a result there is actually more capacity to house animals than ever before.

"As of shelter opening Tuesday, the facility housed 1,046 with no more space to place homeless pets. There were 581 animals at the Austin Animal Center, which is over capacity by 130.
Town Lake Animal Center, used for overflow, is also at capacity, and 412 dogs, cats, and kittens are in foster homes." - KXAN
Hopefully that clears up any misconception that Austin officials have not continued to try and support the no-kill agenda despite the fact that it was costing them from all ends.

AustinPetsAlive Choice to Take San Antonio Animals
"But both are also importing dogs from San Antonio and other communities and at least some of the dogs are tying up foster homes and kennel space. And while both have agreed to a moratorium on doing so until the current crisis is resolved, it won’t bring those dogs back." - Nathan Winograd, Tragedy In Austin
As I've previously discussed, APA's decision to take animals was a 2 part decision.  It allowed them to bring in the cut and fluffy animals to encourage foot traffic in their adoption center, but it was also likely a means to shift the cost burden to San Antonio under a contract that provided them with much needed funding as a result of the ever increasing costs associated with the no-kill agenda in Austin.   Yes, they could have used those spaces for the Austin animals, but as Mr. Winograd stated later in the article, there are even more costs associated with treating sick, injured, unweaned, and traumatized treatable dogs and cats.  Those costs were most likely beyond the means of the organization.  Treatment is not free, and despite the argument that the no-kill agenda isn't more costly, I think Austin has made it clear to everyone that it is very costly.

No-Kills Suggestions For the Future

Offsite Adoptions
"I’ve always said the buck stops with the shelter and shelter leadership. Austin Animal Services does not do offsite adoptions and that is not acceptable, especially since many of the other No Kill communities which exist across the country also have shelters in a remote location, which they compensate for by doing so." - Nathan Winograd, Tragedy In Austin
 Note the word compensate.  Should I say cha-ching as the bills keep adding onto the Austin budget.

Provide More Incentives to Adopt

For goodness sake, Austin is handing out animals for free now.  What's next, start out with giving a toaster with each animal adopted, and maybe work their way up to a Lexus.  Again cha-ching.

Move Back To Old Facility
"in what would be an act of supreme courage—admitting they made the mistake and moving back to the location of the old facility. There is no doubt that the old facility needed capitalization, but better a scruffy looking cage for a dog, than a body bag." - Nathan Winograd, Tragedy In Austin
What can be said about that one other than a monster CHA-CHING.  Forget the fact that APA is currently trying to work out an agreement to use that facility.  I'm not sure if the suggestion is to walk away from the $12 million facility that the city paid to have the new shelter built, or if it is to fix Town Lake Center and keep them both open.  Both options include the cost of fixing up the old facility, but the latter also includes the additional cost of staffing a second location, which adds another cha-ching.

If these suggestions are what the no-kill movement considers fiscally responsible and sustainable, they are clearly using different definitions of those words than I am.

What Does This Mean For Other Communities?

I just hope that other communities like Hillsborough FL, who are currently considering going down this road, will take a good hard look at how this has worked out so far for Austin TX, and what this will potentially cost your community going forward.  While I realize there were some issues with your spay neuter program in the past, what was accomplished with the program was impressive, and there are many communities that would like to emulate your responsible approach.  So proceed with caution before going down the no-kill yellow brick road.

My Message to Austin

And to the various workers and volunteers in Austin, unlike some, I truly applaud you for your efforts.  While you cancel plans with your family to work long into the evening, you shouldn't have to be told that you "killed" animals, especially by those who sit behind a computer writing on their FB pages about Giant games with the son and veggie burgers.  While I believe the no-kill plan is shortsighted and takes away from resources that would be better spent preventing future animal population, I would never consider the great efforts extended by so many as a failure.  But I hope you also keep in mind that there are great efforts in other shelters that don't proclaim no-kill as well.  Shame on those that question others actions and efforts, especially when they've only been in your shoes for a sneeze in time.