Austin Pets Alive! and the Birth of a No Kill Vision

February 2nd, 2020

By Sara Defibaugh

Austin Pets Alive! was imagined in 1997 during the euthanasia epidemic of the late nineties in Central Texas. Knowing that Austin had hit a kill rate of 87 percent, local attorney James Collins and his then-wife, Judy Ford, set out on a mission to advocate for some of the most vulnerable among us: companion animals who stood no chance upon entering the shelter system. Because of their dedication to these pets, Austin Pets Alive! was no longer something people hoped for – it became a reality.

While Collins and Ford initially envisioned APA! as an advocacy group, it became clear to those who joined their cause that advocacy alone would not be able to solve this epidemic. Tangible actions needed to be made to ensure that these specific groups of animals stopped falling through the cracks.

From this moment onward, a lifesaving vision became clear: To save lives, an organization must prioritize the No Kill philosophy in its community and establish a culture of lifesaving at an institutional level.

This vision is for all animal sheltering and rescue organizations, not just APA!. It is a guide for every organization whose goal is to reach No Kill and progress sheltering practices across the nation; and it was established right here in Austin, Texas.

After a decade of small victories (such as establishing a volunteer program, doubling the animal center budget, and supporting spay/neuter initiatives so successfully that there were 20,000 surgeries a year) Austin Pets Alive! became an official rescue organization in 2008, and Dr. Ellen Jefferson took the charge as its executive director. Watch this video of Dr. Jefferson showing off the veterinary clinic in 2011.

At this point, APA! was able to support the city shelter to reduce the kill rate to 55 percent. After an additional year of success, the city passed a resolution directing city staff to work with Austin’s Animal Advisory Commission to develop a No Kill implementation plan. A huge win not only for APA!, but for animal welfare advocates across the country – because as we would later come to find, this kicked off a new decade of sheltering advancements and city support of progressive lifesaving policies and methods.

With the help of attorney Ryan Clinton and his animal-advocacy organization, Fix Austin, on March 11, 2010, the city passed the No Kill implementation plan. That set the precedent of a 90 percent No Kill rate, the standing percentage for cities to be recognized as No Kill. Just shy of a year later, Austin met that precedent, making us the largest No Kill city in the country.

Austin’s successes did not stop there. Guided by the Lifesaving Vision, 2011 was also the first year the American Pets Alive! Conference made its debut. In 2014, Austin was awarded $4 Million dollars from Maddie’s Fund as part of their Community Lifesaving Award; two years later, pilot courses of Maddie’s Lifesaving Academy began #thankstomaddie.

The city of Austin would go on to enhance its national presence following our commitment to researching feline leukemia virus and parvovirus, saving 5,000 lives after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, and by setting a new No Kill precedent in the city of Austin of 95 percent in 2019.

None of these advancements would have been made possible if it weren’t for the individuals who knew action was needed – which is why this vision is the first of AmPA!’s 12 Lifesaving Ingredients.

American Pets Alive!’s 12 Lifesaving Ingredients take the form of policies, procedures, or protocols in one’s organization. Each of the ingredients should have tangible KPIs attached to them with the overarching goal of any ingredient being that lifesaving should be increased and euthanasia should be decreased; and with every KPI, every policy, procedure, or protocol the Lifesaving Vision should be top of mind.

We believe that every organization has the potential to maximize their lifesaving and make a long-lasting impact on their community; which is why our aim here in Austin is to support, encourage, and educate each and every organization to make that a reality. To read more about APA!’s journey, click here.

Ready to take part in a national effort to make No Kill the new normal? Click here to learn more about the 2020 American Pets Alive! Conference.

Together, we can end the urgent crisis facing shelter animals by helping save the millions of dogs, cats, and other potential pets needlessly being killed across the country each year.

Sara Defibaugh is the Digital Marketing Senior Specialist at Austin Pets Alive!. When she's not advocating for shelter pets via the digital sphere, she's hanging out with her best fur friend, Holly, an APA! alum.

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