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  • Mike Fry

An Open Letter to Officials in Austin, Texas

The City of Austin, Texas is currently looking to hire a new head of its Animal Services operation. Unfortunately, the recruitment and selection process has, according to some of the most vital No Kill advocates in the City, been flawed and has resulted in the choice between two candidates they do not feel are qualified.

In the face of that growing controversy, I have sent the following email to Austin City officials:

Dear Austin City Officials,

In October of 2010, I was privileged to have spoken at the paradigm-changing No Kill workshop hosted by Fix Austin, Austin Pets Alive! and other animal advocates in your beautiful city. Prior to that workshop I had been doing some consulting with members of your Animal Advisory Commission and the other organizations mentioned. I had also met with staff at Austin Animal Services, which was then operating out of the old Town Lake Animal Center. It was an interesting time. The former head of animal services had been reassigned. A replacement had yet to be chosen. No Kill sheltering advocates from across the nation were watching and waiting to see what would happen.

When I took the podium, I needed to take a deep breath. I was about to tell the room full of people - which was literally standing room only - something that none of them expected to hear: That the City of Austin Texas was about to become the largest No Kill community in the USA. It was not an announcement I planned to make when I got on the flight to Austin. I was expecting to give my normal “this is how you get to No Kill” lecture. However, between landing at the airport in Austin and rising to speak, I had spent a lot of time with a lot of people watching what was being done to change things in your town.

As a result of what I had observed I told the audience that a No Kill Austin was not years away. It was not even months away. I told them that a No Kill Austin was likely to be days or weeks away. There was an audible gasp in the room. I turned out to be right. The following month, Austin Animal Services reported its first-ever Live Release Rate (LRR) of more than 90% and it has maintained that status ever since. That is an accomplishment in which the City can take much pride. It is something worth celebrating every day. The work and effort to achieve that result is something with which I have an intimate relationship. I have been involved with people, places and events in your city before, during and since the transition. And, because of that, I can humbly suggest that the maintenance of that status in Austin has been a delicate balance that not all City officials or staff have fully appreciated or even understood. Moreover, the threats to Austin’s No Kill status often come from places many of you likely do not comprehend.

This has been apparent at various times since November of 2010. There have been periodic missteps and stumbles along the way. The primary thing that has ensured Austin has remained No Kill has been the steadfast commitment from the advocates on the Animal Advisory Commission, at Austin Pets Alive! and other related organizations that realized their work was far from over when Austin achieved No Kill.

As the City prepares to hire a new head of Austin Animal Services, it seems the City is poised to make another misstep, and is turning its back on the advocates who delivered the No Kill status to your community. Doing so, while selecting a candidate that many knowledgable expert stakeholders feel is not up to the task, would amount to two errors that would compound and amplify each other. You would likely be putting your No Kill status at risk, possibly without understanding you are doing so.

I add my voice to others in your community and urge you to review your recruitment process and re-open the position. I guarantee that you can find a well-qualified candidate that would be embraced by the stakeholders in your community. If you have any questions, please let me know. -- Mike Fry

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