Board committee catches up ahead of new animal shelter audit

Tuesday August 30th, 2022 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week, members of the city council’s audit and finance committee heard an update on a 2015 audit of the Department of Animal Services in preparation for a new audit initiated by the City Council in July.

The Audit 2015who uncovered some issues that have yet to be resolved, found that Animal Services lacked an effective process for prioritizing community appeals, lacked adequate medication oversight and protection, and lacked sufficient resources to achieve live results goals for housed pets.

Patrick Johnson, who works at the City Auditor’s Office, explained that the 2015 audit concluded with three recommendations:

  • evaluate kennel shelter operations and implement strategies to ensure compliance with state requirements and best practices
  • establish policies and procedures to ensure that the information collected is complete and accurate
  • establish policies and procedures to protect shelter drug inventory

In 2017, the Court of Auditors checked the implementation of the last two points, but found that the first recommendation had not been adopted. It’s always like that.

Later, the auditor’s office divided this recommendation into three more specific points. The first item asked animal services to determine the optimal level of staff needed for kennel operations. Johnson said that over the next few years they found no evidence that Animal Services conducted an assessment to determine what kind of staff it needed.

The second part of the recommendation, which dealt with shelter capacity and animal care, was partially met by efforts to move animals away from the shelter and away from the Town Lake Animal Center. in 2016. However, auditors note that the dog population – especially medium to large dogs – continues to constantly exceeds the city’s accommodation capacity.

“This is where we’ve seen the most effort from Animal Services since 2015,” Johnson said.

The third part of the recommendation focused on strategies that would enable animal services to respond to emergency calls in a timely manner. Although the auditor’s office found that the ministry has assigned more staff to this task, information on service calls is often incomplete and there are still challenges in terms of rapid response.

Due to the outstanding issues, the auditors consider the 2015 audit to be “still in progress” and expect the issues to be resolved in the next more comprehensive audit which will take place over the next few months.

“Each year we have requested additional staff, knowing that we have deficiencies – based on this audit – in our response times and in the care of our kennel,” explained Don Bland, director of animal services.

Bland said the department had requested 49 additional staff in the three years he held the position and had secured 7.5 additional positions (six in the most recent budget cycle). Last week, the department had 12 vacancies.

“We know we need a significant number of staff,” he said. “We haven’t done an official HR study on this. But we know, right now, if you look at the standards of care in the industry, we need 32 animal care staff, with the volume we have now. And we have 21 or 22.

In order to improve response times, Bland said they would need 20 additional staff members focused on this area.

Council member Leslie Pool said she understands the structure of animal services work is built on community support and is concerned the department hasn’t done more in this regard.

“You prefer to have it as more staff hired, but it seems to me that has been your goal despite the fact that you haven’t, over the years, gotten the additional staff you say you need,” said Pool, speaking. in Bland. “What I see is a loss of that relationship in the community, which has led to some pretty tense circumstances at the shelter for too many dogs in too many crates. Too many dogs are not walked because the people we relied on to help us have left.

“Relationships have frayed and I hope the upcoming independent audit will help us identify ways to restore the relationships we rely on,” she continued. “We cannot do our animal services work without the full support of Austinites. You have to build those relationships. You need to make these groups feel welcome. And I challenge you and your leadership team to look in that direction.

In response, Bland said the shelter had “increased” volunteer hours, bringing them to where they were before the pandemic. last month.

“We pick up the volunteers,” he said. “We are really delighted.”

Bland also pointed out that the state conducts an annual assessment of the shelter and that the department also hires a private veterinarian to assess the shelter. “Every year our animal care has passed with flying colors and they noted that it is our staff who are here to do the work that has made us successful,” he said. He noted that the shelter had been “banged” for keeping animals in crates due to the space crisis.

Committee members took no action on the update and are expected to discuss the upcoming audit at a meeting in September. Although separate, this audit will build on the auditor’s previous findings.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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