Dog pound in trouble (with video)

Published 8:17 am Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One of dogs at the city animal shelter barks from its cage as CSO Jim Dugan opens the door to the shelter. -- Eric Johnson/

Austin city leaders admit the animal shelter is in tough shape. While plans are in the works to build a new one, the project could be postponed if the state cuts local government aid funds.

There are six dog pens on the outside of the facility. The shelter building, once a part of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, was converted more than 35 years ago to accommodate a growing need for a pound. It is now outdated and every day the community service officers who tend animals there have to find cheap, safe ways to house the dogs, cats and other pets that are turned over to the city.

The Mower County Humane Society’s Friends in Need animal shelter is in a similar state. Unlike the city pound, the MCHS has a no-kill policy, which means space can get tight when there are many animals left there.

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The MCHS building was once a restaurant and a car garage before the building was similarly renovated to create the shelter. Like the city pound, it is also outdated, lacking space and in need of various helpful repairs.

Each animal shelter looks to be in rough shape, according to volunteers, which is why earlier this year, city council debated setting aside $250,000 in funds for a new shelter. It also considered including the project in the city’s Five Year Capital Investment Plan.

Yet if the state legislature votes to cut local government aid (LGA) funds next year, Austin will go without an updated animal shelter that, by many accounts, it sorely needs, according to city leaders.

“Neither of the facilities are very good,” said Jim Hurm, Austin’s city administrator. “The council said earlier this year in a work session that they feel (the city shelter)’s in really tough shape.”

Money was set aside in next year’s proposed budget to start building a new shelter, according to Tom Dankert, the city’s director of administrative services.

Dankert said the project, like other projects in the city’s building fund, would be funded through interest made off of city investments.

Yet the project may not be able to start next year. While the city was certified in August to receive a proposed $1,084,000 in LGA funding for next year, it may not get the full amount. Dankert, Hurm and other community leaders fear the state legislature will cut LGA funding again next year, as it has for the last three years. If that happens, starting an animal shelter project would be among the first cuts the city would have to make, according to several city officials.