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Austin approves changes that make it easier for more aggressive dogs to be euthanized – KUT

This story has been updated to reflect Austin City Council’s vote on Thursday.
More aggressive dogs at the Austin Animal Center will be eligible for euthanasia after the City Council on Thursday approved changes to the shelter’s rules.
The Austin Animal Center euthanizes dogs for two main reasons: aggression and sickness. Previously, dogs that were deemed aggressive had a right to be rescued by partners like Austin Pets Alive. Staff will continue to assess each animal on a case-by-case basis, but some dogs may be euthanized under the new rules without being made available to rescue partners.
No more than 5% of animals can be euthanized, per city rules. That cap remains, even with the change.
The council’s vote came after divided testimony from community members. Some residents said the change would make conditions safer at the Austin Animal Center for volunteers and staff who interact with animals daily. Others said it would protect the public from dangerous dogs that end up back in the community through foster or adoption.
But there were many people who opposed the change, which allows any dogs that cause injury — including those that are provoked — to be eligible for euthanasia.
Sasha Aghili, who runs a local animal rescue, said the change is unfair.
“There are many situations where a dog will be provoked to bite, and that shouldn’t mean automatic death,” Aghili said. “Death is so final, and to decide on whether you end a life without sharing the situation with rescues and killing a dog is wrong.”
Several residents also called out the shelter’s poor management. The Austin Animal Center has dealt with chronic capacity and staffing issues, which often means dogs are not getting the care they need, including longer times in kennels. That can lead to behavioral issues.
Deven Desai, who works with the Austin Animal Center, said the change allows staff to have a more encompassing set of guidelines to help determine if a dog is truly dangerous.
“We want to be able to look at the totality of circumstances before a decision is made,” Desai said.
Along with changes to the so-called bite scale, the city also voted to remove a rule requiring the shelter to hold a dog for 72 hours before it can be fostered, meaning more dogs can be fostered immediately.
The changes don’t go into effect right away; Austin will pilot them for six month to collect data before they are officially implemented.

Last year, 131 severe bite events, or incidents that led to severe injuries, were reported. That’s up from 84 in 2021 and 128 in 2022. Since 2017, more than 560 severe biting incidents have been reported, according to city data.
Ahead of the vote, Don Bland, who leads the city’s animal shelter, said sometimes dogs with a history of biting or other incidents end up back in the community, and they bite again.
“We feel like we are putting dogs into the community that aren’t safe,” he told KUT. “So we are trying to protect the public.”
The new aggression scale will move dog bites the city currently would consider moderate into a higher level.
During a council work session Tuesday, Council Member Leslie Pool said she wants to see a separate bite rating for dogs that attack children and elderly people.
“I was wondering if we could look at adding a category for bites to people younger than 18,” Pool said. “And it may be that this would just not be possible or would inject complexity, but I do think that has different consequences and ramifications.”
Council members also said they wanted the city, and its partners, to be more transparent with people who adopt or foster dogs that have histories of biting.

Some animal advocates and critics believe the change is just a way for the Austin Animal Center to euthanize its way out of overcapacity issues — and without proper data to support it.
Ellen Jefferson, who leads Austin Pets Alive, said the nonprofit has not seen the same level of concern the city has with biting. In fact, she said, APA rescued 82 dogs with behavior issues last year from the Austin Animal Center, but only one was found to have met this new criteria. And one of those dogs didn’t have a bite record at all.
Jefferson and others would like to see more data around these severe bite reports, adding that the shelter has been criticized for poor data keeping before.
“Our concern is that the data reporting isn’t strong enough to be able to support something like this that doesn’t allow for another organization to look and say, ‘Hey, this one doesn’t fit,’” Jefferson said. “Because if the city is just allowed to euthanize those dogs without any input then no one has the chance to help that dog.”

The Austin Animal Center has chronic overcapacity issues. Several times over the last year, the center has reported housing dogs in temporary kennels in office spaces, meetings rooms and other nontraditional kennel spaces on the property.
Overcrowded animal shelters is a trend that is being felt nationwide. Adoption rates have declined as inflation and the cost of living have increased, making it difficult to care for pets.
Stephanie Filer, executive director for Shelter Animals Count, said the problem has become more widespread since the COVID-19 pandemic, when veterinary services and other vet programs, such as microchipping and spay and neuter, were shuttered or had to pull back operations.
“So what is happening now,” she said, “is organizations are either having to restrict or reduce animals coming in, having to manage potential overcrowding, which becomes an animal welfare issue and a disease control issue, or they are having to make euthanasia decisions that they haven’t had to make since before the pandemic.”
“This is a challenging subject for any city to tackle,” Jefferson said. “We support the concept of using a scientific approach to removing dogs that are truly dangerous from our community. We want the city to use accurate and carefully examined data when making life-and-death decisions.”
Correction: A previous version of the story said that more than 560 severe biting incidents have been reported to the city since 2018. That number actually refers to incidents going back to 2017.


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