Sunday, January 30, 2011

Other Cities' Leaders Could Learn a Lot from Austin's Government Leaders!

If you haven't already seen it, check out the latest blog post on, which champions Austin's government leaders who have shown intelligence, compassionate, and integrity when it comes to Austin's lost and homeless pets. The new post highlights the great work of Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, Council Member Laura Morrison, and State Representative Eddie Rodriguez. Check it out!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Austin Hires Abigail Smith!

This Just In From a City of Austin Press Release:

From: City of Austin Communications
Sent: Friday, January 14, 2011 10:37 AM
Subject: City of Austin Media Release: Chief Animal Services Officer selected

For immediate release

Jan. 14, 2011

Contact: Communications and Public Information Office, (512) 974-2220

City Manager selects Abigail Smith as Chief Animal Services Officer

City Manager Marc Ott announced today, Jan. 14, the appointment of Abigail Smith, Executive Director of the Tompkins County SPCA in Ithaca , N.Y. , as Austin ’s new Chief Animal Services Officer.

She will begin her duties in Austin March 15.

Smith is recognized nationally for her work on animal welfare issues, presenting at numerous conferences. In August 2010, she spoke at the national No Kill Conference on the topic “90% Club: Sustaining No Kill in an Open Admissions Shelter.” The City of Austin has set the 90 percent live outcome goal.

“Abigail has a wealth of knowledge and experience to bring to Austin ,” City Manager Ott said. “As a renowned expert in no-kill, she understands what Austin needs to do to reach its goal of becoming the first major metropolitan no-kill city. We are excited to have her join the City of Austin family and lead this very critical priority for our community.”

Smith served as Executive Director for the past four years at the Tompkins County SPCA which has operated as an open-admission, no-kill shelter for the past decade. While leading the agency, Smith focused on three major initiatives: animal control contracts, fundraising and spay/neuter programs.

Smith worked with Cornell University ’s College of Veterinary Medicine Program to implement a comprehensive shelter medicine program; created and strengthened collaborative partnerships, including those with civic organizations and animal rescue groups; expanded humane education programs; and secured funding for the Trap Neuter Release Program for feral cats.

Before her position in Ithaca , Smith served as Director of Development/Marketing and Manager of the Volunteer Program for the New Hampshire SPCA from 2004-2007.

She is a current member of the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators, the National Animal Control Association, the New York Animal Protection Federation and the Ithaca Rotary Club. She’s earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, Pre-Medicine and English from Hamline University in St. Paul , Minn.

Smith was chosen after a nationwide search and an extensive interview/evaluation process that included a meet-and-greet forum with the public and a site visit to Ithaca by City staff and community stakeholders.

In March 2010 the City Council approved the No-Kill Implementation Plan for Austin . Since Oct. 1, 2010, the City of Austin Animal Services Office is actively working on the plan with the support of its partners and community. The City is making great strides in reaching the goal of 90 percent live outcomes, reaching 88 percent in December.

Filip Gecic, who served as Acting Animal Services Officer, did not apply for the position.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why We Join the National Consensus Against Mandatory Spay/Neuter Laws

Every single data-based study of mandatory spay/neuter laws has demonstrated that such laws do not increase spay-neuter compliance rates, nor do they reduce shelter intake, nor are they cost-effective, nor do they save lives. In fact, the opposite is true: in community after community that has passed a mandatory spay/neuter law, shelter killing and intake actually increase because in poor communities, families who cannot afford the money or time to have their pets surgically altered are forced to surrender their pets (or the pets are seized). These pets are quickly replaced in the communities with additional unaltered animals, creating an enhanced cycle of killing. These laws do not work, have never worked in any community, and will not work.

Several points are important here:

1. Mandatory spay/neuter laws do not work: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) did an extensive study on such laws (in many varieties), and concluded that there is absolutely "no credible evidence" that such laws have ever worked. See Another national organization, Alley Cat Allies, did a study of its own and concluded that such laws are "counterproductive, costly, and unenforceable." See

2. Mandatory spay/neuter laws are based on a number of false policy assumptions. Mandatory spay/neuter advocates falsely assume that most people aren't currently spaying and neutering their pets, and that if there were a law requiring spay/neuter, they would do so. Both of these assumptions are false. According to empirical evidence, the overwhelming majority of Americans have already spayed or neutered their pets. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that over 90% of Americans earning $35K or more have already spayed or neutered their pets (see, and at least half of those families earning less than $35K/year have already done so. As a result, the population of Americans who haven't spayed or neutered their pets is relatively small, and it's near-entirely a matter of financial means--- not legal motivation. That's why study after study after study has concluded that the only proven way to increase spay/neuter compliance is through the provision of low-cost and free spay-neuter services, not through regressive laws that focus on punishing poor families rather than empowering responsible behavior. See

3. There is universal opposition to mandatory spay/neuter laws among national animal-welfare organizations who have spent time to empirically study such laws' effects. Indeed, given the frequent hostility between national animal-welfare organizations, the universal opposition to mandatory spay/neuter laws is telling. The organizations against such laws include: The ASPCA (cited above), Alley Cat Allies (cited above), the American Veterinary Medical Association (, the No Kill Advocacy Center (, Pet Connection (, both the American College of Theriogenologists and the Society for Theriogenology (which are the two groups of veterinarian specialists in spaying and neutering (, and the Anti-Cruelty Society (, among many, many others. USA Today's veterinary expert has also come out against such laws (see

4. There are a number of significant, negative unintended consequences to mandatory spay/neuter laws:
  • According to the experts, the passage of mandatory spay/neuter laws not only doesn't increase spay/neuter compliance rates or responsible pet ownership, it actually reduces the provision of veterinary care to animals because the small group of remaining unaltered-pet owners (who either won't or cannot afford to alter their pets) will avoid getting veterinary care for their animals. According to the American College of Theriogenologists, "[m]aking spay/neuter mandatory . . . may make the public more hesitant to seek veterinary assistance because they are afraid of fines and legal repercussions as a result of failing to spay or neuter their pets. . . . By avoiding veterinary care for their pets, animals will be at increased risk of inadequate routine vaccination (including rabies) and inadequate deworming programs which may in turn result in increased transmission of disease to the public." See
  • The risk of higher rabies rates (which is nearly always deadly to children) is not purely theoretical. According to the Anti-Cruelty Society, Fort Worth's mandatory spay/neuter law resulted in a significant reduction in rabies vaccinations, and to "an increase in reported rabies cases" in the city. See
  • In addition, San Mateo, California, experienced a 35% decrease in pet licensing registrations after passing such a law, meaning that fewer animals brought to the shelter were able to be reunited with their owners. (Same source.)
  • Fort Worth changed its law due to the reduction in rabies vaccinations. Spay/neuter is no longer mandatory due to the ordinance's failure (one can now have an unaltered pet without penalty or payment so long as they attend a free class).

5. The passage of a mandatory spay/neuter law has never led any community to a 90% save rate. And every No Kill community in America does not have a mandatory spay/neuter law.
  • The communities in America with the highest shelter save rates are: Reno, NV (90%), Ithaca, NY (95%), Charlottesville, VA (90+%), and San Francisco, CA (86%). None has a mandatory spay/neuter law. The communities with the highest shelter save rate in Texas are Austin (72%), Plano (77%) and Williamson County (77%). None has a mandatory spay/neuter law.
  • Los Angeles, CA, recently passed a mandatory spay/neuter law, and its shelter killing and intake increased by 30% following the law's passage. Kansas City, MO, recently passed a breed-specific mandatory spay/neuter law, and intake and killing of those breeds increased by a jaw-dropping 80% according to local experts. Waco, TX, just passed a mandatory spay/neuter law, and even before the law's passage, it has seen a substantial spike in owner surrenders (and shelter killing) due to financial inability to pay.
  • San Antonio has a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance, and its shelter kills more than 70% of all impounded animals. In fact, every large city in Texas other than Austin kills more animals than it saves. Austin, this past year, saved 72%.
  • Contrary to local talking points in favor of a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance, not every large city in Texas other than Austin has a mandatory spay/neuter law. Houston, for example, does not have a mandatory spay/neuter law. Houston does have an ordinance that requires shelters to either alter pets before adopting them out, or get the adopter to sign a contract agreeing to alter the adopted pets. The ordinance does not reach out and affect owned pets or pets from sources other than animal shelters. Austin's policies are actually much more strict than Houston's. No Austin shelter adopts out unaltered pets, and Austin's pet-trader ordinance requires altering prior to retail pet sales. In addition, as mentioned above, Fort Worth's ordinance is not mandatory; it permits free unaltered pet licensing upon attending a class.
6. Austin's animal-welfare policy and results, without a mandatory spay-neuter law, are not only among the best in Texas, they are among the best in the country for large cities. By implementing proven and cost-effective programs and policies (including low-cost and free spay-neuter services, foster programs, off-site adoptions, etc.), Austin has recently and quickly made dramatic improvements in animal-welfare, and now has among the lowest shelter-killing rates in the United States (Note: This is due in substantial part to Austin Pets Alive.). In 2005, Austin's shelter killed over 14,000 animals. In just a few short years of implementing proven life-saving policies in our community, that number dropped below 6,800 in fiscal-year 2009-10. 2010 was the best life-saving year in Austin's history, and the best of any large city in Texas by a large margin (Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio kill around 70%). While San Antonio's recent "No Kill" effort, which relied on a mandatory spay/neuter law, has been a miserable failure, Austin's effort, which relies on proven programs and policies, has been a dramatic success. In fact, December 2010 was the highest save-rate on record in Austin, with an 88% save rate of all impounded animals.

7. It doesn't matter whether you call it "mandatory" or not, the effect is the same. A local mandatory spay/neuter advocate has recently stopped saying "mandatory" when advocating for a mandatory spay/neuter law. The name of the ordinance makes no difference. If a government mandates a penalty for failing to alter an animal (in the form of either a fine, a seizure of the animal (or its surrender), or a "fee"), it is commonly referred to as a "mandatory" spay/neuter law in the national animal-welfare community, and based on empirical evidence, we know it will fail.

8. There is no evidence whatsoever that a mandatory spay/neuter law would increase public safety or decrease dog-fighting. Indeed, the opposite is true with regard to rabies and public health, and it is egregiously illogical to think that a criminal who willingly risks felony dog-fighting charges and prison time would somehow be swayed by a unaltered-pet registration fee. In addition, because we know that mandatory spay/neuter laws do not increase spay/neuter compliance rates, we can logically conclude that they will have no impact on dog bites either (even assuming that dog bites are correlated with lack of spay/neuter). In fact, the most preeminent national expert on dog bites and dog-caused deaths concludes that dog-caused deaths are nearly always caused by unsocialized, "backyard" dogs who have never been cared for, loved, or treated responsibly by a loving owner. There is absolutely no logic or evidence to suggest that such an irresponsible owner would be swayed by a fee or fine; again, the empirical evidence demonstrates that the opposite is true: the laws don't change irresponsible behavior.

9. Mandatory spay/neuter laws unfairly target the poor. It has been empirically proven that the lack of financial resources is the primary reason for the failure to alter pets by the small percentage of remaining unaltered-pet homeowners. Persons who cannot afford to alter their pets will be the primary targets for enforcement, therefore. In Kansas City, this resulted in Animal Control authorities doing "sweeps" through poor neighborhoods in which they would literally pull dogs and cats out of the arms of poor children and families. And, contrary to popular belief, there are not enough free spay/neuter resources to provide such services to all unaltered animals. According to estimates of the unaltered pet population by the ASPCA compared to the number of free spay/neuter resources in Austin, for example, it would take an astonishing 31 years to provide free spay/neuter services to the current population of unaltered pets. That means that only 1 in 31 pets could be altered in year one (much less in month 1) if such a law was passed in Austin. The remaining pets would be either surrendered to animal control, or seized, if the pet owner cannot afford the surgery. Such laws pit poor pet owners in an adversarial relationship with law-enforcement officers, dramatically increasing tensions in poor communities. Again, in Kansas City, animal advocates have had to go into communities to teach families about their legal rights in order to protect them from unlawful searches and seizures purportedly resulting from "enforcement" of the mandatory spay/neuter ordinance.

If you've read this far, we thank you. We care deeply about this issue and have studied it for years. We would absolutely, positively, be in favor of a mandatory spay/neuter law if such laws worked. All of our pets are spayed or neutered, and all of our rescues are spayed or neutered before we adopt them out. We have paid to alter the pets of total strangers, and heavily support low-cost and free spay-neuter services. Once made mandatory, however, all results point to dramatic failure, negative unintended consequences, more killing, and higher rabies rates. That we can't support that. We hope you won't either.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A No Kill Austin Is Within Reach!

Happy Holidays & New Year, Animal Lovers!

This year, great stides have been made towards Austin, Texas, joining the ranks of America's "No Kill" cities. Town Lake Animal Center celebrated its highest save rate ever: a full 72% of all animals that entered the shelter left alive this fiscal year! There is still a ways to go before we reach our goal of becoming a "No Kill" city--- defined as saving 90% of all impounded animals--- but it is inescapable that we're headed in the right direction.

Speaking of improvements, how about the amazing Austin Pets Alive!?! Seemingly out of nowhere, Austin Pets Alive has saved nearly 6,000 dogs and cats straight from the "kill list" at Town Lake Animal Center. The organization celebrated landing its own two-building complex this year (at 2807 Manchaca Road in South Austin), officially becoming the largest non-profit animal-rescue group in all of Austin! And to top off their amazing year, they are having an end-of-year adoption blow-out where you can name your own price for dogs and cats over 6 months old. Take a few seconds to watch this fun (and funny) YouTube ad for their sale:

The upcoming year will bring some additional major (and, we hope, positive) changes for Austin's homeless pets. The City will shortly be hiring a new animal-shelter director from a set of talented finalists (the City is currently focusing on Tompkins County SPCA Executive Director Abigail Smith), and we'll also find out whether Austin Pets Alive will be partnering with the City to run its adoptions program at the shelter.

And lastly, Town Lake Animal Center and animal-friendly Council Member Laura Morrison issued a public statement today asking animal owners to please keep their dogs secured inside during New Years fireworks celebrations so that they won't escape and end up at the shelter. They also announced that for the month of January, all dogs weighing over 45 pounds can be adopted from TLAC for free! Read more about how you can safeguard your pets during the fireworks (and about the January sale) here: Council Member Morrison has been a powerful advocate for Austin's homeless pets ever since she joined the Council, and she just announced that she is running for reelection. Although does not endorse candidates, you can sign up as a "supporter" of Council Member Morrison, and/or make a donation to her campaign, by vising her campaign website here: The campaign told us that any support would be greatly appreciated, but early support--- before the January 1st reporting deadline--- is especially appreciated.

That's it for now. We'll keep fighting for Austin's homeless and lost pets, and thanks so much for your support!

Warmest regards,

The Team