Animal Advisory Commission splinters over spay/neuter expansion

Animal Advisory Commission splinters over spay/neuter expansion

Monday, February 27, 2023 by Kali Bramble

The city’s Animal Advisory Commission continues to duke it out over an approach to shelter overcrowding, with a proposal to expand contracts with Emancipet and Austin Humane Society forecasting more friction ahead.

The proposal, put forth by the commission’s spay/neuter working group, calls to expand the nonprofits’ existing sterilization and vaccination programs to address growing demand for low-cost pet services and mounting shelter constraints. Commissioners, led by Chair Craig Nazor, opted to table action until next month’s agenda, with the idea that more concrete funding requests could make the item more successful at City Council.

As Austin Pets Alive! sees an influx of pregnant pets (with a total of 43 puppies and kittens delivered last month alone), staff members report that wait times for low-cost spay and neuter services have continued to climb as high as nine months. Research from the University of Florida suggests that the squeeze is being felt nationwide, as pandemic closures and staffing shortages at sterilization clinics have thrown a wrench in population control efforts.

“We were spaying and neutering 10,000 to 11,000 animals annually prior to Covid. That dropped to 5,900 in 2020, 4,900 in 2021, and 4,700 in 2022,” said Commissioner Amanda Bruce, who is a veterinarian. “It is not acceptable that it’s taking nine months to get a large female dog spayed … that is not the basis of a no-kill community.”

The working group hopes to alleviate the logjam by funding a fifth weekday of free surgeries at Emancipet’s existing mobile clinics, as well as scaling up Austin Humane Society’s community cat sterilization program from 1,800 to 3,000 surgeries annually. The group would also like to see the city enlist an additional spay-and-neuter contractor to take on some of the caseload.

Not all were on board, however. Commissioners Kristen Hassen, Nancy Nemer, Katie Jarl and Lisa Mitchell all questioned the group’s priorities and called for “more data.”

“I think we might be focusing on a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist,” Nemer said. “I think the euthanasia of innocent animals needs to be at the forefront right now.”

“There’s no data to support any decision like this, and I will be emphatically voting no,” Hassen said. “I’m tired of seeing Yorkies and Pomeranians getting sterilized on taxpayer dollars … we haven’t had any income requirements, and we need to get a grip on it.”

News of the dispute traveled to Council chambers last week, with speaker Sandra Muller arguing the move was indicative of a persistent dynamic among commissioners.

“City Council needs to give Austin Animal Center what it needs, not Austin Pets Alive! what it wants,” Muller said. “Your representatives on the Animal Advisory Commission, who are affiliated with APA, just declined to expand spay/neuter, so I suggest any replacements be from Austin Humane Society, Emancipet or some neutral third party.”

Commissioners will revisit the proposal next month; in the meantime, veterinarian Bruce hopes her colleagues will reconsider.

“The University of Florida study has demonstrated the backlog of spay/neuter and its effect on animal clinics,” she said. “If there are members on this Council who choose to believe otherwise, I think that’s unfortunate for our community.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Animal Advisory Commission splinters over spay/neuter expansion

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