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.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Surprising Details Omitted from New Shelter Planning

At last night’s Animal Advisory Commission meeting, city staff and their selected architects presented an update on the status of the new animal shelter. Based on the drawings in the presentation, it appears as though there are far fewer “adoption” kennels than “stray” kennels. This is a concern because pets in the “adoption” kennels are not frequently euthanized, while pets in the “stray” kennels are subject to euthanasia at any point. This demonstrates a priority for killing rather than saving. Despite talking about the “whimsy” designs planned for the walls and such, no mention whatsoever of the actual number of kennels was made during the presentation.

Citizen questions concerning the shelter design were not permitted, but the vice-chair of the commission asked how many “adoption” and how many “stray” kennels are planned? Shockingly, neither the architects nor the shelter manager knew the answer to that question. This not only demonstrates the continued misplaced focus of shelter management, but also conveys an apparent attempt to, once again, keep citizens in the dark or not “awakended” (to use chairperson Babette Ellis’ phrase) about multi-million dollar planned investments until it’s too late to consider citizen input.

Further, since no mention was made regarding the adoption center that is to remain at the current shelter site, the commission inquired about this too. City staff indicated they had no plans to spend any money on the adoption center and offered no explanation as to how they would or could outfit the current site for adoptions without spending any money. This came as a surprise, since we have long heard from staff how deplorable, dangerous and otherwise inadequate the current site is.

Confidence in current shelter management was lost long ago. We see no indication of a need to reconsider this conclusion. It is time to replace current shelter management with a progressive manager committed to implementing 21st century sheltering strategies.