The History of No Kill in Austin – Part 2: Advocacy to Action by Dr. Ellen Jefferson

This year Austin celebrates its fifth year as the largest No Kill City in the nation. And while that is a huge achievement, we find that most people don’t know how it was accomplished, or even what it means to be No Kill. Most people don’t see the many moving parts that have to mesh together to keep No Kill a reality and don’t realize that we could lose it at any time. Over the coming weeks, I will share the history of No Kill in Austin, how this community made it happen and why we still need your help to keep saving lives.

In 2007, 10 years after the failed No Kill Millennium Resolution, we saw more than 14,000 puppies, kittens, cats and dogs die in the city shelter. Too many. And for no real reason. We needed a revolution. Fix Austin, a group founded by Ryan Clinton, had been advocating for Austin to adopt No Kill strategies that had been successful in other cities. To his advocacy, we added action. We had no facility, no staff and very little funding. But we had compassionate people that desperately wanted to make a difference, and to begin saving lives right away.

It started with foster homes. APA! volunteers would go to the city shelter every night holding a list of the animals scheduled to be killed the next morning – an average of 40 per day. They would use cell phones to send pictures of the animals and call fosters to ask for help. Where there was a foster home available, a life was saved.

Palmer Neuhaus walking kennels at Town Lake Animal Center Photo credit: Austin American-Statesman/Rodolfo Gonzalez

Palmer Neuhaus walking kennels at Town Lake Animal Center. Photo credit Austin American-Statesman/Rodolfo Gonzalez

We had just a few hours to pull what we could, transport them out and get them into homes. It was a time of incredible joy and of terrible heartbreak. Imagine looking into the eyes of perfectly deserving dogs and cats and knowing the light in those eyes would go out in hours. Imagine having to make choices about which ones to save.

We would set up adoption sites wherever we could find a business that would allow it. We set out donation jars. We created launch teams to tackle fundraising, marketing, volunteer recruitment, behavior, adoption policies, everything we could think of we might need. We built a website and created accounts on brand-new things called Facebook and Twitter, and launched a blog where I posted updates about a dog named Phoenix.

By the end of 2008 we had saved about 800 pets – a step in the right direction. But we were encountering long-held beliefs and practices that made it challenging to do this work. It was difficult to even get the city shelter to give us the euthanasia list, because nothing like that had ever been requested and they didn’t understand why we wanted it. There was resistance from other rescue organizations who feared our adoption policies were too lax. There was a general sense of disbelief from the animal welfare community in Austin that what we proposed was possible or sustainable. And there was outright opposition from people who believed No Kill initiatives would lead to animal hoarding, would be too expensive, would result in animals lingering in cages for years, and so on.

And while those arguments raged around us, we just kept pulling, treating and adopting out as many animals as possible – and with those successes we gained more and more support from the community.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, what has buoyed us through this work is you: our community. We need your support today as much as we needed it in the days that we walked those runs. You are what made No Kill succeed and having your ongoing support is the only way we will remain No Kill. So please keep supporting us in any way you can. Time, money, or any other resource you can spare. We need you!

To continue APA!’s lifesaving programs and maintain Austin’s No Kill status, Donate Here.

Next: Grassroots

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