Austin, Texas has become synonymous with no kill success. While Austin Animal Center exceeded the 90% live release rate many consider as being no kill in 2012, the shelter’s live release rate increased sharply in 2016. The shelter’s success in 2016 was spearheaded by Director of Animal Services, Tawny Hammond, and Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer, Kristen Auerbach, both of whom came over from Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Virginia.
Hound Manor performed a fantastic analysis of Austin Animal Center’s 2016 results. This analysis utilized various computer programming techniques to extract incredibly useful data from Austin’s open public data on its web site. While I don’t have the skills to replicate such an analysis, I was able to obtain some key data I frequently use in my New Jersey animal shelter analyses.
Tammy Hammond left Austin Animal Center in May 2017 to join Best Friends and Kristen Auerbach resigned in July 2017 to take over Pima Animal Care Center in Tuscon, Arizona. How did Austin Animal Center perform in 2017? Did the shelter continue its success without two of its key leaders?
Incredible Live Release Rates
Austin Animal Center saved virtually every dog that arrived in 2017. Overall, only 1.3% of all dogs, 1.1% of pit bull like dogs, 1.5% of small dogs and 1.2% of other medium to large size dogs lost their lives or went missing at the shelter. Even if we only look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, only 1.8% of all dogs, 1.7% of pit bulls, 2.1% of small dogs and 1.6% of medium to large size breeds lost their lives or went missing. Thus, Austin Animal Center saved almost every dog it took in last year.
Austin Animal Center’s pit bull numbers are especially noteworthy. Despite taking in over 1,900 pit bull like dogs in 2017, Austin Animal Center saved 99% of these dogs. On a per capita basis, Austin Animal Center impounded 1.9 pit bulls per 1,000 people compared to my estimate of just 0.9 pit bulls per 1,000 people taken in by New Jersey animal shelters as a whole. In other words, Austin Animal Center saved 99% of its pit bull like dogs even though it took in twice as many of these dogs on a per capita basis as New Jersey animal shelters. Similarly, Austin Animal Center adopted out 0.8 pit bulls per 1,000 people compared to the 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out to achieve a 95% dog live release rate. As a result, Austin Animal Center’s results prove New Jersey animal shelters can do a far better job with their pit bull like dogs.
Austin Animal Center also had amazing cat numbers. Overall, only 5.3% of all cats, 7.2% of adult cats, 1.9% of kittens 6 weeks to just under one year and 8.5% of kittens 6 weeks and under lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2017. Even if we exclude cats who were reclaimed by owners and placed through the shelter-neuter return program, only 6.4% of all cats, 11.1% of adult cats, 2.2% of kittens 6 weeks to just under 1 year and 8.6% of kittens under 6 weeks old lost their lives. Thus, Austin Animal Center saved almost all their cats of all ages.
Austin Animal Center Only Euthanizes Dogs for Legitimate Reasons
The table below lists the reasons Austin Animal Center used to euthanize dogs in 2017. As you can see, 75% of the euthanized dogs were due to severe medical reasons (i.e. suffering, at veterinarian).
Austin Animal Center limits behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs. Hound Manor’s blog on Austin Animal Center’s 2016 data found the shelter euthanized a similar percentage of dogs for behavioral reasons in the final quarter of fiscal year 2016 as the No Kill Advocacy Center targets (i.e. under 1%). As you can see below, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.15% of all dogs for behavioral related reasons (i.e. aggression, behavior, court/investigation). Even if we add rabies risk and none, Austin Animal Center would have only euthanized 0.22% of all dogs for behavioral reasons. Thus, Austin Animal Center limited behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs.
Austin Animal Center also reduced the number and percentage of dogs euthanized for rabies risk. As Hound Manor mentioned in its blog, few dogs killed for rabies testing end up having the disease. In fact, the New Jersey Department of Health’s guidelines state shelters should not euthanize dogs for rabies unless they have clinical signs of the disease. Austin Animal Center euthanized 5 dogs (0.05% of all dogs) in 2017 compared to the 14 dogs (0.14% of all dogs) reported by Hound Manor in fiscal year 2016.
The shelter also limited behavioral euthanasia for pit bull like dogs to truly aggressive animals. Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.26% of all pit bulls for aggression and behavior. In fact, this number was nearly identical to the percentage of all dogs euthanized for behavioral related reasons. The other 0.58% of all pit bulls euthanized were suffering. When you couple this data with the results of a recent study showing severe dog bites did not increase after Austin implemented its no kill plan, it proves shelters can in fact safely adopt out large numbers of pit bull like dogs.
Austin Animal Center’s reasons for euthanizing small dogs followed this same pattern. The shelter only euthanized one dog for aggression and other behavioral reasons (0.03% of all small dogs). This is quite close to my standard that shelters should never euthanize a small dog for aggression. Almost all the other small dogs were euthanized for severe medical issues (i.e. suffering, at veterinarian).
The shelter also only euthanized other medium to large size dogs for legitimate reasons. Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.18% of other medium to large size dogs for behavioral related reasons (i.e. aggression, behavior, court/investigation). Even if we add rabies risk and none, Austin Animal Center would have only euthanized 0.30% of all dogs for behavioral reasons. Virtually all the rest of the other medium to large size dogs were euthanized for severe medical problems.
Austin Animal Center Limits Cat Euthanasia Primarily to Severe Medical Issues
The table below lists the reasons Austin Animal Center used to euthanize cats in 2017. As you can see, around 90% of the euthanized cats were due to severe medical reasons (i.e. suffering, at veterinarian). While 5% of the euthanized cats and 0.2% of all cats who had outcomes cited “medical”, its possible these were severe medical issues that warranted humane euthanasia. Similarly, Austin Animal Center’s very low numbers of cats euthanized for no documented reason or for being underage (6 cats, 2.41% of euthanized cats and 0.10% of all cats who had outcomes) may indicate clerical errors rather than the shelter killing cats for no good reason. Most impressively, Austin Animal Center did not kill a single cat for behavior or aggression.
Austin Animal Center also reduced the number and percentage of cats euthanized for rabies risk. As Hound Manor mentioned in its blog, few animals killed for rabies testing end up having the disease. Austin Animal Center euthanized 7 cats (0.11% of all cats who had outcomes) in 2017 compared to the 23 cats (0.34% of all cats who had outcomes) reported by Hound Manor in fiscal year 2016.
These statistics indicate Austin Animal Center pretty much only euthanizes hopelessly suffering cats. Given shelters should never kill cats for aggression or behavioral reasons, this is an incredible achievement since Austin Animal Center had 6,569 cats who had outcomes during the year.
Austin Animal Center’s Partner Helps the Shelter
Austin Pets Alive has been a major reason the community achieved no kill status. Historically, this organization pulled animals directly from the kill list at Austin Animal Center. In other words, instead of cherry-picking easy to adopt animals like many rescues do, Austin Pets Alive takes on the most difficult animals. As a result of taking on these tough cases and the organization’s strong desire to make Austin no kill, Austin Pets Alive developed and implemented a host of cutting edge programs. Examples, such as dog playgroups, a Canine Good Citizen training and certification program and large scale fostering help save the lives of large dogs that are most likely to lose their lives in shelters. Other programs, such as parvo and ringworm treatment and barn cat placements save vulnerable animals. In addition, Austin Pets Alive’s owner surrender prevention program helps owners keep animals and avoid giving them to Austin Animal Center. Thus, Austin Pets Alive has historically focused on its community to help Austin Animal Center achieve no kill status.
Austin Animal Center is relying less on Austin Pets Alive than in the past. In 2012, when Austin Animal Center first exceeded a 90% live release rate, it sent 29% of its dogs and 51% of its cats to Austin Pets Alive and other shelters and rescues. Last year, it only sent 22% of its dogs and 28% of its cats to Austin Pets Alive and other organizations. As a result, Austin Pets Alive has been able to assist other Texas shelters since its local animal control shelter truly achieved no kill.
Austin Animal Center Sets a New Bar for Lifesaving
Austin Animal Center has continued to improve over the years. While Austin Animal Center benefited from having an amazing rescue oriented shelter, Austin Pets Alive, help, Austin Animal Center has really stepped up its game. You can see some of the innovative programs, such as progressive animal control, breed neutral adoption policies, a large scale foster network, innovative social media use and a huge and effective use of volunteers in this story. As a result of these efforts, Austin Animal Center has effectively limited euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals and dogs that are truly dangerous.
While Austin Animal Center’s success is hard to match, the animal control shelter serving the area just to the north, Williamson County Animal Shelter, also is extremely successful. Despite having a significantly smaller budget per animal than Austin Animal Center (approximately 40% less after adding an estimated $200 per animal to Williamson County Animal Shelter’s budget for animal sheltering only) and receiving less rescue support for both dogs (Austin Animal Center: 22% of outcomes; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 10% of outcomes) and cats (Austin Animal Center: 28% of outcomes; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 11% of outcomes), Williamson County Animal Shelter came close to reaching Austin Animal Center’s live release rates for dogs (Austin Animal Center: 98.7%; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 98.0%) and cats (Austin Animal Center: 94.7%; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 90.2%).
Williamson County Animal Shelter also had very impressive adoption numbers. While Austin Animal Center’s per capita adoption rates of 4.6 dogs and 3.2 cats per 1,000 people are excellent, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s per capita adoption rates of 5.0 dogs and 6.7 cats per 1,000 people are even higher. Similarly, Williamson County Animal Shelter scored much better using my dog adoption model taking into account shelter capacity and owner reclaims (Austin Animal Center: 118% of target dog adoptions; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 251% of target dog adoptions). Williamson County Animal Shelter’s high score was primarily due to it quickly adopting out animals. This is reflected in the shelter’s short average length of stay figures (dogs: 8.0 days, cats: 13.4 days).
The key point is that Austin Animal Center is not unique. Since an animal shelter taking in over 7,300 dogs and cats in 2017 (i.e. higher intake than the largest New Jersey animal shelter) next door to Austin can achieve similar success, this proves Austin Animal Center was not taking homes away from animals in nearby areas. If anything, Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter likely spurred innovation at both facilities through raising standards and learning from each other.
New Jersey animal control shelters can achieve similar success. In 2016, Associated Humane Societies, New Jersey’s largest animal sheltering organization, took in $1,354 of revenue per dog and cat impounded. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center had a budget of $715 per dog and cat and Williamson County Animal Shelter only had a budget of $416 per dog and cat and total revenue of $493 per dog and cat after adding $200 per dog and cat for animal control services (shelter does not pick up animals). Thus, New Jersey’s largest animal welfare organization takes in far more money per dog and cat yet its Newark facility is high kill and had horrific state health department inspection reports.
Clearly, shelters like Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter prove most animal control shelters can achieve high live release rates and attain real no kill status (i.e. only euthanize hopelessly suffering and truly dangerous dogs). The time for excuses has stopped and its now time for action.