Monday, November 02, 2009

Letters to the Editor

Two letters to the editor were printed in the Austin America-Statesman today regarding Town Lake Animal Center:

Monday, November 02, 2009

Town Lake animal disgrace

I recently saved a sweet three-legged 12-year-old dog from Town Lake Animal Center's death row.

I was shocked that Austin has such a poor excuse for an animal shelter. We waited in the adoption room for 20 minutes before we were told no one would be staffing the adoptions room that day. We were shuffled to another room, interviewed, then left on our own.

Most dogs had accidents in their cages. When I got my adoptee out of his concrete cell, he was pooping and peeing as he walked because he was house trained and must had been holding it for a while.

The experience was not adoption-friendly: too many rooms; old, dirty, jail-like cages; highly stressed, uncomfortable animals.

I can't believe Austin treats its sheltered animals this way. Shame on the city and whoever is charge at the shelter.

Stephen Plyler

Round Rock

Re: Oct. 27 editorial "Pets, progress depend on civility in Austin."

Animals are being killed at Town Lake Animal Center because of the lack of civility? It seems that the Austin Animal Advisory Commission begs to differ, as do animal welfare groups across the country.

Animals are being killed because of lack of strong leadership at the shelter and at the City Council. Cities all across the United States are no kill, and it isn't because of civility. It is because of common sense, economically sound decisions and deciding that killing healthy animals is no longer an option.

How many no kill conferences are the shelter Director Dorinda Pulliam and/or her staff attending? Austin should be leading, not lagging behind.

Sasha Evans


Monday, October 26, 2009


Every day, Austin Pets Alive rescues as many dogs and cats as they can from Town Lake Animal Center. But make no mistake, they leave some behind and they hate it. Thankfully, there’s something you can do to help this Tuesday: On October 27th at 6pm at the Rosewood Zaragosa Neighborhood Center (2800 Webberville Road), we need you to speak for those being left behind.

At Tuesday’s City-called public meeting, the City wants your input on what it should prioritize at the shelter. We need you to advocate for Austin Pets Alive’s efforts to increase “live outcomes”—more adoptions, transfers to rescue groups, and animals returned to their homes. We want no adoptable healthy or treatable dog or cat left to die today.

Believe it or not, there are powerful forces in our community who believe that the animals left behind are not worth trying to save—that they should continue to be “humanely destroyed,” day after day, while we exclusively focus on long-term goals. On the other hand, we think every healthy and treatable dog and cat who enters the shelter should have a chance to leave alive today. We’ve got the data to prove it can be done and Austin Pets Alive has the know-how to do it. In fact, Austin Pets Alive is already singlehandedly responsible for over 96% of the increase in live outcomes at the shelter this year over last. What we don’t have is the City’s buy in, and that’s where you come in.

We need the City to hear from you that even while it continues to employ long-term strategies, it must increase efforts to stop today’s shelter killing. For decades, the City and some other groups have focused exclusively on the latter, leaving shelter animals to die day after day. We need you to help us make Austin Pets Alive's short-term “live outcomes” strategies the City’s #1 focus today, while we continue with our already well-funded, well-planned long-term strategies to reduce intake tomorrow.

Please attend Tuesday’s meeting to advocate for Austin Pets Alive’s efforts to increase live outcomes now. We are unwilling to continue turning our backs on the dogs and cats left behind, and we need you to be their voice.

See you there,
The Team

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Animal Advisory Commission Holds TLAC Violating State Law

Tonight, the Austin Animal Advisory Commission unanimously voted that Town Lake Animal Center is failing to comply with Texas law's mandate to humanely separate sick and healthy animals.

We were particularly struck by a comment from the Animal Commission's Chairperson, Larry Tucker, who said:
“With a $5.5 million annual budget, you would think that shelter Director Dorinda Pulliam could at least treat the animals humanely before they are killed. But we discovered that the shelter is routinely and inhumanely confining sick and healthy animals together, in direct violation of State law.”
We are saddened but unsurprised that TLAC is not treating animals humanely. Read more on the story here:

Monday, October 19, 2009

We Don't All Want the Same Thing

In a conversation with an aide to an Austin City Council member today, we were told again that we should all get along--- because we and the shelter manager who has presided over the unnecessary deaths of over 100,000 homeless dogs and cats "all want the same thing."

How do we say this nicely? Um... No. You are wrong. We do not all want the same thing.

We want our community to become a No Kill city by implementing the proven, cost-effective policies and programs that have led to dramatic reductions in shelter killing in communities all over the country. They want to continue the status quo policies and hope (against all rational thought) that continuing to do the same thing, over and over again, will effect a different outcome.

We want an off-site adoption program that will bring the wonderful, healthy and happy impounded dogs and cats to the people of Austin. They think that there is no point to having off-site adoptions because no one wants the dogs and cats that don't get adopted at the shelter anyway.

We want a foster program that will expand the capacity of the shelter by saving young kittens, young puppies, and dogs needing a little extra TLC to get adopted. They want to rely on old excuses and to blame the public for the deaths of all animals at the shelter.

And, perhaps most importantly, we want a shelter manager who embraces proven, cost-effective life-saving methods and rejects long-disproven myths to justify killing dozens of dogs and cats every single day. They... well... do not.

So can we please stop saying that we all want the same thing? We do not, and saying so doesn't make our disagreements go away. Worse yet, saying so fails to recognize that there are different paths from which to choose. The path of respect for every life and the path of bureaucratic resistance. Those are different paths, and they lead to different places.

So please stop saying it: We don't all want the same thing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is the Mueller Redevelopment Austin's Most Pet UN-Friendly Neighborhood?

When the City of Austin released plans for its own, master-planned community at the old Austin Mueller Airport, a lot of people (including us) had reason to be excited. Mixed-use neighborhoods, parks, wide sidewalks and front porches were promised--- the kind of neighborhood we would all like to be a part of.

But then came the great animal-shelter debate of 2007. The City's shelter management decided it would be best to move the animal shelter away from its prime, central location in the heart of Austin's vibrant downtown in favor of a site in an industrial area on the City's eastern outskirts. At the time, we wondered why the Mueller Redevelopment wasn't being considered for the new shelter because it was city-owned property, being designed as a mixed-use, walkable development. What more could we want for the new animal shelter? Why Mueller was "off the table" was a question we didn't learn the answer to until years later: As is turns out, the leaders of the master plan lobbied the City Council against including the animal shelter in its design. Mueller 1, Animals 0.

If that wasn't enough to be pissed off at those who designed the Mueller Redevelopment, we've now discovered that the leaders of the neighborhood have also decided to ban all owners of pit bulls from the neighborhood. In Section K-2 of the Mueller Redevelopment's Rules and Regulations, there it is: breed discrimination in the worst form. The rules expressly ban ownership of a "pit bull terrier."

It is truly remarkable that in a City as progressive as Austin, the leaders of the City's own master-planned community have fallen to ignorance (at best) when it comes to breed discrimination. Anyone who has taken a moment to do a little research could have learned that pit bulls are among the best dogs you'll ever own, once considered America's Nanny for their calm, steady stewardship of families and children. Mueller 2, Animals 0.

So who would be banned from the Mueller Redevelopment based on its leaders' ignorance? Well, we could start with former Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter. Throw in Helen Keller and General George S. Patton. Celebrities John Stewart, Jessica Alba, and Brad Pitt are also banned from living in the Mueller Redevelopment. Geez, come to think of it, I guess we're in good company.

Friday, July 03, 2009

"July 4th Dogs" Expected to Flood the Shelter - What You Can Do

While Fourth of July fireworks and parties are fun and exciting for people, they can be terrifying for pets, especially dogs left alone in backyards. In their fear they break chains (illegal in Austin!), and go over, under, or through fences. They may be miles from home and unable to find their way back by the time the noise is over and they calm down. Shelters across America are so inundated with lost dogs over the next few days that they've even coined a term for them – "July 4th dogs." The fate of these family pets is often tragic - death in a frightening and unfamiliar place. Even if the "July 4th dogs" make it home again, other dogs who have been at the shelter longer may pay with their lives as shelters make room for the flood of new arrivals. Cats can be victims of July Fourth as well. Don't let your dog or cat become a statistic - keep them inside on the Fourth!

Here are some tips to keep your pets safe this Fourth of July:

  • Keep dogs and cats inside your home the evening of the Fourth.
  • Make sure all pets are wearing well-fitting collars with up-to-date tags. Better yet, get them microchipped and make sure to keep your contact information updated.
  • If you'll be away from home, provide safe chew toys (like stuffed kongs) to distract your pet.
  • Consider crating pets known to be especially anxious or who may become destructive or break out through a window. If you don't have a crate, confine them to one room with safe chew toys and remove any objects they could destroy or that would be harmful if chewed or eaten.
  • Leave a radio or tv on to cover the noise of any fireworks or loud parties.

Don't forget to keep pets safe during the heat of the day by providing a continuous supply of fresh water, a shaded place if outside, and limiting exercise to morning and evening hours. And NEVER leave your pet in the car in the summer, even in the evening.

Lost Pets
If your pet is lost, visit the shelter every day or check online until found. Post large flyers with color photos of your pet around your neighborhood. Post a lost pet ad on Craigslist and check the found pet ads. Contact your neighbors or post to your neighborhood's mailing list or newsletter.

Found Pets
If you find a lost pet after the Fourth, if possible keep them at your home while you look for their owner to ease the strain on the shelter and save lives. If the pet isn't wearing tags, you should take it to the shelter to be scanned for a microchip, photographed, and entered in their lost and found database, then bring it home with you.

Some other communities, like Albuquerque, New Mexico, are taking special steps to ensure pets and owners are quickly reunited this holiday. We hope to see Austin's shelter take such a proactive approach in the future.

Other articles of interest:
Pet Detective Tracks July 4th Orphans
July 4th Safety Tips for Owners
Tips to Keep Your Pets Safe This 4th of July
Don't Let Your Dog Become a July 4th Dog
Chew Treats Needed to Calm Shelter Dogs on July 4th (Austin)
Valley animal shelters to be closed on 4th for lack of space

KVUE News Seeks's Comments

In Austin, we're well known as the independent animal-welfare advocates in town. We don't take money or any other resources from the City, so we can speak with an unbiased voice on animal issues.

Today, we used that voice to speak against Town Lake Animal Center's ill-advised proposal to cut funding for low-cost and free spay-neuter services next year. You can watch KVUE reporter Steve Alberts's coverage of the controversy here:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Update on City's Proposed Cuts to Spay/Neuter Services

A lot of people are appropriately fighting to keep Emancipet from getting its funding cut as TLAC staff has imprudently proposed to the City Manager.

But it's also important to point out that several of TLAC's alternative budget cuts (in addition to the Emancipet cut) propose to replace cut items using funds from TLAC's "donations fund," which is currently used essentially as a "slush fund" by TLAC's director. The donations fund has nearly half a million dollars in it. TLAC has argued, then, that the proposed cuts to Emancipet and other items (like microchipping, and medical services for feral cats) are not really cuts at all---because their funding will be replaced by the donations fund.

Here's the problem: the donations fund currently pays for lots of items, including emergency medical services and (most importantly) free and low-cost spay/neuter services. So if an item on the proposed list of cuts (say, microchipping) gets its funding cut but then replaced by the donations fund (as TLAC currently proposes), that too will effectively cut spay/neuter services because the money from the donations fund won't be able to be used for spay/neuter services.

So what's the alternative? We truly believe the only way to have a serious, open, and honest discussion about budget cuts is to have a real, line-by-line TLAC budget that is open to the public for all to see--- and for all to suggest cuts. While the Animal Advisory Commission has been given a more detailed budget this year than in prior years (after Council staff intervened), the more detailed budget still does not provide the level of detail necessary to propose real, honest cuts. For example, TLAC spent $13,300 on "cat tents" to use as give-aways at the same time they proposed to cut spay/neuter services. But there is no "cat tents" line in any budget anyone has seen.

This is not to say that real cuts haven't been proposed despite the (probably intentional) difficulty in comprehending TLAC's budget. Pat Valls-Trelles has proposed several real cuts, and a subcommittee of the Animal Advisory Commission is attempting to do the same. And, several FixAustin members are also attempting to come up with proposed cuts--- and those "cat tents" are a good place to start.

We will continue to attempt to find unnecessary spending in the TLAC budget that is of lesser priority than TLAC's proposed cuts to spay/neuter services. Just thought it was important to communicate where we are in this process, the main reason this is more difficult than it should be, and the importance of contesting not only TLAC's proposed cut to Emancipet, but also the proposed cuts to anything that will have its funding replaced by the donations fund.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Animal Lovers Needed in Williamson County!

While we tend to focus on Austin's homeless pets, let's not forget about our neighbors to the north! The Williamson County Regional Animal Shetler is completely full of cats and kittens and needs people to come up and adopt or foster a cat or kitten. Williamson County's shelter director, Cheryl Schneider, believes that we should do everything we can to humanely save lives before resorting to euthanasia, so let's give her some help!

Please adopt or foster a cat or kitten from the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter. They are located at 1855 S.W. Inner Loop in Georgetown, Texas. Check out their website at, or call the shelter at 943-3597 for more details.

Thanks for helping Central Texas's homeless pets!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Historic Vote at Austin Animal Advisory Commission

Hello all,

Tonight was an historic evening at the Austin Animal Advisory Commission. For the first time ever, the Commission unanimously voted to recommend that Town Lake Animal Center adopt programs and policies that have ended unnecessary shelter killing in other communities. Among the recommendations were that TLAC implement a comprehensive adoption program including off-site adoptions, a large-scale foster program, improved customer service, and candor and honesty with the public.

I cannot underscore how important this was. And I would specifically thank Larry Tucker, Vice Chair of the Commission, for drafting the plan and getting it unanimously passed by the citizen commission.

The next step is that we need the Austin City Council to adopt these recommendations and implement them as a mandate to staff. Please begin e-mailing the City Council at to tell them to implement the Animal Advisory Commission's No Kill recommendations.

Please forward and cross-post.

Warmest regards,
The Team

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Few Notes on Mandatory Spay-Neuter Laws

Every so often, someone in Austin will adamantly swear that passing a mandatory spay-neuter law is the key to ending shelter killing in Austin and beyond. The biggest problem with that statement is, of course, that mandatory spay neuters have never worked to end shelter killing in any jurisdiction. It's important to govern with your head, not your gut, and based on all available evidence, your head should tell you that mandatory spay-neuter laws do not work.

But Christie Keith has published an article on the Daily Kos that adds a new argument against such laws: mandatory spay-neuter laws are regressive. The number one reasons people don't spay or neuter their animal is cost. So if you make all spay/neuter mandatory and you don't provide a free or low-cost option, persons of lower means will be disproportionately forced to hand their beloved pets over to animal control-- likely to be killed in most jurisdictions.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fostered Pets Need Loving Homes

The Management Team not only advocates for homeless pets; we also roll up our shirtsleeves and do the hard work necessary to save lives.  Three of our foster animals are almost ready for loving homes.  Are you the right forever owner for them?

"Happy" is a fun-loving, big, goofy mutt found as a stray in Central East Austin.  We've searched for several weeks to find his home but no one has come for him.  He'll get fixed this week and wants to find a loving home that appreciates his smarts and loyalty and can handle his strength.  Happy is obedient, handsome, and strong!

These two sweet kittens are also scheduled to get fixed and will soon be ready for their forever homes.  Brother and sister, they make a great team but can also be separated.  "Brie" is a fun and inquisitive calico female, and "Ozzie" is a gentle, cuddly orange tabby.

Please consider giving Happy, Brie, or Ozzie a loving home.  They anxiously await your e-mail!  Contact for more information.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Congratulations to Animal-Friendly Candidates!

We are so pleased to congratulate "5 Paw" City Council candidates Mike Martinez, Chris Riley, and Bill Spelman for their elections to the Austin City Council tonight.  We look forward to working with you as we look ahead to a No Kill Austin.  

Friday, May 08, 2009

Full-Page Ad in the Austin Chronicle

Check out's full-page Voter Information Guide in the Austin Chronicle this month.  You can view the full-page guide by clicking here.

FixAustin a National Leader in Shelter Advocacy

Congratulations to, which has become a national leader in shelter-reform advocacy.  In fact, founder Ryan Clinton, an appellate attorney who has five times been named one of the best attorneys in Texas under 40, was a featured speaker at the No Kill Conference in Washington D.C. at the beginning of May.  Three cheers for animal advocates!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

FixAustin Foster Kittens on Fox 7 News

This evening, Fox 7 News ran a story on the importance of having a foster program to reduce the completely unnecessary killing of young kittens.  As the story mentioned, Town Lake Animal Center killed 32 completely healthy kittens in April 2009 alone just because they were too young to adopt out.  A large-scale foster program at TLAC would save these cats, but of course, TLAC says it doesn't need a foster program (or it alread has one?).

Click here to watch the story!

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Voter Information Guide Has Been Released!

Hello friends,

We're happy to announce that's annual Voter Information Guide was released this morning.  Four City Council candidates received the highest marks for their commitment to animal-welfare issues:  Mike Martinez, Bill Spelman, Chris Riley, and Perla Cavazos.

You can read our guide, along with links to each candidate's response to our questionnare, on's homepage linked here.

Happy Voting!
The Team

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 is now on Twitter!

Just in time for the No Kill Conference this weekend in Washington, D.C., FixAustin has joined Twitter! Visit or text "Follow FixAustin" to 40404 from your cell phone to follow our updates.

Several members of the FixAustin team will be attending the conference and will be tweeting about our experiences. The conference will feature forward-thinking shelter directors saving over 90% of the animals in their communities and animal law experts using the legal system to protect animals. You can keep up with all the news from the conference by watching #nokill on Twitter or by visiting Animal Wise Radio will also webcast from the conference.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Candidate Ratings Coming!

As has done before past elections, we'll be posting City Council candidate animal-welfare ratings and also their responses to our animal-welfare questions.

As a teaser, you'll be shocked to hear what one leading candidate plans for the future adoption center on Town Lake... or should we say "lack thereof."

Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Two New, Limited Time Free and Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Options in Austin

Emancipet and Animal Trustees of Austin have announced two new, limited-time low-cost and free spay/neuter opportunities in Austin.  We've tracked down the details and highlighted them below.
As you may know from reading this blog, decreasing intake is a critical part (though only part) of bringing a community to no-kill success.  While the City of Austin does a deplorable job on keeping animals alive once they've reached the shelter, it does a great job in supporting low-cost spay-neuter programs to decrease shelter intake.  Here are two great new programs run by Austin-area non-profits.  The second program is funded by the generous donations of Austinites to the City pound's donations fund.
Three cheers for Emancipet and Animal Trustees of Austin for providing these services!
1.  Emancipet's "5 Saves Lives!" program:
  • For the month of May only, puppies and kittens up to 5 months old will receive spay/neuter surgery for just $5.  Schedule your appointment now at Emancipet.  Call 512.587.7729 or visit  Mention "5 Saves Lives."
  • The 5 Saves Lives special is at Emancipet (stationary clinic) only.  It is a new effort to highlight the importance of spay/neuter at an early age (preferably between 3 and 5 months old).  An appointment is required, so pet owners should call now to book one, and this is good for the entire month of May - all puppies or kittens 3- 5 months old get surgery for $5. 
 2.  Emancipet's and Animal Trustees of Austin's "Summer of Love" cat special:
  • Emancipet and Animal Trustees of Austin are providing free cat surgeries for all pet cats.  Free Microchip.  Free Rabies shot will be provided if there is no proof of current vaccination.   Schedule an appointment at Emancipet 587-7729 or Animal Trustees of Austin 450-0111.
  • The free cat surgeries are available the first full week of each month in May, June, and July (May 4 - 9, June 1 - 6, and July 6 - 11).  The special includes surgery, rabies, and microchip for all cats who come into either clinic those weeks.  At Emancipet, the cats will also get a free collar and custom ID tag.  Appointments are required and spots are limited, so book early.  This is for owned cats only - not for rescue groups or feral cats.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Oops The Chronicle Did It Again

In it's April 10th issue, the Chronicle admitted (in a correction titled "Oops") that it had mistakenly reported, based on information from the ASPCA and Austin's pound, that the percentage of animals killed at Austin's pound has declined each year since the current shelter director was hired in November 2000.  As pointed out at the time (and here), that claim is not remotely true. 

So the Chronicle editor issued this statement in its latest edition:

In "How Many Cats Did Austin Save Last Year?" News, April 3, in briefly summarizing long-term trends, we mischaracterized the euthanasia rate over the last nine years, and we regret the error. Although the total numbers of animals killed at the Town Lake Animal Center slowly declined over the previous decade, the marked improvement in the euthanasia rate (that is, the percentage of received animals killed) has occurred over the past year in connection with the new Mission: Orange partnership. The larger trend is that, for most of the Nineties, Austin was killing two-thirds of the animals received at the center but is now killing less than a third.

One would think the Chronicle would have bothered to fact-check its factual correction to its incorrect factual claim, but on the subject of Austin's pound, it has become clear that the Chronicle does not bother to verify that its factual claims are true. The editor's new claim--- that "the total numbers of animals killed at the Town Lake Animal Center slowly declined over the previous decade"---is also wrong.

Starting with fiscal-year 2000-01, the total number of animals killed each year at the shelter is (in date order):  11,567; 10,722; 12,466; 12,887; 14,304; 12,343; 14,055; 10916. While we feel safe speaking for most Austinites in celebrating the most recent decline in shelter killing, we wish the Chronicle would limit its reporting to "facts" that are actually true.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Shop at Book People, Keep Austin's Pets Alive!

On April 25th, Book People will donate 10% of purchases made at the store that day to off-site adoption group Austin Pets Alive, which is saving nearly 100 dogs and cats each month off of the kill list at Town Lake Animal Center.  

The only catch is that you must use Austin Pets Alive's coupon.  To get your coupon, hit this link:  It's a great way to help Austin's lost and homeless pets find loving homes.

Sticking to the Facts

In case anyone is wondering where FixAustin gets its statistics on Austin's pound, we get them directly from the source:  Austin's pound.  In Texas, there is a Public Information Act that makes most government documents available for public review.  In Austin, TLAC makes its sheltering statistics available to the public as a result of this law.

More recent months are actually even available on-line on the City of Austin health department's website:  The reports available on-line cover the months from September 2007 to the present.  Older reports are available upon request from the City's public information department.

For more information on requesting public information, visit the Texas Attorney General's website:

Best regards,
The Team

Monday, April 06, 2009

Math Is Not Their Strong Point

From the Austin Chronicle's latest pro-shelter propaganda:
"During Pulliam's tenure, according to animal shelter records and those of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the euthanasia rates have dropped each year since 2000, her first year."
Here are the actual figures:

Year         Live Intake       Killed         Kill Rate
00-01        22907                 11567         50.5%
01-02        21163                 10722       50.7%
02-03        23283                 12466         53.5%
03-04        24121                 12887         53.4%
04-05        24815                 14304         57.6%
05-06        23480                 12343         52.6%
06-07        25897                 14055         54.3%
07-08        23446                 10916         46.6%

Kinda makes you wonder whether you can trust anything written by Patty Ruland on this subject.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Mr. Goss, Your Response

A local citizen, Delwin Goss, recently attacked founder Ryan Clinton's upbringing and personal life in a letter to the Austin Chronicle that appears on the newspaper's website.  Mr. Goss did so because he disagrees with FixAustin's emphasis on enacting proven, life-saving policies to reduce shelter killing in Austin, and evidently has trouble separating policy disagreements from personal lives.  In any event, after giving Mr. Goss time to remove the post, Ryan e-mailed him this response this morning.  Please also feel free to share this with anyone who may have read his post.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Ryan Clinton 
Date: Sun, Apr 5, 2009 at 12:17 PM
Subject: Mr. Goss, Your Response

Mr. Goss,

I applaud your passion for animal welfare and your efforts to spay and neuter feral cats. On the other hand, I had held out hope that, by now, you would have come to understand the imprudence of criticizing someone's family, upbringing, and childhood in a public forum.  Since you have not, I feel compelled to answer your letter to the Chronicle.

You insulted my childhood (as you have done before) and suggested that my family failed to meet your standards.  Although I find your infatuation with my childhood creepy (and I am not alone in this regard), I will answer your inquiry:  My family had far more love to share than money.  My mother stayed home to raise us, and my father worked in government and non-profits.  My grandfathers, a mill worker and a teacher, died before I was born.  One of my grandmothers never knew that the checks she wrote to reimburse friends and family for groceries were worthless.  

One of my brothers has struggled with many of the demons you have, Mr. Goss.  Through him, I understand how difficult the drug addiction you have publicly described on the Chronicle's website is.  And although my brother has never been a drug dealer as you have publicly claimed to have been on the Chronicle's website, my understanding of my brother has helped me understand you.

You've also questioned my commitment to doing work.  Let me first answer this way, Mr. Goss:  my parents instilled in me the value that when you do something good for the right reasons, you find no need to tell anyone you did it.  Nonetheless, I hope there are times when exceptions to that rule are appropriate, because I'm making an exception on this occasion in an attempt to satisfy your fixation:  This month alone, I've worked well over 250 hours at my job as an attorney in a boutique appellate law firm based in Dallas.  I've done my best to help support an immediate family member who has been hospitalized for a month.  I've done my best to support another immediate family member who was diagnosed with an incurable disease this month.  And I've done my best to help support my mother, who two weeks ago had a long-suffering friend die in her home.  I've also met with a City Council member to discuss ways to continue to improve the outlook for Austin's homeless pets, I've lobbied an old friend, who is a state representative, against House Bill 1982, which irrationally risks criminalizing the ownership of dogs weighing over 40 pounds (among other things), and I've been to animal-welfare meetings that you did not attend.  I've spent a weekend helping research for and prepare a response to a Chronicle reporter's questions on animal welfare---answers that were not included in the article, probably because they were fair and rational in a way that conflicted with the reporter's vision for the story.  This week alone, I also rescued, fostered, and homed two dogs and found a foster home for another.  I also this past month donated $100 to the Austin Humane Society, $100 to Austin Pets Alive, $100 to the No Kill Advocacy Center, and $50 to Emancipet.  And I'm currently working on a speech that I've been asked to deliver at a No Kill Conference in Washington, D.C., at the end of the month.  On top of all that, I've done my best to spend time with my own rescued animals, my friends, and my significant other, who continues to forgive me for all the time I spend working in and outside of my day job.

So there are your answers, Mr. Goss.  I hope your infatuation with my life has been temporarily satisfied.  While you do wonderful work for animals in Austin, I fear that your antics do more harm than good.  By electing to attack the childhood and personal lives of those with whom you disagree rather than addressing policy issues in a rational and reasoned way, you risk becoming marginalized and harming the movement that we both care about.  For your own sake and for Austin's homeless pets, I pray that you'll stick to issues, and avoid personal lives, in the future.  But if you don't (and I don't expect you will), I will continue forgiving you.

Best of luck,

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Where Oh Where Has Our Watchdog Gone?

You may have seen the Austin Chronicle's most recent coverage of Austin's animal-services department.  As we have said here and elsewhere, the Chronicle has officially abandoned any pretense of being a government watchdog in favor of the pound-cheerleader mantle.  

The reporter on the "animal" beat, Patty Ruland, has repeatedly attacked those who ask for more for Austin's lost and homeless pets.  In this latest series of articles, she has displayed her disdain for balanced reporting.  She obviously spent a great deal of time with those who defend the shelter at all costs (TLAC Director Dorinda Pulliam, TLAC Promoter Karen Medicus, and Pulliam's Supervisor David Lurie).  Know how much time she spent with those who advocate for less killing at TLAC?  None.  

Ms. Ruland did, however, send us one e-mail, which we answered.  She did not follow-up, nor did she call us.  Nor did she even bother to mention that we expressed great appreciation for the lower level of killing in Austin this year. 

But you can decide for yourself.  Below is the e-mail we sent Ms. Ruland.  See for yourself how much she decided to consider for her story:

Hi Patty,

Ryan forwarded your questions to me and asked that I respond on behalf of  

We are delighted that fewer animals have been killed at Town Lake Animal Center this year as compared to last year.  It appears that the improvements in this year's data are attributable primarily to two things:  first, Austin Pets Alive's new off-site adoption program that is saving many of the dogs and cats that TLAC has set to kill; and second, a significant reduction in intake that we believe has resulted from the low-cost and free spay/neuter programs offered by Emancipet, the Austin Humane Society, and Animal Trustees of Austin.  We still have a long way to go and the reported fiscal year-to-date numbers (Oct –Feb) contain the lowest intake months.  So, the improvement may not hold through-out the year, but we sure hope they do.

This being said, we continue to advocate for the implementation of proven, low-cost programs and policies that have dramatically reduced shelter killing in communities across America, such as a comprehensive adoption program that would include off-site adoption locations throughout the city seven days a week, and a full-scale foster program.  These are programs that TLAC claims to implement but does so in name only and/or not at a level necessary for true success.  In communities that have rigorously implemented proven no-kill methods, kill rates are at or near ten percent-- far better than Austin this year.  Communities with kill rates far lower than Austin include San Francisco, CA; Ithaca, NY; Reno, NV; and Charlottesville, VA.  More recent examples of communities that have seen dramatic improvements by adopting proven no-kill programs include Montgomery County (Conroe), Texas, which saw its kill rate decline from 80% to 18%, and Shreveport, Louisiana, which saw a 245% improvement in positive outcomes at its pound.  The fastest way to no-kill success in Austin has been and continues to be the adoption of programs and policies that have produced results in other cities.

We also believe that the City of Austin should immediately impose a moratorium on the killing of healthy, non-aggressive animals when there open kennels at the shelter to give them the opportunity to find loving homes.  Most Austinites probably assume that dogs and cats are only killed at TLAC when they are suffering or aggressive, or when there is no room.  But the sad truth is that healthy nonaggressive animals are frequently killed at TLAC when there are more than 100 cages sitting empty.  We find this practice to be completely unacceptable and out of line with our community's values.

Last year, TLAC killed 47% of the animals it impounded.  This fiscal year's year-to-date figures (low-intake months October 2008 through February 2009) show significant improvement, but it is important to take a close look at them to understand what is causing the improvement so we can improve even further.

The first and most important improvement demonstrated by the data is a substantial increase in the number of animals saved by rescue groups.  But a closer look reveals that 100% of the increase is attributable to Austin Pets Alive.  Last fiscal year to-date, TLAC transferred 1361 animals to rescue groups other than APA, and none to APA.  This fiscal year to-date, TLAC has transferred 1275 animals to rescue groups other than APA (a disturbing 6% decline), but 470 to APA, resulting in a net gain.  Other rescue groups (like two awesome groups, Austin Dog Rescue and Austin Siamese Rescue) are necessary partners to success in Austin, but the data clearly demonstrate a decline in TLAC's work with rescue groups other than APA.  If it weren't for APA, 6% fewer animals would have been saved to rescue groups this year as compared to last year.  In the same vein, this year's data shows a 3% decline in animals returned to their owners by TLAC year-to-date.  Statistically speaking, APA is nearly 100% responsible for the additional lives saved this year over last year to-date, and they have saved only those animals that TLAC would have otherwise killed.  And even with APA's new program, the total number of lives saved this year to-date as compared to last year to-date is essentially stagnant, meaning that APA has made up for a significant decline in the lives otherwise saved by TLAC. 

We don't think this point can be sufficiently underscored:  Any story written about success in Austin animal welfare this year should be written about Austin Pets Alive, whose remarkable accomplishments are attributable to their visionary leadership and tireless volunteers.  By implementing the off-site adoption strategies that have worked in other cities (strategies that TLAC has reluctantly acquiesced in allowing and even then, not nearly to the extent as other more successful cities), Austin Pets Alive has achieved inspiring and promising results in a very short period and with few resources.  

As previously mentioned, the data also demonstrate that intake levels have fallen sharply so far this year as compared to last year.  That's great and should be celebrated, but it should also be noted that comparison figures are misleading because last year's figures were abnormally high (among the highest this decade).  Moreover, given the relatively few months behind us this year, it is near impossible to make accurate predictions regarding end-of-year figures.  For example, year-to-date TLAC data from 2002 are very similar to this year's year-to-date data (excluding APA's rescues).  The early fiscal-year 2002 data did not accurately predict year-end figures.  Despite reporting a historically-low kill rate in February 2002, TLAC ended up killing 51% of impounded animals that year.  As a result, the only year statistically similar to this year demonstrates a need for caution when attempting to make full-year projections based on early-year data.  This is especially true because early-year figures represent low-intake months when small changes can make a big statistical difference.  Because of the difficulty in making full-year projections based on partial and early-year data, making projections that we hope to but may not achieve as a community should be avoided.  Indeed, every time we promise the community that we'll be no-kill soon, but fail to produce no-kill success (as we have now done twice in Austin), we further solidify the dispelled myth that no-kill is somehow not achievable.

You also asked for our views on TLAC's categorizations/definitions.  We prefer not to use TLAC's categorical terms but to instead focus on the overall lifesaving rate and the programs proven to improve that rate.  This is because terms like "adoptable" are highly subjective and can be manipulated to give the appearance that a shelter is doing more lifesaving than it really is.  Saving 90% of pets that come in the door, as some shelters following the No Kill Equation are doing, is much more meaningful than saving 100% of pets labeled as "adoptable" by TLAC, especially when TLAC only labels around 30% of impounded animals as "adoptable."  The fact that multiple communities have been able to save 90% or more over several years indicates the 90% figure is a more accurate indication of the number of lives that can be saved at an open-admission facility.  In addition, APA's success shows that TLAC's "adoptable" labels are near-meaningless.   APA only saves animals that TLAC has scheduled to kill. Thus, a significant percentage of animals taken and placed into loving homes by APA have been labeled "upadoptable" by TLAC.  In addition, very young puppies and kittens may be labeled "unadoptable" due to nothing but their age--- even though they can be saved and are otherwise highly adoptable.  Again, we stress that healthy, non-aggressive animals should not be killed when there are frequently more than 100 cages going unused each day.

If you want to report the actual data and not projections or spin, the truth is that Austin Pets Alive is the real hero in Austin.  But we still have a long way to go.  We don't know what will happen with intake the remainder of this year or in future years, and historical data demonstrates that we should be cautious when making full-year projections from partial-year statistics.  Moreover, APA is currently able to save only a fraction of the animals TLAC would otherwise kill.  Thus, we believe APA’s role should increase dramatically in the near future.

Again, we are very happy to see fewer animals killed this year at TLAC, but we could be doing far better with a more progressive shelter management.

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to respond,
The Team

Lorri Michel

Friday, March 27, 2009

Winograd in Houston; Free Books for Journalists

We've received a couple of notes from the No Kill Advocacy Center worth passing along.

First, Nathan Winograd will be giving a full-day seminar on no-kill sheltering on March 28, 2009, in Houston, Texas. You can purchase seminar tickets and learn more about the presention---and the efforts of Houston's no-kill advocates---by clicking

Second, the No Kill Advocacy Center is giving away free copies of Redemption, the most important book on no-kill sheltering in America, to elected officials, staff reporters, and animal-control directors. To get your free copy, follow the directions in
this link. If you are open-minded enough to learn the inconvenient truth about America's animal-sheltering system, we strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of Redemption. And if you don't qualify for a free copy, you can purchase one on through this link.

Friday, March 06, 2009


In light of the City of Austin's budget crunch, the Austin American-Statesman just released a list of all City employees whose base salary was greater than $100,000 in 2008.  You might be surprised by one of the names on the list.  In case you're curious (we feel bad, but hey, it's a matter of public record, you pay her salary, and it's already in the Statesman), see page 6 of this link:

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Austin Chronicle Turns Its Back on Austin's Homeless Pets

We have to believe that at one point, the Austin Chronicle played the role of City watchdog, a role necessary given the Statesman's conservative predisposition to avoid angering City leaders. This story shows, yet again, that the Chronicle has abandoned that role on Austin animal-sheltering issues in favor of attacking community advocates who lend their voices to Austin's lost and homeless pets.

It is worth noting that the Chronicle did not contact to verify facts for this story, and it is therefore unsurprising that the reporter gets the order and nature of the events wrong (e.g., the City's memo admitting the possibility of an animal incinerator was in response to e-mails following two shelter-staff presentations, not a website posting purportedly leading to council phone calls). But the Chronicle's inaccurate portrayal of the facts is less important than its spin.

Indeed, if you read the article closely, you'll actually see that the statement referenced in the article (available here: and here) was entirely accurate, not "a false alarm."'s statement reported two things: (1) the planned new animal shelter will have 20 fewer "adoption" kennels for dogs, and though the shelter staff argues their larger size will allow for greater capacity, that claim is difficult to believe given that shelter staff leaves 100+ cages empty as it kills healthy pets every day at TLAC; and (2) shelter staff is still considering building an animal incinerator at the East Austin site.

All of those assertions are true. The City is planning fewer cages in the dog "adoption" area at the new shelter. The current shelter management does leave over 100 cages empty as she continues to order the killing of healthy pets at TLAC. And the City is still considering building an animal incinerator at the new shelter site in East Austin.

Given the veracity of's statement, it is just plain odd that the Chronicle's headline is that the charges were "rejected." They weren't; they were confirmed.

If the Chronicle at one point provided a critical eye on city government, it doesn't anymore--- at least not on animal-sheltering issues in Austin. It now provides the role of pound cheerleader. And that's a shame for the roughly 10,000 lost and homeless pets who will be killed there this year--- especially given that more progressive shelters around the country no longer kill animals at the terrible pace that Austin does.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Industrial Animal Incinerator at East Austin Shelter Site?

We're writing tonight to communicate our continued concern over what appears to be either merely incompetent or openly misleading communications regarding the City of Austin's Health and Human Services Department's preparations for the new animal shelter in East Austin.  

You've probably already heard from others about the Department's remarkable "forgetfulness" when it comes to answering basic questions such as how many kennels are planned for the new site.  We speculate that their collective amnesia on the subject may result from embarrassment that despite their lofty promises and assurances during the shelter-move controversy, they may actually plan fewer kennels at the new shelter than the number present at the current downtown facility.  

But we're writing about something else:  our concerns over the potential for a massive industrial animal incinerator at the East Austin site.

Just a few short years ago, animal-shelter director Dorinda Pulliam told us of her considerable interest in moving the shelter so that a large animal incinerator could be included in the new plans.  She touted what was, in her mind, a great benefit of having an industrial animal incinerator:  a profit-making enterprise that would attract business from (1) residents of Austin who want to cremate their pets, and (2) other municipalities that would pay Austin to burn the bodies of all of their impounded and killed animals.

We hadn't thought about that rather sickening conversation until tonight, when Department representatives met with residents and leaders of East Austin neighborhoods.  When the topic came up about whether the new shelter might include such an incinerator, the until-that-point conversational Department representatives evidently had trouble forming their words.  And when they did, they would only say that an incinerator was not in the "current" plans. Critically, they would not rule out building a large, industrial animal incinerator at the East Austin shelter site.

As was stated at the shelter-move meeting in October 2007, we cannot imagine 44 acres of real estate in West Austin being targeted for municipal development without engaging the local residents to build a plan together for the land.  We would bet our lives that the City of Austin would not build an industrial animal incinerator in West Austin with or without engaging local residents.  With that in mind, we cannot stay silent while City Staff leaves open the possibility of building a giant incinerator at the site in East Austin.

This is all we ask:  If the City is planning for the possibility of building an incinerator on the site--- in the first phase or merely leaving open the possibility for a future phase--- why won't they own up to it so that we can have a proper, democratic discourse over it?  And if the City is not planning for that particular contingency, why won't they put the issue to rest?  

The residents of East Austin (and we're among them) deserve to know the truth about what will be in the air our kids will be breathing for the next 50 years.