Animal Services Volunteers Rally for Council to Fire Their Boss

Protesters call for the removal of Austin Animal Services’ Don Bland (Photo by Sarah Wolf)

Last Saturday, May 11, a coalition of volunteers at the Austin Animal Center and more than 100 supporters gathered at the Congress Avenue bridge to protest the leadership of Chief Animal Services Officer Don Bland.

In 2022, the Animal Advisory Commission passed a vote of no confidence in Bland, citing his lack of communication and poor data collection. They wrote that he had “​​alienated partnership organizations, volunteers, and other stakeholders, which has contributed to shelter overcrowding.”

Now, animal shelter employees are advocating for Council to remove Bland. They point to that earlier vote of no confidence and a subsequent audit of the animal center last year, which found that the center’s success at maintaining a no-kill policy has “come at the expense of animal care.” Local animal rights organization Here for the Dogs, which organized Saturday’s protest, writes on its website, “Austin Animal Center has been in a management crisis for quite some time. Led by Don Bland, poor leadership at [Austin Animal Center] has led to constant overcrowding, constantly limited intake, stakeholder alienation, and repeated threats and steps toward abandoning the City of Austin’s commitment to No Kill.”

Though Council has not yet discussed removing Bland, in February, they announced a suite of changes including changing the way dogs’ bite histories are classified (those changes won’t be implemented till later this summer). Changes already implemented include moving dogs into the foster system faster by doing away with a 72-hour shelter stay requirement before adoption, increasing volunteers and fosters by more than 50%, expanding spay and neuter programs, and hiring a full-time IT person. All adoption fees have been waived since June 2023.

In a statement Monday, Bland wrote, “We know the emotional toll that being involved in animal welfare takes even in the best of times, and we’re so appreciative of our staff, volunteers, and community members for helping us save 97% of the lives that come into our care month after month. Our goal is always to find appropriate placement for as many dogs as possible while balancing intake requests and humane care, and we welcome any assistance in getting these dogs placed.” In March, the animal shelter put together an Urgent Placement list with the goal of facilitating placement for dogs that have specific behavioral needs and may be at risk of euthanasia. They’re also offering a $400 incentive per every dog over 40 pounds that rescue partners can pull from the shelter. (Interested rescues should email [email protected].)

Animal rights advocates say it’s not enough. “Don Bland continues to lead by distrust, misinformation, and emotional manipulation as he leverages the lives of these dogs to put Austin Animal Center on the path to manage space by killing healthy, placeable dogs – regularly and routinely and our City Council and Mayor Kirk Watson refuse to take action,” Here for the Dogs writes. “Our city and its dogs deserve better.”