Some cry foul as Austin Pets Alive vies for new shelter on city land

One of Austin’s largest animal rescue groups, Austin Pets Alive, will lobby the City Council on Thursday night for a chance to build its permanent home on a prime piece of downtown park land.

The resolution on the council agenda would get the ball rolling on a master planning process for Lamar Beach – a strip of land along Cesar Chavez across from Lady Bird Lake. The land is home to the old Town Lake Animal Center, now inhabited by Austin Pets Alive, as well as the West Austin Youth Association sports fields and a parking lot for the nearby YMCA.

The rescue group, which has less than a year left on its city contract, is mobilizing its supporters to attend Thursday night’s meeting. The group has raised $1.2 million of the $10 million needed to build a new shelter and adoption center on the property. The city would own the building and property and APA would pay to build and maintain it.

Even Willie Nelson is weighing in.

The animals that APA saves are the pets that are hardest to adopt and most in need of a home,” Nelson said in a letter posted to the group’s Facebook page. “They need to be in the heart of Austin where everyone can see them.”

Other members of Austin’s animal rescue community are crying foul. They say the resolution for the master plan didn’t go through two advisory commissions that should have vetted it, said David Pasztor, a member of the city’s animal advisory commission.

While he applauds the work that Austin Pets Alive has done, Pasztor says the group is being given a sweetheart deal and other rescue groups are being left out.

The group’s claim to the city-owned land is being treated as a foregone conclusion, Pasztor said. “It’s a huge jump that should not be taken this quickly and without input.”

The public will have opportunity to comment during the master planning process, and the plan will go before several advisory commissions before being finalized, city officials said, with nothing set in stone.

Austin Pets Alive is an important piece of a larger network of over 100 animal rescue groups that keeps Austin the largest no-kill city in the country, said Patricia Fraga, city of Austin spokeswoman. Last month, the Austin Animal Center, the city-run shelter at 7201 Levander Loop, was able to save 94 percent of the animals that came in. About 47 percent of those animals left with rescue groups, and Austin Pets Alive was the largest rescuer, Fraga said.

When Austin Pets Alive moved into the city’s old animal shelter three years ago, it was supposed to be a temporary stop until the group could buy a piece of land and build its own facility, but it has hit roadblocks, said executive director Dr. Ellen Jefferson.

“Shelters are things that people don’t want in the city,” Jefferson said. “Across the country, shelters get pushed to the outskirts and that’s what happened to our shelter here,” she said, referring to the Austin Animal Center, which moved to Austin’s east side.

Properties that are centrally located and within the group’s price range are often blocked by neighborhood associations or have environmental issues that make them unfit for a shelter, Jefferson said.

Everyone agrees that the current shelter has to go. It’s a constant struggle to keep up with maintenance, which the group pays for, and the summer heat can be hard on the dogs in the outdoor runs, Jefferson said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story of failed include information about a possible deal between Austin Pets Alive and the city of Austin. If the deal goes through, APA would pay to build and maintain the shelter and the city would own the building and property.

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