AUSTIN, Texas - The Austin Animal Center is accepting very few healthy stray animals right now and Austinites are being encouraged to leave the animals on the street in the hope they'll wander home, or take them in themselves.
The policy began with COVID-19 and could be here to stay.
Shelter program manager Mark Sloatz says overcrowding is a constant issue and they don't want to waste space or taxpayer money on animals he says likely have a home. However, shelter volunteers say the policy will have poor results for animals and taxpayers, who they argue are absorbing the shelter's job.
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"They're making it very difficult to bring a stray animal into the shelter and the bottom line is that's what the shelter is for," shelter volunteer David Loignan said.
An internal memo from late April shared with FOX 7 Austin shows Austin Animal Center chief Don Bland outlining plans for the shelter's future. Those plans include turning away strays, and only taking in sick and injured animals and those with serious behavioral problems. The plans are based on a model American Pets Alive!, a national nonprofit, is rolling out.
"We're not really following the model that's going nationally, we're not doing the exact same thing," said Sloatz, who says the memo is outdated and was shared during the height of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.
Still, he says the shelter is seriously limiting its intake of strays. "It's about trying nationally to have shelters only sheltering in house, in brick-and-mortar centers, animals that truly need help because of either behavior issues, or health issues or age issues," he said.
Currently, the shelter is asking that the public help stray animals find their way home or let them try on their own, citing a recent study showing that community members are more than twice as likely to get a pet home than the shelter is.
Loignan says the study was based on a survey with an approximately 30 percent response rate that he believes could have skewed data. "Well, you're probably far more likely to respond to a survey asking what happened to an animal you found if you get to respond with a positive outcome," he said.
Ultimately, Sloatz says if all options have been exhausted, the shelter is accepting strays. But with limited intake appointments, getting a stray into the shelter could take time, leaving it in the care of a good Samaritan for weeks.
"Animals are gonna be left on the street, people are not gonna have the ability to get these animals to a safe place the community is going to be left doing the job that Austin Animal Center is paid to do," Loignan said.
Sloatz was unable to say just how long this policy will be in place. He says the shelter is always changing things and looking for ways to keep intake down.
FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.