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  • Mike Fry

Why Austin Pets Alive! Supports Abusive Animal Shelters

The City of Austin, Texas was once the shining star of the No Kill Movement, with unprecedented life-saving taking place at the open-admission animal control center. In recent years, however, the star has been fading. Save rates have been declining and policies and practices in Austin have been getting more regressive. These facts have led some No Kill advocates to worry openly about the direction Austin is headed. That was all true before the latest controversy unfolded.

The tragic story of a dog named Saint unfolded 1,700 miles away from Austin in a non-profit animal shelter in Philadelphia called ACCT Philly, which has a history of neglect and animal care violations dating back many years.

Saint's story began when his human was stopped by police for a minor traffic violation. Due to a minor parole issue, police took Saint and his owner into custody, with the canine being transported to ACCT Philly. Within a couple of hours Saint's human had sorted out the parole issue and arrived at ACCT Philly to get his dog. The shelter refused to release Saint. It was later learned that Saint (a generally sweet and well-behaved dog) had suffered a severely fractured jaw at the hands of staff at ACCT Philly, who initially lied about the injury saying that the dog was injured by police. ACCT Philly told Saint's family they needed to arrange for extensive veterinary care before they would release the dog to them, but then turned around and killed the dog within less than an hour of making that demand.

To make matters worse: shortly after ACCT Philly was exposed for critically injuring and then killing Saint, a video was released on YouTube documenting ACCT Philly staff lying about it.

Beyond a doubt, the abuse and killing of Saint and the repeated lies about it from ACCT Philly, are things that should outrage any advocate for animals. It is, therefore, understandable that there has been a backlash directed at ACCT Philly as a result.

One of the sources reporting on Saint's story has been the NJ Animal Observer (NJAO). As is typical of their style, the reporting has been fact-based, not inflammatory and has made no threats or attacks at any of the parties involved. In other words, the reporting has been as it should always be in these kinds of cases. It has been the kind of reporting required for real shelter transparency. It has been the kind of reporting that No Kill advocates should embrace. Yet, ironically, it has also been the kind or reporting that makes some of the people at Austin Pets Alive! and their national arm American Pets Alive! very uncomfortable.

In response to one of NJAO's posts about Saint, a director for APA commented (typos and grammatical and punctuation errors in the original):

this is not okay. What are you hoping to accomplish? It's such a difficult time for shelters and shelter workers and it's really disheartening this how you are spending your time. You are causing a heck of a lot more harm than good.

This sort of "blame the victim" and "shoot the messenger" strategy is something No Kill advocates have seen coming from the most regressive animal shelters in the nation for decades. Many, however, have been shocked to see it coming out of APA. It is worth noting that the comment was later deleted, but the APA director has continued to attack No Kill advocates who are upset about the story elsewhere.

While others have been shocked by these statements by APA, I have not been. This sort of response to reporting on shelter killing is exactly the kind of thing we have heard from national organizations like Best Friends Animal Society, the ASPCA and Maddies Fund for decades. As APA has increasingly tied their marketing/fundraising brand to these national organizations they have increasingly adopted similar messaging and behavior. They have hired regressive shelter directors. They have featured poorly performing shelters at their conferences. And, they have actively worked to re-write the history of the success in Austin for marketing and fundraising purposes, all the while losing touch with the original mission and purpose of APA.

When fiefdoms and fundraising are given priority over mission and purpose, this is exactly the kind of thing you can expect from animal welfare organizations.

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