AUSTIN, Texas - Since the city's stay home order took effect, Austin Animal Control officers are only responding to emergency calls, like sick, injured or dangerous animals.
Right now, it's up to the community to help reunite lost pets with their owners and animal rescue organizations worry that's leading to an increase in dumped animals.
"They are directing people to reach out to their community, whether that's through Nextdoor or Craigslist or knocking on doors or hanging up fliers and trying to reunite pets," said Dr. Ellen Jefferson, executive director of Austin Pets Alive! which takes in animals from the Austin Animal Center.
If the person who locates a lost animal is unable to hold onto it until the owner is located, the Austin Animal Center is encouraging them to leave it where it is.
"I think that their intention is probably that they're probably really close to home and they have a better chance there than being hauled away from that area of town," Jefferson said.
The Austin Animal Center said more pets are actually finding their way home since Animal Control Officers stopped responding to as many calls.
"The city has about an 18 percent return to owner rate once the animal ends up at the shelter, but, in the field, in this emergency situation that's crazy for everybody, it is ridiculously high. it's 87 percent," said Jefferson.
Still, the grassroots pet rescue network TRAPRS is concerned. In a statement they write:
"The shelter has long been a safety net for our vulnerable animals but with this crisis, that safety net is in limbo. As this wears on and more people find themselves in difficult positions, unable to adequately care for their animals, and with no option of where to take them, from our perspective of boots on the ground for lost pets, we are seeing an uptick of more dumped animals, and more desperate people begging for relief. And with more animals on the streets, good Samaritans are finding themselves in a difficult position of having no resources or concrete guidance or policy to tell them what to do if they can’t keep a Found pet in the short term or if they can help short term, a system in place to guide them through foster in a longer term. We are trying to provide some guidance and partnering with APA to help find solutions to these issues that are suddenly weighing heavily on our community."
"There's just an unknown number of animals that are kind of falling through the cracks out there in the community and we just don't have a really good understanding of how many that is and if that's the normal number or more. So, it would be really great if we could figure that out," Jefferson said.
Austin Pets Alive said with COVID-19 possibly impacting staffing at both the Austin Animal Center and their shelter, they have worked very hard to find more foster homes to decrease the number of pets on site. They are also planning for an increase of animals in need of shelter when the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals starts to climb.
TRAPRS is partnered with APA! for an emergency COVID-19 response foster program. If you have a stray or found animal that you're unable to hold, please reach out to TRAPRS at theTRAPRS@gmail.com or 1-844-287-2777.
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