Can you imagine America becoming a No Kill Nation? American Pets Alive! can and it is our mission. AmPA! is dedicated to making America No-Kill by hosting a yearly National Conference that shares Austin Pets Alive!’s innovative No-Kill programs to educate rescues and communities across the country on how to adopt our methods and end the unnecessary killing of companion animals.
As the AmPA! Conference Coordinator, is it my job to help animal welfare advocates and concerned citizens from across the country develop No-Kill programs or guide them through the initial steps to No-Kill. Before I get in to how Austin Pets Alive! started and just how influential our programs and conferences are, I want to share my story before joining Austin & American Pets Alive!.
My entire life I have been an animal lover and I even carried my love of animals to the books and studied Animal Science at Texas A&M University. Over 2 years ago, an opportunity arose for me to become the Director of Development at a shelter where I grew up. I immediately jumped at it! This was my chance to finally make a real difference for animals that are in dire need. Unfortunately, this shelter took in around 40,000 animals a year and was, and still is, a high kill shelter. I knew the stats and I took it as a challenge to help raise the live release rate and help give these animals a second chance at life.
This was my first encounter into the world of animal welfare (besides my family and I running our own little operation behind our dad’s back). It was a harsh reality that this killing happens not only in my hometown, but all over America. Often, it was difficult to deal with. There were so many animals coming in and not enough getting out. I would hear our Director and some staff give excuses like “We have a huge pet overpopulation problem”, “It is the public’s fault”, “Costs too much to save them all”, ‘Not enough homes”, “These animals are not adoptable”, and “What else are we to do with the animals we cannot adopt or rescue out besides humanely put them down?”. Many of us who were trying to save so many finally grew accustom and believed these excuses. How could we know any different? We started to blame the public and decided that euthanasia was the only option for all these (treatable and savable) pets.
After a year and a half, I did all that I could. I doubled our social media following, doubled adoptions, raised over $400,00, started two new and wildly successful events that are now a part of their yearly schedule, more than tripled their Foster and Volunteer Program and most importantly hired compassionate and passionate staff. None of that was enough and did not make an impact on those animals that needed it most. Changes I wanted made to help the other 70%+, animals who didn’t stand a chance, were shot down time after time. All we would hear is reasons why saving those specific animals wouldn’t work and that was that. No open-mindedness or any conversations of possible solutions to help these pets live. I finally knew what it was like to be one of those caged animals knowing I can’t get out and it broke my heart. I decided it was time for me to start a new route in life and move to Austin, TX.
There is where my mind was blown. Pets everywhere! At restaurants, huge dog parks, walking around in the malls, hanging out at bars, dog friendly offices! I quickly came to understand that Austin is the largest No Kill City in the country. People lived and breathed for their pets. If a pet was lost in the middle of the road, you better believe 20 cars stopped to help director traffic and safely catch the animal and return it to the owner. I wanted to learn how the whole Austin area became No-Kill and how they created this, what I considered, phenomenon. Just ask anyone about/who sparked this this culture and time and time again they will say “Austin Pets Alive!”.
When Austin Pets Alive! (APA!) started rescuing animals in 2008, Austin was somewhat rich in resources that prevented births. For almost ten years, more and more resources were put into spay and neuter programs, but the live outcome rate at their city shelter was stuck around 50%. While several resources were going into prevention and reducing intake, there was no effort to increase live outcomes from the shelter. APA! saw that gap and created programs to save the key demographics of pets that hadn’t been making it out of our municipal shelter alive: puppies with parvovirus, dogs with behavior challenges, cats with Ringworm, FeLV+ cats, unweaned kittens, under socialized cats, dogs and cats in need of additional behavioral support and/or additional medical attention. By developing comprehensive, innovative programs that targeted these key groups of animals and pulling directly from euthanasia lists, APA! has saved more than 35,000 dogs and cats since 2008. This year Austin celebrated their 5th year as remaining the largest No Kill City.
I was lucky enough to join APA! in December of 2015 as their Conference Coordinator for their program American Pets Alive! (AmPA!). In just 2 months, I learned everything I needed to know about becoming No-Kill and how many different types of rescues and communities have joined the No Kill Movement. It has worked in wealthy cities, poor cities, rural areas, urban areas, organizations with large budgets and organizations with shoestring budgets (like the City of Seagoville with a budget of less than $30,000 a year). All the different excuses I heard while working back in my previous job were nullified. I quickly realized that majority of animal shelters across the US were stuck in the “Dark Ages” and they simply do not have the resources or knowledge of is this modern type of animal sheltering/rescuing. I know from personal experience, that there are many people in the animal sheltering world that want to save all the animals and simply have no clue how. It is my job to reach out, inform them of this amazing program and how they can start saving lives today.
I realized I was having AHA!’s left and right! My first AHA moment was placing under socialized cats in the Barn Cat Program. These cats are adopted to families who appreciate ‘working cats’ for critter patrol and can provide a safe, appropriate environment such as a barn, stable, garage, or warehouse. My second AHA! moment was how to handle FeLV+ cats. Feline Leukemia (FeLV) is a highly contagious virus and because of the highly contagious nature of disease, FeLV+ cats are kept isolated from other cats who are not infected in a special sanctuary that these kitties can call home until their forever family finds them. My final AHA, was becoming No-Kill is only possible by having a compassionate director who would take a stance and keep on fighting to save as many lives as they can no matter the number of “Nos” or the excuses of “it won’t work”. You must have a strong leader with solutions instead of excuses.
This hit me like a ton of bricks. Becoming No-Kill is easy and APA! is in a key position to help other rescues, organizations and communities across the country since they are the leaders in the No Kill Movement. For this reason, APA! developed American Pets Alive! and decided to create a yearly National No-Kill Conference. We know there are lots of animal welfare conferences, but there is only one conference with one, single objective: teaching you exactly how to save more lives.
The AmPA! Conference was started with a clear purpose, in just three days, YOU can learn what what otherwise may take months or years. At AmPA!, you’ll leave with detailed, proven strategies to stop killing in your community. Whether you’re a shelter director employee, a volunteer, foster or community advocate, you’ll go home with the tools and knowledge to make immediate change. Here in Austin, we have the benefit of five years of proven No Kill Success under our belts and we will show you how to same them all because we have the answers.
I am happy to say, the previous shelter I was employed at will be attending the 2016 Conference.
AmPA! National Conference will be held on November 5-7, 2016 at the University of Texas Thompson Conference Center in Austin, TX.
For more information on Austin Pets Alive! you can visit us at www.austinpetsalive.org and for information on American Pets Alive! and conference details visit www.americanpetsalive.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guest post: Margot McClelland
American Pets Alive! Conference Coordinator