Death Makes a Comeback

Without the force of law, animals remain at mortal risk in Austin, TX.

Tucker was killed by Austin Animal Center despite a rescue group offer to save him, his former owner begging for custody, and department policy which permitted placement (but was ignored).

In April of last year, for the first time since the Austin City Council passed the 2010 No Kill law, the placement rate for cats fell below 90%. Dozens of cats were unilaterally killed by Austin Animal Center (AAC), many for what they described as “fractious,” often a euphemism for being stressed in the shelter or not being social with people. In the majority of those cases, rescue partners were not notified and given a chance to save them. Austin Pets Alive protested, calling the killings “egregious.”

Although the negative publicity resulted in some changes at AAC and the placement rate subsequently climbed back above 90%, treatable cats and dogs continue to be killed in Austin without rescue groups being given an opportunity to save them. In some cases, animals have been killed despite rescue groups ready, willing, able, and offering to save them. In the case of Tucker recently killed by AAC, even the former owner begged to be able to bring him home.

In June of that year, the Animal Advisory Commission responded by approving legislation mandating the “Right of Rescue.” The proposed bill required a two-day pre-killing notification to rescue groups, former owners (absent indicia of neglect or cruelty), and finders (in the case of stray animals) and prohibited killing without the notification, except in the case of dogs judicially declared dangerous and irremediably suffering animals. It required AAC to turn the animal over if requested.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the measure (with two abstentions). There were no votes against it. In their Recommendation to the City Council, commissioners noted that,

Adoption of this language places checks and balances on the unilateral killing of shelter animals and ensure[s] that rescue organizations have the opportunity to carry out their rescue mission by taking animals that otherwise would be euthanized.

But the bill was never introduced and voted on by the City Council. To be sure, Austin did finish the year placing 96% of cats (and 99% of dogs). But that doesn’t mean that no healthy and treatable cats were killed. They were. Had the City Council taken up and approved the law, many of those cats would still be alive today. And Tucker? Tucker would be back home with the family, and rescuer, who loved him.

For many years, Austin has been a beacon of hope for animal lovers across the nation. In so many ways, it still is. But without laws that mandate the common sense protocols to protect the lives of animals in the shelter and to empower those who want to save them, with each new director (of which there have been five in the last nine years) Austin remains in danger of backsliding, putting animals at continued mortal risk. In the case of dozens of cats, Tucker, and a few others, it already has.


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