AUSTIN, Texas - Animal advocates are calling out the Austin Animal Center after a video posted online showed someone trying to surrender a stray dog and being turned away.
In the video posted on Facebook Thursday, a staff member can be heard telling the person with the stray dog, “If you can't keep her, and no one on your Nextdoor or Austin Lost and Found Pets can hold onto her, you probably should just let her go where you found her.”
“We were all told, across the board, the entire facility, if anyone approaches you asking about bringing in a stray animal, you're to tell them to release it back into the street,” said Gabryelle Elder, a former staff member at AAC who left one month ago.
It shocked the Austin community, but for animal advocacy groups like TRAPRS, who helps with animal street rescues, it's what they've heard since the COVID-19 shutdown unless the animal is sick, injured, or dangerous.
“Yes, that has been the general line that AAC has been feeding the public, both directly from the shelter and through 311, is to return dogs to the street if you are unable to keep them,” said Amy Lewis, who runs TRAPRS.
“So we did that that in the very beginning, you know that's true, because so many animals are picked up actually in their own front yard,” said Don Bland, Austin’s chief animal services officer.
Bland said the employee in the video simply misunderstood that the policy has since changed. “We'll make arrangements to pick it up,” said Bland.
However, even on Friday afternoon, animal advocates said people who called 3-1-1 for help with a stray were told the shelter and animal protection officers would not be able to help. Bland said that's not the directive he sent to 3-1-1.
“Even though it's being given to them, it's not going through to them. So some of them are still working on old information, and we constantly battle that since we've been closed,” Bland said.
In another part of the now-viral video, the same staff member said, “There's no need for her to be in a kennel without receiving proper care here.”
Current shelter staff anonymously shared pictures of boards where they keep track of how often each dog is getting out of its kennel. An “N” means they didn't get out the previous day. A second “N” means they haven't been out in two days.
Bland said the photos don't tell the whole story. “So other departments that are not normally doing that have been walking dogs. And I know, when I walk the dogs, I haven't written it on the board. You know, I just get them out because they need to be out,” he said.
Members of the Orange Dot Crew, a group of highly involved AAC volunteers who haven't been allowed in since the shutdown, aren't convinced.
In a statement, David Loignon wrote:
"The whiteboard is the only way people know whether a dog has been walked. This is the only way to keep some dogs from being walked multiple times and others not at all. If a shelter director is blaming the whiteboards on his own inability to follow the most basic shelter protocol, I would strongly question that person's ability to run a municipal shelter. It is clear from our discussions with multiple staff members still on site that the boards are very accurate and dogs are not getting out of their kennels at even the most basic level.”
Bland said volunteers will be allowed back in the shelter to help with animals on July 6th. Currently they are handling adoptions and intakes by appointment only.
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