Just last month, the Town Lake Animal Center teamed up with the City of Austin to make sure that area shelters are not only equipped to house the homeless, but their pets as well. However, the plan has yet to see any success.
The city’s action is part of Austin's Cold Weather Shelter Operations Plan, which activates whenever temperatures fall below 35 degrees with precipitation or 32 degrees without.
Ten cages are set up at the Town Lake Animal Center for any homeless person to store their pet while they stay at a shelter.
"We’ll hold on to it here, keep it warm for them until the cold weather blows over," Animal Control Officer Chris Robles said. "All they have to do is go to a bus stop and tell the bus driver that they'd like to go to our shelter. The bus drivers will call 311 who will report it to us."
However, the ten cages at the animal shelter have remained empty. For Janie Pietro, a homeless resident of Austin, she did not want to leave her 11-week-old kitten Fiona at Town Lake for the night.
"We usually put her either in our jacket or backpack, just enough air for her to get in," Pietro said. "She may be a pain in my backside, but no matter what I still love her."
Pietro spent the last couple of freezing nights at a Lifeworks shelter, and Fiona squeezed right into her sleeping bag. The staff made an exception to their no-pets rule for the tiny kitten.
City council member Laura Morrison pushed for the city’s homeless pet program. She said she was surprised it hasn’t been used.
"Certainly we're interested in trying to understand a little more if there are specific issues we haven’t been able to take care of yet because we have to be respectful of peoples’ relationships with their pets," she said.
Pietro said taking her cat to Town Lake was the last thing she wanted to do. Just before Christmas, Pietro said she left Fiona at the animal shelter to be observed for rabbis.
When Pietro went back, the kitten had already been adopted to someone else.
"They told the owners that she didn't have an owner," Pietro said. "And I was really mad about it."
Pietro said the shelter did locate the adopters and got her cat back, but she doesn’t think she will ever trust the animal center again.
"I already lost her once, and I don’t want to lose her again," she said.
The city is working to convince homeless pet owners their animals will be safer and warmer in the shelter.