Why Austin Shouldn’t Move the Animal Shelter
In April, a tragedy occurred in our backyard.
After years of stalking and chasing, one of our dogs finally caught our neighbor’s white cat, Emma, who had slipped though our fence.
The result– 120 lb pup vs. fluffy lapful—meant that rushing Emma to the animal emergency clinic couldn’t save her.
It’s a given that in the natural world predators chase prey. Cats chase birds. Dogs chase cats. It’s the cycle of life, though that doesn’t make it any easier for the humans involved.
Emma’s untimely death got me thinking.
According to Town Lake Animal Center shelter director Dorinda Pulliam, on April 30, 2006, the day of Emma’s death, 26 cats were put to death at the shelter. That week (April 30- May 4) 96 cats were killed. Last fiscal year, 5396 cats were euthanized. Many of whom were doubtless sweet, fluff-balls like Emma. I fear our a new animal shelter isn’t going to improve those numbers.
Austinites recently passed a bond package to build a new animal shelter. The location: Levander Loop, in East Austin near Airport and 183, former site of the Texas School for the Deaf.
Moving the our animal shelter from its current central location is a poor choice. Of course, I may be biased because back in 1990 I adopted a kitten from the shelter, partly because I was able to easily find the facility by driving down Lamar.
Originally I was opposed to moving the shelter because I didn’t really understand where the new location would be. Now, after visiting the Levander Loop site, I’m even more opposed to the move. The awkwardly situated site won’t provide more patrons for the facility, certainly not casual drop-ins. This is key, because local animal rights advocates tell us that many Town Lake animals go to new homes in central and west Austin.
Unlike central Austin, the Levander loop location businesses don’t generate extra traffic to the area. While our economy needs purveyors of concrete pipes and vivid orange tractors, these businesses don’t draw casual traffic. You go there because you need a new backhoe, not to see what new colors are in stock. The only browse-worthy business I found nearby: Goodwill on Airport. Imported luxury vehicles weren’t cruising the streets.
In contrast, the current location is near the 6th and Lamar retail district. Currently, you can make a Saturday of looking for a dog at Town Lake Animal Center then picking up the mystery “The Dogs of Riga” at nearby Bookpeople, or grabbing Omar and the Howlers on CD at Waterloo Records. Common sense says that if you want to keep up shelter adoptions, keep the shelter in a part of town where people are accustomed to parting with their money.
Think of it this way: the Town Lake Animal Center is near the Whole Foods flagship at 5th and Lamar. The Levander Loop location is near the Whole Foods Receiving Annex: a regional distribution center featuring refrigerated trailers with the company logo pulled up to loading docks.
While a new animal facility is a great idea, we need to reconsider moving it. Can’t we find somewhere, anywhere else? Perhaps in the redevelopments at the old Mueller airport or Town Lake’s Seaholm Power facility? Downtown is the logical place for the shelter, because downtown is where the action is. “Downtown” is even the title of the locally produced PBS show about Austin. When City Council needed new digs, they moved just a few blocks away to a swanker space in a more prominent downtown location. Just announced: Magic Johnson is investing 50 million bucks in a Block 21 project near City Hall and the Town Lake site, not out by Levander Loop.
Though my neighbor is busy trawling Internet rescue groups for a new-to-her kitty, most people don’t go to that trouble. If a pet store becomes more convenient than our animal shelter, fewer animals may get adopted.
The lobby of the Emancipet world headquarters, currently located at the Levander Loop site, features the following hand-lettered in red on their cinderblock wall: “Helping to control the pet population and liberate pets from euthanasia.”
It would be a terrible, tragic irony if a new animal shelter built at this location increased Austin’s euthanasia rates due to decreased adoption demand.
I couldn’t save Emma, but perhaps we can save some of Austin’s other homeless animals by making sure that our new animal shelter is in a central and easily accessible location.