Wednesday, May 02, 2012

2012 Austin City Council Animal Welfare Voter Information Guide

Each year, volunteers for comb through City Council candidate questionnaires, ask candidates tough questions, and debate the candidates' responses and records in order to create an Animal Welfare Voter Information Guide for Austin citizens interested in animal-welfare issues.  This year, Council Member Mike Martinez stood out with our highest ever Five+ Paws rating for his continued excellence and leadership in making Austin, Texas, America's safest large city to be a homeless animal.  Newcomer Dominic Chavez also impressed us.  Here's our take on this year's slate of candidates.

Mike Martinez:   5+ Paws 
With compassionate stewardship of homeless pets becoming more entrenched in Austin’s culture, every candidate committed to retaining Austin’s status as America’s largest “No Kill” City.  Even so, Council Member Mike Martinez rose above the rest.  Martinez’s commitment to animal welfare is plainly evident in his steadfast leadership on City Council.  Martinez is unafraid to challenge City management and animal advocates alike to do more and better, has spearheaded efforts to utilize the former Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC) to save pets, and he—along with Council Member Laura Morrison—deserves the most credit for leading the City Council’s successful effort to turn Austin’s municipal shelter into a lifesaving, compassionate, and loving place for homeless pets.

Dominic Chavez:  5 Paws
Newcomer Dominic Chavez demonstrated an impressive understanding of animal-welfare issues, and a no-nonsense approach to solving continuing
challenges to success.  Chavez is committed to keeping the old TLAC site open in order to offset the City’s poor decision to relocate Austin’s main shelter, and wants the City to surpass its current 90% save-rate goal.  We were particularly impressed with Chavez’s insight into misunderstood dog breeds.

Lee Leffingwell: 4.5 Paws
Although we disagreed with then-Council-Member Lee Leffingwell’s vote to relocate Austin’s main shelter back in 2007, as Mayor, Leffingwell has held firm in his unwavering commitment to keeping open TLAC in its current capacity and footprint.  Leffingwell has grown in his understanding of animal-welfare issues, and we particularly appreciate his appointment of Dr. Ellen Jefferson of Austin Pets Alive to the Austin Animal Advisory Commission.

Brigid Shea:  4 Paws
Former Council Member Brigid Shea demonstrated insight and interest in key animal-welfare issues, but probably due to her time away from the Council, was not quite as up-to-date on current challenges as Mayor Leffingwell.  Shea brought smiles to animal lovers when she committed to keeping Dr. Jefferson on the Animal Advisory Commission should she prevail, and was very interested in finding a way to reduce unfair breed discrimination in local housing.

Sheryl Cole, Bill Spelman, Tina Cannon, & Laura Pressley: 3 Paws
Since all candidates committed to retaining Austin’s No Kill status, finding things to criticize wasn’t easy, and we think Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Member Bill Spelman, along with newcomers Tina Cannon and Laura Pressley, are more than capable. Still, each left us with some concerns.  Cole and Spelman have solid animal-welfare voting records to stand on, but Cole’s interest in the issue has sometimes waned, and we worry deeply about the influence of Spelman’s office staff, who have been hostile to No Kill programs and local animal-welfare leaders.  We loved finding out that Cannon founded a successful pet-related business, but her remarks about certain dog breeds worried us.  And while Pressley is clearly bright and talented, her undeveloped answers on our questionnaire left us scratching our heads.  All of these candidates would do well with regard to animal-welfare issues on council; they simply did not exhibit the full strength of some others.