Austin, Texas has become synonymous with no kill success. While Austin Animal Center exceeded the 90% live release rate some people 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. Using this data, I did an analysis of Austin Animal Center’s 2017 results last year. This data showed the shelter achieving extremely high live release rates for cats, dogs, pit bulls, young kittens and other types of animals.
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 2018? 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 2018. You can find a link to the data I used here. Overall, only 1.2% of all dogs, 1.1% of pit bull like dogs, 1.5% of small dogs and 1.0% of other medium to large size dogs lost their lives or went missing at the shelter. The death rates for all dogs and other dogs decreased by 0.1% and 0.2% from 2017 while pit bulls’ and small dogs’ death rates remained the same as in 2017. Even if we only look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, only 1.6% of all dogs, 1.8% of pit bulls, 2.1% of small dogs and 1.3% of other medium to large size breeds lost their lives or went missing in 2019. 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 1,930 pit bull like dogs in 2018, Austin Animal Center saved 99% of these dogs. On a per capita basis, Austin Animal Center impounded 1.6 pit bulls per 1,000 people compared to my estimate of New Jersey animal shelters taking in just 0.8 pit bulls per 1,000 people from the state. 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 0.7 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. Furthermore, Austin Pets Alive and other local rescues adopt out additional pit bulls in the Austin area. 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 4.4% of all cats, 5.9% of adult cats, 1.9% of kittens 6 weeks to just under one year and 7.0% of kittens under 6 weeks lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. As compared to 2017, the all cats’, adult cats and neonatal kittens death rates decreased by 0.9%, 1.3% and 1.5% while the older kittens death rate remained the same. Even if we exclude cats who were reclaimed by owners and placed through the shelter-neuter return program, only 5.4% of all cats, 9.5% of adult cats, 2.1% of kittens 6 weeks to just under 1 year and 7.0% of kittens under 6 weeks lost their lives in 2018. 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 2018. As you can see, 74% 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 0.10% 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 0.14% 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 two dogs (0.02% of all dogs) in 2018 for rabies risk compared to the five dogs (0.05% of all dogs) from 2017 and 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 0.05% of all pit bulls for aggression, behavior and court/investigation reasons. In fact, this number was only one half of the percentage of all dogs euthanized for behavioral related reasons. In other words, pit bull like dogs were significantly less likely to be aggressive than other similar size dogs. Most of the rest of the pit bulls euthanized were suffering (0.41%). 0.1% of pit bulls (two dogs) were euthanized “at veterinarian” or for “medical reasons”, but its quite possible these animals were also hopelessly 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 euthanized no small dogs for aggression and other behavioral reasons. Given small dogs do not pose a serious danger to adult people, this is exactly what we should see at every shelter. Almost all the other small dogs were euthanized for severe medical issues (i.e. suffering, at veterinarian). While two dogs did not have a reason for their euthanasia, its possible they could have been hopelessly suffering.
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 0.22% of all other medium to large size dogs for behavioral reasons. Almost 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 2018. As you can see, around 90% of the euthanized cats were due to severe medical reasons (i.e. suffering, at veterinarian). While 4% of the euthanized cats and 0.1% 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 (2 cats, 1% of euthanized cats and 0.03% 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 or for being underage.
Austin Animal Center also euthanized few cats 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 11 cats (0.18% of all cats who had outcomes) for rabies risk in 2018 compared to 7 cats (0.11% of all cats who had outcomes) in 2017 and 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 impounded 6,036 cats during the year who had outcomes.
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 21% of its dogs and 27% 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 and Austin Pets Alive Use Many Foster Homes
Austin Animal Center sent 722 dogs, 139 pit bulls, 172 small dogs and 411 other medium to large size dogs to foster homes. Overall, 7% of all dogs went to a foster home after arriving at Austin Animal Center. Unfortunately, we don’t know how many of these were very short-term fosters, such as overnight breaks from the shelter, to determine how much extra capacity all these foster homes created. However, the data indicated virtually all these dogs were in fact eventually adopted either by the people fostering the dog or another person.
Austin Animal Center sent a good number of large dogs into the program. Specifically, significant numbers of both pit bulls and other medium to large size dogs aged four months and older went to foster homes. In other words, people weren’t just fostering cute puppies that the shelter would have quickly adopted out with or without the help of foster homes.
Austin Pets Alive has an even larger dog foster program. According to a presentation made during the 2018 American Pets Alive Conference, Austin pets Alive adopted out 2,300 dogs from foster homes and had 671 active dog foster homes as of September 2017. In addition, Austin Animal Center’s dog and cat foster programs doubled the shelter’s capacity per 2016 data from a presentation at a past Best Friends National Conference. Given fostering dogs can eliminate perceived dog behavior problems, significantly increase a shelter’s capacity to hold animals, reduce sheltering costs and bring in adoption revenues, growing foster programs is a huge priority for many progressive shelters.
Austin Animal Center also sent many cats to foster homes. Overall, the shelter sent 13% of all cats, 4% of 1+ year old cats, 25% of kittens aged six weeks to just under one year and 5% of kittens under 6 weeks of age to foster homes at some point. While we don’t know how many of these cats were temporary or short-term fosters, the shelter ultimately adopted out nearly every single one of these animals.
Austin Pets Alive has an even larger cat foster program. According to a presentation at the 2018 American Pets Alive Conference, Austin Pets Alive places thousands of cats each year in over 650 foster homes. Thus, both Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive, which focuses on making sure Austin Animal Center achieves the highest live release rates, have huge cat foster programs.
No Kill Culture Raises Lifesaving to New Heights
While Austin Animal Center has attained very high live release rates, local no kill advocates continue to raise the bar. Certainly, Austin Pets Alive has created innovative and groundbreaking programs to save the animals people previously believed were destined for euthanasia. Similarly, the Final Frontier Rescue Project has been advocating for the few remaining dogs being euthanized at Austin Animal Center. In addition, this group rescues many of the most challenging dogs (i.e. the last 1%-2% at risk of losing their lives) Therefore, the no kill movement in Austin continues to improve and pressure Austin Animal Center to do better.
That being said, Austin Animal Center is not perfect. The shelter lost three of its shelter directors in the last couple of years. Additionally, there is no doubt that room for improvement exists.
Austin 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 50% 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: 21% of outcomes; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 7% of outcomes) and cats (Austin Animal Center: 27% of outcomes; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 5% of outcomes), Williamson County Animal Shelter came close to reaching Austin Animal Center’s live release rates for dogs (Austin Animal Center: 98.8%; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 98.1%) and cats (Austin Animal Center: 95.6%; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 92.0%).
Williamson County Animal Shelter also had very impressive adoption numbers. While Austin Animal Center’s per capita adoption rates of 3.9 dogs and 2.5 cats per 1,000 people are good, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s per capita adoption rates of 4.9 dogs and 4.7 cats per 1,000 people are even higher. This is reflected in the Williamson County Animal Shelter’s short average length of stay figures (dogs: 8.8 days, cats: 11.6 days).
The key point is that Austin Animal Center is not unique. Since an animal shelter taking in 6,371 dogs and cats in fiscal year 2018 (i.e. almost as many animals as 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’s animal shelters and Williamson County Animal Shelter likely spurred innovation at facilities in both communities through raising standards and learning from each other.
New Jersey animal control shelters can achieve similar success. In 2017, Associated Humane Societies, New Jersey’s largest animal sheltering organization, took in an estimated $1,194 of revenue per dog and cat impounded based on the Associated Humane Societies June 30, 2017 Form 990 and its reported animal intake during 2017. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center had a budget of $884 per dog and cat and Williamson County Animal Shelter only had a budget of $463 per dog and cat and $538 of total revenue 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 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.