History of No Kill in Austin – Part 1: A Journey by Dr. Ellen Jefferson

by Lisa Maxwell • Posted in: No Kill Is

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.

Prior to 1997, the Austin municipal animal shelter killed 85 percent of the pets it received. Every puppy or kitten under eight weeks of age was killed. Every puppy even suspected of having been exposed to parvo was killed. Every cat suspected of being exposed to ringworm, whether or not they had it, was killed. Pets with the animal version of a head cold were killed. Pets were killed while kennels sat empty. You get the idea.

Mostly people were not aware of the scale of the killing. Or, they believed that pets being killed in the shelter were unadoptable or too much trouble to save. And it is technically true that it is less expensive to kill a neonatal kitten than it is to give it vaccines, feed it every few hours, and care for it until it’s adoptable. So they took the easiest route – a shot of sodium pentobarbital and off to the landfill with the corpse.

I call it killing, not euthanasia, because by definition euthanasia is ending a life to stop suffering. Killing a perfectly healthy dog because it barked at other dogs is not euthanasia, and referring to it as such masks the brutal reality.

Slowly, people began to understand just what was happening at our municipal shelter, and, being Austinites, they decided it simply wasn’t good enough for our city. Something needed to change. And it did change – somewhat.

In 1997, the city council passed the No Kill Millennium resolution: the city of Austin would become No Kill by the year 2000. The Animal Advisory Commission created an 18-page document with lots of ideas about how to achieve No Kill status, such as providing more low-cost spay/neuter services, working more with private rescue groups and creating more outreach and education. And although many of the ideas were implemented –by 2005 the city was still killing more than 50 percent of the animals.

I volunteered at the city shelter and saw first-hand the volumes of animals killed. In 1999, I founded Emancipet with the hope of reducing the number of animals coming into the shelter in the first place by providing low- or no-cost spay/neuter and other health services, and yet the fact remained that by 2008 more than 14,000 animals were being killed every year.

This has been a battle and we’re still fighting it. In the next few blogs, I’ll discuss where we are with No Kill today and where we’re going. The one thing that remains constant? We need your support today as much as we needed it the day Austin became No Kill. We are still fighting the fight – there is no end in sight. And we still need you – our community – by our sides fighting for these precious lives with us. We need your time. We need your love for animals. And we need your donations. So please keep giving in any way you can. Stay tuned for more on No Kill.

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

Next: From advocacy to action.