AUSTIN, Texas -- The head of Austin's Animal Services Department is headed back home for family reasons, but she says Austin is on a solid path to remain no-kill.
Austin's maintained that status for more than six years, meaning at least 90 percent of animals it takes in, leave the shelter alive. In her two years as director, Tawny Hammond was able to increase the annual live outcome rate to more than 96 percent. Last month, the shelter achieved a 97.9 percent live outcome rate.
"It's not about a number; it's about how we make decisions every day for every pet," Hammond said.
Hammond said those decisions start with prevention. She's put a focus on targeting Austin's spay and neuter programs to areas where they see high rates of stray animals. Hammond also believes in practicing trap-neuter-release for wild cat colonies, rather than impounding them and forcing them into adoptable pets.
Beyond those efforts, Hammond said the community's helped improve live outcomes through responding to social media ads, volunteering at the shelter and partner organizations, and offering up foster services during emergencies.
"If there is flooding or if there is some type of temporary emergency in the community, a pet is more likely to find its way home if it stays within the place where it's lost," Hammond said.
Last year, Hammond took heat from critics who claimed the shelter was not accepting stray animals. At the time, she explained the different levels of managed intake the shelter utilizes, including the most strict level that only allows the shelter to take in sick and injured animals. Other times, families are encouraged to re-home their pets with friends and relatives and use the shelter as a last resort.
As Hammond leaves Austin, she said breed restrictions and weight limits are the biggest hurdle that puts a strain on the shelter and its partner organizations.
"We would have empty kennels at the Austin Animal Center if we had housing policies that at least had part of the development--the units--that are pet friendly," she said. "Every pet should be treated as an individual. You can't gauge or predict behavior on the appearance of a pet."
Hammond encourages city leaders to require pet-friendly rules for landlords that receive city incentives.
An interim director will serve in Hammond's place for the foreseeable future.