Follow the Fellow: Sheila Kouhkan

by maryheerwald • Posted in: General

Hi! I’m Sheila, and I am a Maddie’s Executive Leadership Fellow here in Austin training with Austin Pets Alive! and Austin Animal Center! This fellowship has provided me with the unique opportunity to shadow leaders at the forefront of the No Kill movement. In 2017, Austin Animal Center had a save rate of 97.9 percent, and much of this is thanks to the partnership with Austin Pets Alive!.

I moved to Austin from Los Angeles to learn how this community became the largest No-Kill city in the nation through exciting, fresh solutions, collaboration, and education. I’d like to share a few of the key lessons I’ve learned thus far.

“Mind the gap!” Something Austin Pets Alive!’s Executive Director, Dr. Ellen Jefferson, has done incredibly well is identify the gaps in lifesaving and strategize how to fill them creatively. I observed this first-hand when we responded to Hurricane Harvey. Dr. Jefferson knew we had to help the animals displaced by Hurricane Harvey, so we went to Houston and found that the animals that had been stranded or had to be left behind were being rescued by good samaritans and amazing organizations like Cajun Navy. But, they did not know what to do once they got these animals out of the flood waters. Austin Pets Alive! stepped up and filled that gap, setting up a transport hub in the middle of the parking lot of the Katy Mills Mall and arranged for transports of thousands of animals to safety in Austin.

“You’re doing it wrong. But at least you’re doing it. Once you’re doing it, you have a chance to do it better. Waiting for perfect means not starting.” Dr. Jefferson sent me this quote from this blog as we set up a pop-up shelter in Houston. Hurricane Harvey was a blessing in disguise for Houston’s animals because it gave us the opportunity to set up a pop-up shelter for strays that normally would not have a good chance of making it out of Houston’s shelters alive.

This was an incredibly difficult task as we were short-handed in a chaotic environment. A previously flooded grocery store wasn’t the ideal place for an animal shelter, but we had to make lemonade out of these lemons and we made sure to prioritize the things that mattered, like overall animal care. I think a lot of people are hesitant to start the path towards No Kill because they might not have the funding, spacing, staffing, etc. But, it is important to just get started and the pieces of the puzzle will come together gradually.

Volunteers are everything! When we set up our pop-up rescue and transport hub in the middle of a parking lot at the Katy Mills Mall, we did not have a plan or the ability to send staff to help because our Austin Pets Alive! team was needed to tend to the overflow of animals in Austin. But, we set up shop and word spread rapidly. Soon, we had hundreds of volunteers and we were operating like a well-oiled machine. We had people cleaning crates day and night, sorting donations, walking dogs, and staying up at all hours to make sure our animals were safe overnight.

We had dozens of volunteer veterinarians and vet techs offering their services to our animals. Not once did I hear a complaint about volunteers because the task they were assigned was boring or messy. They knew how crucial they were to our lifesaving operation, and it is completely thanks to them that we were able to accomplish what we did for Harvey’s displaced animals. Thanks to the amazing staff and volunteers, Austin Pets Alive! was able to help save over 5,000 animals affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Stay tuned for more tidbits from my time with the amazing Austin teams!

– Sheila