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Austin City Council approves fire code changes for facilities that board animals

Following a devastating 2021 fire in Georgetown, many surrounding cities have made changes to their fire safety codes for facilities that board animals.

AUSTIN, Texas — On Sept. 21, 2021, a fire broke out at the Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown, killing 75 dogs. The facility had no smoke alarms, sprinklers or staff members in the building at the time of the fire.

It was a loss that pet owners like Leikyn Huckins, whose two dogs died in the fire, still feel to this day. 

"Drexel and Gizmo alone gave my family an enormous amount of love, joy and companionship," Huckins said. "They were absolutely members of our family."

At the time of the fire, pet facilities in Georgetown were not required to provide animals the same fire safety protections as humans. 

"I learned that because our animals are considered property, they are not considered occupants of a building," Huckins said. "This means that these facilities are not required to build or operate in a way that preserves life."

Since that night, Huckins has been working to see animals treated as more than just "property."

Since the fire in 2021, Georgetown, Liberty Hill, Cedar Park and Round Rock have all made changes to their fire codes for buildings that board animals. Now Austin intends to join that list. 

During Thursday's Austin City Council meeting, members approved on consent Item #42, which would update fire safety standards for facilities that house or hold animals on a 24-hour basis.

"Today's resolution takes the necessary first step to initiate amendments to our city's fire code to establish fire safety standards for 24-hour pet boarding facilities," Councilmember José ''Chito'' Vela (District 4) said.

Now that the resolution has been approved, it will go to the Building and Fire Code Board of Appeals, then back to council for a public hearing because any changes to a fire code require a notice to the public. After that, it would need a final approval.

Thursday's initial approval is something that Huckins has been waiting to see. 

"Every change that is made becomes a gift from their death and means that they did not die in vain," Huckins said. 

Vela said the council will be reviewing everything in a meeting after their break, which will be in late summer or early fall.

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