The Austin Chronicle

Austin's Animal Partnership Model: Get Engaged

By Patricia J. Ruland, April 3, 2009, News

A mantra reiterated by city staff and animal welfare partnership officials, again and again, is that there's no one agency or plan that can single-handedly stamp out pet homelessness. In order to succeed at saving more animals, Austin's sheltering system seeks the public's increased collaboration in implementing Austin's humane communities model. At each facility, it's abundantly clear there's something for everyone to do, whether directly adopting a pet or helping with a myriad of related chores. Opportunities abound for citizens to volunteer with the Town Lake Animal Center and its partner agencies – in addition to the many rescue groups with which the TLAC places animals.

Austin Humane Society

124 W. Anderson,

The Austin Humane Society facility has the boisterous, indulgent feel of a Sesame Street set. In its fanciful storefront petscape, cats cuddle and play; outdoor dog runs are appointed with stone benches (and real fire hydrants). Inside, animal experts, clipboards in hand, discuss how best to socialize the newest animals, such as canine brothers Bert and Ernie.

"We've got a lot of brainpower in Austin working to save animals," says AHS Executive Director Frances Jonon. On a recent day, staff tended to a skin-and-bones, doe-eyed puppy named Nutmeg, barely moving in her basket; whooped for joy when a newly donated sack of toys was paraded through the halls; and shredded yet another head of lettuce for a ravenous guinea pig named Spike, a Hurricane Ike evacuee. In the past year, a Mission: Orange-funded foster-care position was added to the AHS staff to enhance the chances that newborns make it to adoption age there, as well as at TLAC.

For its good works, the shelter has qualified as a semifinalist in the shelter makeover contest; whether AHS advances to the finals, in which America will vote for the winner of the $1 million award, will be announced April 7.


7201 Levander Loop,

People and pets flock to the meadowy green acres of Eman­ci­pet, at U.S. 183 and Airport Boulevard (aka Levander Loop). Since 1999, operating both stationary and mobile clinics, Emancipet has delivered high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter services throughout Central Texas, in order to prevent pet proliferation and homelessness. "Also, in the last two years," says Executive Director Amy Mills, "we have increased our focus on spaying and neutering the animals most 'at-risk' of entering a shelter or being euthanized in a shelter – like feral cats and pit bulls – as well as pets living in certain ZIP codes in Austin." In 2007, Emancipet also began offering comprehensive wellness services. The organization's somewhat ancient mobile spay/neuter van is occasionally out of service – staff then direct pet owners to the indoor clinic, absorbing the work into the brisk Saturday routine. (Mills says that donation of a newer model van would be most welcome.)

Animal Trustees of Austin

5129 Cameron,

Like a near-northside animal MASH unit, Animal Trustees of Austin provides reduced-cost wellness care and sterilizations on-site and provides low-cost emergency care for injured and special-needs animals. Like Austin Humane Society and Emancipet, ATA specializes in high-volume pet sterilizations; during a recent interview, the dexterous Dr. Kirk Lewis performed numerous surgeries within a half-hour, including spaying an ovulating dog – sometimes avoided by other clinics, he pointed out, because it's more complicated and "too bloody." ATA collects pennies on the dollar for vaccines and other preventive provisions and charges $200 or so for what might be thousands in surgery and rehabilitation costs.

Clients, interviewed in the waiting room, said their beloved pets would have surely been put down if not for ATA. (One woman is paying off her bill in homemade tacos.) Yet ATA attracts the poorest and most high-profile pet lovers alike. According to Executive Director Missy McCullough, homeless citizens from all over the county bring their pets to ATA, "because they trust us." Last year, Sheryl Crow assisted her horse, Lady C, in creating a painting (with a definite horseshoe motif) for the annual ATA Petcasso auction. The work was redonated by the buyer and is now on display at ATA.

Town Lake Animal Center

1156 W. Cesar Chavez,

TLAC Director Dorinda Pulliam loves cats. This year's "kitty season" is under way – when litters pour into the shelter, causing spikes in intake. Newborn kittens are generally either too young, defensive, or ill to be immediately adopted. Pulliam says that with time, skittish cats and kittens can often be tamed. Demonstrating her "tuna treatment," she coaxed mother and babies to her work table by feeding them from tins only there – and petting them and getting them accustomed to being held. "If we can't hold and pet an animal," Pulliam said, neither can potential adopters.

Another major obstacle to cat and kitten adoption is that they easily contract respiratory diseases – if they can't breathe, they won't eat. Accordingly, Pulliam has improvised a device – a glass box hooked to a nebulizer – in which volunteers place sickly cats each day. If they pull through, they can be made available for adoption. Pulliam has also established an "in-house foster program" for kittens – the center offices house feral families until cats are independent, well, and friendly enough to be adopted, thereby saving many lives. With the recent arrival of the first litter of the season, Pulliam points to a new trend: "We are usually swamped with kittens much earlier. We believe this is a result of our feral cat sterilization program." Pulliam said she hopes when the center moves to its new locale, the current shelter will become "Kitty Central": a cat foster and adoption center.

Placement Partners

The Town Lake Animal Center certifies about 90 rescue groups – called "placement partners" – to foster and adopt out cats, dogs, and other animals, including rabbits. After qualifying, such groups may arrange to pull any animal from TLAC at any time, paying a nominal fee for medical exams, vaccines, microchips, sterilizations, collars, and more. Below are some of the partners that have taken 100 or more animals from TLAC in fiscal year 2008 (for a full list, see

Austin Humane Society (also a TLAC partner agency): 1,143 animals (

Austin Pets Alive!: 289 dogs (

Paws Shelter and Humane Society: 213 cats and dogs (

From the Heart Rescue: 164 cats and dogs (

Austin Siamese Rescue: 116 cats (

Humane Society of Williamson County: 111 cats and dogs (

Westie Rescue of Austin, TX: 102 dogs (and one cat) (

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