Austin Pets Alive! Earns 4 Million Dollars!

A cat dressed as a Texas cat.

Imagine what you would do if someone gave you 4 million dollars. Would you get a beautiful home, luxury cars or travel the world? For most people, this is just an enjoyable fantasy. However, if you are Dr. Ellen Jefferson and her organization Austin Pets Alive! you really did just get a 4 million dollar grant from Maddie’s Fund to help teach animal advocates nationwide how to save healthy and treatable animals just like they do in Austin, Texas.

How APA! Pushed Austin to No Kill

Austin, Texas has been America’s largest No Kill city since 2011. The city began their quest to go No Kill back in the 1997. That same year, APA! was formed. The group advocated for No Kill but little progress was made. In 2008, APA! decided to focus on rescuing pets directly off of the city shelter’s kill list. Led by Dr. Ellen Jefferson, they had great success in saving lives and became the leading force in the Austin No Kill movement. In 2010 the city council finally agreed to back a No Kill resolution and co-operate fully with APA! A year later Austin, Texas became the largest No Kill city in the nation.

A kitten rescued at APA!'s bottle baby nursery.

I asked Dr. Ellen Jefferson some questions about APA!, the Maddie’s Fund grant, and how this will help the No Kill movement nationally.

NoKillSanFrancisco: APA! seems to have gone from an all-volunteer rescue to a major force in the national No-Kill movement in a relatively short period of time (9 years?) To what do you credit your success?

Dr. Ellen Jefferson: When we started we developed a laser like focus on saving the lives of the pets that were not being saved. It sounds simple but no one else was approaching it that way. By doing so, we were able to quickly eliminate each problem that prevents a pet from being saved which then saved them. There have been a ton of other approaches that are not as direct that did not yield the same results.

Part of APA!'s identity is also grassroots scrappiness. We had to compete with the very low costs associated with shelter killing, the fast timeline (most pets get 1-3 days before their time is up), and the fact that we can't hire our way to attending to the pets' needs. We operate on a shoestring budget to be able to serve the most vulnerable pets of Central Texas as possible, and that, combined with creative problem-solving and a huge volunteer and foster base, has been a significant contributing factor to the number of pets we're able to save each year.

Cute puppies courtesy of APA!

NoKillSanFrancisco:Where did the idea for this program come from? How was it developed?

Dr. Ellen Jefferson: As soon as we started to see real progress after the launch of our programs, Austin Pets Alive! was receiving a significant amount of requests to help mentor or provide resources to shelters and communities interested in increasing their lifesaving capacity. The idea for the No Kill Training Academy - which has now evolved into the "Maddie's® Lifesaving Academy at Austin Pets Alive! and Austin Animal Center" spanning two Austin-based entities - spawned from an intense desire to save lives across the country. We don't want people to feel that what's happening in Austin, maintaining our status as the largest No Kill city in the country, is something truly extraordinary. We know it is attainable and scalable, and the Maddie's® Lifesaving Academy is a critical and main component of making that a reality. We have solutions to No Kill barriers in Austin, and our experts at both APA! and our municipal counterpart, Austin Animal Center, are excited to share and mentor people through the development of their own programs.

NoKillSanFrancisco: What are some of the main concepts or skills the students in the program will be learning?

Dr. Ellen Jefferson: The specific content that students will focus on and acquire will depend on which learning opportunity they attend. The most important concept that every student will see in action is the underlying principle that relates to and propels every program at APA!: that we will do everything in our power to treat each animal in our care, offering them a legitimate chance at life and helping them find their best forever home.

Our programs cover the various pillars of our dog and cat lifesaving initiatives and students will learn on-site from Austin leaders through 18 apprenticeships and 3 master classes. An array of learning topics offered will cover everything from medical and behavior to foster care and fundraising and more.

An image from APA!

NoKillSanFrancisco: What will be the effects on No-Kill nationally?

Dr. Ellen Jefferson: We believe that the Maddie's® Lifesaving Academy will have far-reaching effects, especially because this is a first-of-its-kind opportunity to truly scale lifesaving solutions across the country. APA! just received a multi-million dollar grant from Maddie's Fund® to support this initiative so that over the next three years, nearly 2,000 animal welfare workers across the country will participate. As the nation’s largest No Kill city and premier resource for lifesaving programs, Austin will be home to the Maddie’s® Lifesaving Academy – an unprecedented educational program to help save exponentially more homeless pets on many local levels, leading to national progress. The goal is for students to take what they've learned at this training academy and apply it in their own communities.

A volunteer feeds a kitten at the APA! kitten nursery.

NoKillSanFrancisco: Will APA! be encouraging the establishment of kitten nurseries? How much do they help No-Kill?

Dr. Ellen Jefferson: Absolutely! Kitten neonatal nurseries, or what we lovingly refer to as "Bottle Baby Nurseries," are one of APA's revolutionary lifesaving programs as they have a significant impact on the ability of animal shelters or rescues to save at-risk feline populations. Here at APA!, we have a robust kitten foster program that can only function because of the strength of our kitten nursery. Without APA!'s Neonatal Kitten Nursery, Austin would not be able to save the nearly 2,000 kittens that come through our organization each year.

The development of neonatal kitten nurseries, as with any of our programs, in local communities can provide relatively immediate impacts on their save rates.

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