City reports Austin Animal Services falling short on animal care, response time

The City of Austin said overcrowding at the Austin Animal Center led to inadequate animal care and untimely responses to animal emergencies.

An Austin city audit found that for one-third of all emergency calls about dangerous dogs, it took about 16 hours for animal services to respond. Those emergency calls include aggressive or injured animals or police requests for assistance. Animal control officers said the reported numbers don't reflect actual response time.

"We really focused in on the priority one calls and those calls are active emergencies and need a quick response and the goal for that is two hours and more than half the time they were hitting that two hour target, but for the remainder of the calls the average was about 16 hours per call," said Acting City Auditor Corrie Stokes.

"If there is an immediate public safety hazard or if the animal is injured, we respond immediately. And we have officers that are on call during the nighttime hours in the event that we get called out," said Chief Animal Services Officer Chris Noble.

The city reports that animal services many times doesn't dispatch officers to calls received after hours until the next day.

"It sounds like part of the problem is they have not typically had staff members who were there overnight and I was pleased to hear our interim animal services officer plans to address that," said Austin Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo.

Noble said data collection doesn't accurately reflect an officer's response time, but he agrees with all of the information in the city audit.

"There is some confusion or more clarification needed in the way we prioritize our calls and we are doing that now," said Noble.

For the last five months the City of Austin has been working on the audit to find answers to questions surrounding the Austin Animal Center.

"We're achieving our no kill rate, which is great! We set a goal at 90 percent of our animals coming out alive and that's awesome, but it also comes at a cost," said Stokes.

That cost is overcrowding.

In January 2014, the city designated $5.5 million to build 100 new kennels and cut down on overcrowding at the animal center, but shelter staff don't expect the new kennels to be completed until Fall 2017.

Noble said in the meantime, with so many cats and dogs, the short staffed shelter has to prioritize. That means many animals there aren't getting the 15 minutes of care per day recommended by the National Animal Care and Control Association.

"Walking the animals and getting them out of their cages, kennels, on a daily basis, that is ideal. That is something we would like to do, however, with staffing restrictions we have our primary mission and objective as sanitation, nutrition and medical care," said Noble.

Shelter staff hopes the audit will help make Austin Animal Center a better temporary home for the 20,000 animals it serves each year.