Collaborative Lifesaving: APA! at Best Friends Animal Society

by maryheerwald • Posted in: General

By Mike Kaviani, Director of Lifesaving Operations at Austin Pets Alive!

In the words of Ryan Clinton, founder of FixAustin.org and one of the original architects of Austin’s No Kill movement: No Kill is a journey – not a destination.

Back in 2012, when Austin had already achieved both a 90% save rate (the industry metric for achieving No Kill) and its status as the largest No Kill city in America, it would have been easy for Dr. Jefferson and Austin Pets Alive! to take the foot off the gas. APA! had already accomplished what no one else had, so was there really any more to learn or achieve? In spite of this success, Dr. Jefferson knew the journey was far from over, so she contacted my boss and mentor, Aimee Sadler (Founder and CEO of Dogs Playing for Life) – and a few months later, I landed in Austin to create a brand new behavior department (using the DPFL model) with the goal of saving the dogs who fall within that last 10%. Because of these efforts and thanks to an unprecedented partnership with Austin Animal Center, we have achieved a truly historic save rate: today, the city of Austin is saving upwards of a raw 98% of all the dogs that come into the shelter. Is it now time to circle the wagons and say this is finally good enough, or is there even more we can attain?

Best Friends Animal Society has been a leader in animal welfare around the country through national advocacy initiatives focused on shutting down puppy mills, fighting breed-discriminatory legislation, and keeping community cats safe and out of shelters. Their landmark work with the dogs rescued from Michael Vick‘s dog fighting operation has driven positive legislative changes with regard to how dogs from fight ring busts are treated.  Best Friends is working towards turning the entire state of Utah into a No Kill state by 2019, is on the verge of transforming the city of Los Angeles No Kill, and is aiding Atlanta, New York and Nashville in their efforts to become No Kill cities.  They are also helping hundreds of communities across the country through legislative support, lifesaving programs and its network partner program with over 2,000 shelters and rescue groups. In addition, they have just launched No Kill 2025, a plan to make the entire country No Kill.  With this tremendous work on both local and national levels, is there anything Best Friends Animal Society can learn from a smaller organization?

For both Austin Pets Alive! and Best Friends Animal Society, the answer to these questions is “yes.” Neither organization believes it has reached its destination, and that motivation is exactly what will help move No Kill efforts forward on micro and macro levels. So, I am excited to share that right now, Austin Pets Alive! and Best Friends Animal Society are once again demonstrating their commitment to the constant pursuit to learn more, do more, save more, and to continue along the journey that is No Kill.

Marian Cannell, Dr. Carley Faughn and Mike Kaviani.

APA!’s Dog Behavior Co-Manager, Marian Cannell, and I are currently at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah for three days to meet with Dr. Carley Faughn, Dogtown Manager, and Michelle Weaver, Director of Animal Care for Best Friends. For Best Friends, this is a unique opportunity to get a fresh set of eyes on some of the highest-caliber dogs at Dogtown and to learn some of the techniques that have enabled us to successfully and safely save the vast majority of Austin’s most challenging dogs, which translates to one of the highest save rates for these dogs in the country. For Marian and me, with Austin Pets Alive! at the forefront of the country’s shelter dog behavior programs, it is an opportunity to spread our search for new solutions and new ideas for the dogs of Austin to the Best Friends Headquarters in Kanab, one of the most inspiring and magical locations in our industry.

For both organizations, this collaboration not only represents the next step in our country’s No Kill journey, but also an understanding that we will not reach our destination until we have a coordinated effort to eradicate the needless killing of homeless pets. I’m proud that Austin has been forging what it means to be a model No Kill city, and we’re excited to be on this trip to Utah for the opportunity to swap expertise with some of the most passionate No Kill leaders in the country. Here’s to the collaborative future of lifesaving!