Animal Control officials travel to Austin to bring ideas back to Amarillo

Amarillo Animal Control officials and the president of Texas Panhandle Pet Savers traveled to Austin last November to visit the new municipal shelter and get ideas on how to improve the lives of the animals in the Texas Panhandle.

The municipal Austin Animal Center is a $12 million no-kill facility, a concept many people would like to see put into place here in the Texas Panhandle. However, Animal Control officials contend that with the current budget the transition to no-kill is not an option.

"For us to actually go no-kill, it's going to take some time and about $9 million, a new facility," Amarillo Animal Control Executive Director Mike McGee stated. "So, you're looking roughly at about $25 million, provide veterinarian services and have a facility capable of handling the flow and intake of animals."

The Chief Animal Services Officer in Austin agreed that Animal Control's budget is nowhere near enough for the municipal shelter to go no-kill.

"I was in no way prepared to hear that for handling 24,000 animals a year that the budget was about $1.5 million," Abigail Smith said. "I think my exact response was, 'I had that budget handling 4,000 animals a year in my last shelter.'"

Nevertheless, the better good of the shelter animals was the focus of the Austin trip. Though no-kill will not happen for the Amarillo shelter right away, other methods can be implemented. And those were the ideas sought by officials when they visited the state capital.

Last fiscal year, 10,394 cats and dogs were euthanized at Amarillo Animal Control. So, what are some thoughts on lowering those numbers?

"The number one thing right now would be if the Trap-Neuter-Release program that is being suggested by the Texas Panhandle Pet Savers," Animal Control Assistant Director Shannon Barlow said. "If that were to be instituted into our policies and procedures would eliminate our euthanasia by almost half."

Part II

The Trap-Neuter-Return program would give non-profit organizations the responsibility of trapping cats and spaying or neutering, vaccinating and then releasing them. Austin officials said they cut their euthanasia numbers nearly in half simply by using that program.

Another prospective plan is utilizing responsible volunteers at Animal Control. McGee said volunteers have been used in the past, but they would stop showing up and essentially caused more harm than good. Austin's shelter has hundreds of volunteers who perform different duties throughout the shelter, relieving some of the stress of the officers.

"You've got to justify and support in writing a job description on why you need the volunteers," Austin Animal Services Volunteer Services Coordinator Joanna Johnson said, "and once your staff and your city decision-makers understand the value that volunteers bring to the daily operations, it will transpond to the community partners that you're trying to reach."

The Adoption Option program began at Animal Control in November. First-time offenders can send their funds to the shelter to go toward spay, neuter, vaccination and microchip costs rather than to the general fund.

The shelter will be participating in the national Just One Day event, a day when shelters across the country do not put any animals down.

Aggressive foster and adoption programs, however, are the main priority.

"We have more animals coming out," McGee said, "makes room in the foster programs through more adoptions to allow more animals to be taken off the EU list, going into foster programs, getting primed for different adoption programs that are offered by the three non-profit groups here locally."

The Amarillo Panhandle Humane Society, the SPCA and Texas Panhandle Pet Savers play a big part in gaining more foster homes for the animals. All of these organizations are working together to get to the ultimate goal of leaving no animal behind, an idea that every animal can be saved even if the municipal shelter is not no-kill.

"Our biggest point of view on no-kill is that, essentially, if we're doing our job and we're building and growing like we should be, that if we rescue there's none left to kill," Texas Panhandle;le Pet Savers Founder Robin Cupell said. "So, I mean, you essentially go no-kill by getting all the animals placed into homes and finding other solutions for them."

Both McGee and Barlow said Amarillo Animal Control always seems to be under scrutiny. They both said, despite the opinions of the public, the people who work there are "some of the biggest animal-lovers" in Amarillo. And though the budget is tight, they want to continue working with all the non-profits and the community to save more lives.

"We're trying to save lives and still provide a service to our community at a reasonable cost that provides a level of protection and safety to our community against zoonotic diseases and dangerous animals that run freely in our city," McGee stated.

Austin officials agreed money is key, and without it not as much can be done. Smith said she was impressed how well Animal Control is doing considering the amount of money it has to work with.

"It costs money to do the programs that save animals' lives- just plain and simple," Smith said. "And I'm not sure how you handle 24,000 animals a year with $1.5 million. That's amazing. Obviously, there's an effort being made to save lives and that will only be done when there are more resources."