Lockhart Animal Shelter by the numbers
By Kristen Meriwether, Editor LPR
The Lockhart Animal Shelter has passionate supporters and plenty of critics in the lively Facebook groups that thousands of residents spend (too much) time in.
If someone posts about something negative happening at the shelter, an army of supporters comes to the rescue. If someone posts something positive about the shelter, an army of naysayers is quick to tell horror stories. The posts pit resident against resident, and almost always get removed.
Regardless of what side of the issue residents find themselves on, both sides find common ground on two things: they say the shelter is heavily dependent on overworked volunteers, and it’s vastly underfunded.
Is that true, or a product of the social media rumor mill?
In a $35 million budget, it represents roughly 1 percent of the total.
Roughly 65 percent—just under $250,000—go to personnel costs, including salaries, FICA/Medicare, retirement, and employee health insurance.
The Lockhart Animal Shelter is budgeted to have six full-time employees (one full time supervisor, one full time Animal Control Officer, three full time Animal Shelter Attendants/ACOs, and one full time administrative assistant), and two part-time Animal Shelter Attendants, according to City of Lockhart budget documents.
They currently have vacancies for one full time Animal Shelter Attendant/ACO and a part time Animal Shelter Attendant, according to a Feb. 24 email from Public Works Director Sean Kelley. He added that the shelter utilizes contract labor to supplement any staffing shortages.
The shelter does utilize volunteers, but just how many work at one time is unclear. Kelley said COVID protocol is currently limiting volunteers to the few long-term volunteers. They are only allowed to work when staff is present, and are intended to be in a support role, not conducting animal shelter business.
Kelley added volunteers must sign an agreement and pass a background check. No one needing community service hours from Municipal Court are allowed to volunteer at the shelter.
Animal shelters are regulated by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Animal Control Officers receive training and certifications from the Texas Department of State Health Services. That training is in the City budget for the last two fiscal years: $875 for the certification, $300 for seminars/conferences, $1754 lodging and transportation.
All other employees are given on-the-job training from the supervisor and other licensed staff members, per Kelley. Details on what that training looks like was not given.
The issue of training employees and volunteers to ensure they know municipal codes related to adoptions came up in late January when Lockhart resident Marissa Morones alleged her dog, Squeaky Baby, was prematurely adopted by the Lockhart Animal Shelter.
As previously reported by LPR, Squeaky Baby was picked up by Animal Control and taken to the shelter on Jan. 28 and then adopted from the Lockhart Animal Shelter on Feb. 3.
According to the City of Lockhart Municipal Code, Section 10-5, “Any licensed impounded cat or dog shall be kept for not fewer than seven days unless sooner reclaimed by their owner, except under quarantine.”
Morones and her husband have pressed charges against the shelter and the City is working towards a solution.
Without a clear picture of their training procedures, it is unclear how the City will ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again.
The Lockhart Animal Shelter saw just over 1400 dogs come through their facility in fiscal year 2019-2020, and 565 cats, according to city records provided to LPR.
The vast majority of the dogs (931) were strays picked up by county animal control and brought into the Lockhart Shelter. These could come from anywhere in the county, but once they are processed, it’s up to the Lockhart Animal Shelter—and their funding and manpower—to find the animals a home.
The records show 1019 of all dogs brought into the Lockhart Animal Shelter were rescued by vetted, non-profits for no-charge, 250 were claimed by their owner, and only 74 adopted for a $55 fee.
Working with rescue groups prevents animals from being euthanized due to lack of space. According to Kelley, no animal has been euthanized due to lack of space for the past six years, including during COVID.
If you are a regular visitor to those lively Facebook groups, the posts about dogs are usually some of the most commented on. For better or worse, it’s often the most effective way for people to let their experiences with the shelter be made public.
Kelley said anyone with complains about the shelter can email the Public Works Department and it will be addressed. There is no doubt Kelley takes action on items that come across his desk. But without an annual report submitted to council on issues at the shelter, there is a lack of closure for the public.
To complicate matters, the email address for the shelter isn’t a city-owned address, but a yahoo email. It is unclear if that address would even be subject to FOIA laws, if a citizen were to submit a request.