On Saturday November 12, 2011, the Austin Animal Center (AAC) celebrated its grand opening at their new location in East Austin: 7201 Levander Loop, where the Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services offices and EmanciPet (a non-profit agency in Austin providing free and low-cost spay/neutering services in the community) headquarters are located.
It's the most recent in a long line of local shelters. The very first dog pound in Austin was in Zilker Park, on the grounds of Barton Springs Pool in the late 1940s. In 1949, the city’s Parks & Recreation Department took over animal control and traded land, plus a $1 fee, for the future location at 1156 West Cesar Chavez in downtown Austin. In 1952, Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC) opened and the city contracted with the Austin Humane Society to operate the shelter while the city continued to run animal control services.
In 1992, the City of Austin once again took over the helm of the shelter while still maintaining responsibility for animal control operations in the community. A growing population meant a growing stray animal population and the facility began to feel the pinch of a small location, directly across from Lady Bird Lake (formerly called Town Lake).
The Austin Animal Center has obtained a “gold” LEED certification by using recycled material from the Betty Dunkerley Health & Human Services campus, utilizing energy-efficient lighting plus installing large windows to take advantage of natural light.
In 2006, voters flocked to the polls and approved the building of a new twelve million dollar animal shelter in East Austin, near the intersection of 183 and Airport Boulevard. Ground building efforts began in 2010, and after almost six decades, a new, improved larger shelter debuted in November 2011.
“The name change was fairly straightforward,” explains Amber Rowland, Communications Manager with Austin Animal Services. She continues, “Town Lake Animal Center was long overdue for a name change even if we hadn’t moved, since Town Lake is now Lady Bird Lake!”
The intake rate for animals at AAC has been roughly the same, 21,000 to 23,000 annually for the last fifteen years, even though the population of Austin has dramatically increased. Rowland, along with the staff at the center, have been involved not only with animal control, but also with vigorous prevention and education programs in the community.
The expanded Austin Animal Center has over 41,000 square feet with indoor dog kennels, along with plenty of space for volunteers to walk the animals in an attempt to socialize them and help them find a permanent home. The animal center contains an education area plus ample room for potential adoptees to meet-and-greet with prospective animals before making an important decision.
Friends of Town Lake Animal Center & Hard Luck Hounds
“'Friends' will be changing the name of our group to correspond with the shelter’s new name,” says Mindy Vescovo, President of Friends of Town Lake Animal Center, “so watch for that.” Vescovo grew up in Austin and has volunteered for the shelter for years, however she prefers to work in an educational and fundraising capacity versus directly working with the animals, as she points out, “I’m not good at walking past those cages, even now that we’re no-kill.”
The group, Friends of TLAC, was created to raise awareness about the shelter and to get the community involved in efforts to care for companion animals in Central Texas. “The new place supports the human faction, much better than the old place,” Vescovo continues, “That translates to not only a happier, more relaxed staff, but also letting the staff and volunteers know more about the individual animals, which in turn leads to better matches, which leads to happier adoptions and fewer returns. The new facility is the very desperately-needed oxygen mask for the humans, although it’s almost resort-like for the animals too.” The former facility was cramped with constant noise and stress overload, leading Vescovo and others to label the new facility the Zen Animal Center by comparison!
The shelter's efficient mechanical system saves 32% on energy use, water-conserving fixtures and a special cleaning system reduces water consumption by 35%. They also included solar panels and many other sustainability features with the new center.
One program with Friends of TLAC is Hard Luck Hounds (HLH). David Pasztor, coordinator of HLH, has been a volunteer for five years. The program was created to find homes for hard-to-place canines. “These are the dogs that are a little too old, or some have medical issues, or are not really cute, or have behavior issues,” explains Pasztor. This is why Pasztor created HLH, to give these dogs a chance to find homes. “If a dog has behavior issues, we pay for training. If a dog has medical issues, we help pay for vet care,” continues Pasztor.
With more room to roam plus a caring community urging compassion for unwanted and homeless animals, here’s to decades of continued success in efforts to reduce pet overpopulation and finding suitable homes for unwanted and stray animals in the Austin area.
Contact Austin Animal Center (7201 Levander Loop) at (512) 978-0500 or at www.austinanimalcenter.org.