Austin names new animal services chief

Getting to no-kill is only half the fun. Staying above a 90 percent save rate and continuing to reduce the number of animals dying in the shelter system to as close to zero as possible requires a community-wide commitment to lifesaving.

That’s why everyone who is anyone in animal welfare in Austin, Texas, and surrounding Travis County was biting his or her nails in anticipation of who would be appointed to succeed Abigail Smith as chief animal services officer. Because of Austin’s exemplary role as a model no-kill community, the appointment will have repercussions far beyond the area serviced by Austin Animal Services.

The Austin approach to ending shelter killing was unique when it hit the headlines in 2011 because it wasn’t driven by the head of animal services or by the large traditional animal welfare organization in town, as had been the pattern in prior successful no-kill efforts. To the contrary, both of those agencies at the time were, to be kind, less than helpful in achieving Austin’s no-kill aspirations. The heavy lifting was being done by Austin Pets Alive, under the leadership of Dr. Ellen Jefferson, and an army of engaged Austin residents. Eventually, Austin hired Abigail Smith as chief of animal services to run the city’s side of the campaign and, to date, that partnership has kept Austin a benchmark no-kill community.

Austin Pets Alive demonstrated conclusively that a no-kill campaign could be driven by a well-organized, highly motivated rescue organization. It took a lot of work to achieve and requires continuing work and commitment to maintain and improve upon.

Austin’s accomplishments and ongoing work could be made much more difficult and even be seriously unraveled by an appointment of someone who doesn’t understand, endorse or thoroughly support what has been accomplished, or someone who doesn’t want to share the spotlight with Austin Pets Alive.

Well, those chewed-up fingernails are growing in just fine since the city announced the appointment of Tawny Hammond as chief animal services officer in late May. She will take her post on June 15.

Tawny has more than 30 years of experience in public service and comes to Austin after leading Fairfax County, Virginia, which has 1.2 million residents, to become the nation’s largest no-kill jurisdiction. Tawny has a long and distinguished career in public service. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Leadership Award and the Compassion Award from the Federation of Virginia Humane Societies are among her many accolades.

This is good news for Austin and for our movement as the city continues to raise the bar on lifesaving and community engagement. With leadership like that provided by Tawny Hammond and Dr. Ellen Jefferson, we can indeed Save Them All.

Julie Castle with Sunny the dog
Julie Castle
Best Friends Animal Society