The Story of No Kill Austin – Part 3: Grassroots 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.

As we entered 2009, we began using data in a very deliberate way to save lives. We looked at the animals most often killed at the city shelter, and saw very distinct populations of animals. For example, kittens under the age of eight weeks were automatically killed during the summer. The city shelter simply did not have a way to care for these babies because they need to be fed every three hours when young and need to be eight weeks of age for spay/neuter before adoption. So, we launched a program specifically for them. We set up a bottle baby nursery in a trailer on South Congress. Volunteers came around the clock to feed, clean, weigh and love on these little orphans.

Very quickly Austin went from killing all of the neonatal kittens to saving them all.


Adoption event on South Congress with Bottle Baby trailer in the background. Photo credit: Ed Lehmann

Adoption event on South Congress with Bottle Baby trailer in the background. Photo credit: Ed Lehmann

APA! continued to operate on a shoestring, as we still do. To raise money, we set out donation jars, sold t-shirts, held events, took pictures with Santa, anything we could. We used every free resource. Meanwhile, we were also fighting to get the powers that be on board. APA!’s work was actively opposed by many of the groups that you would think would be supportive. Back then, the city shelter had the full load of bureaucracy on it and change was very hard.

For example, the shelter kept a certain percentage of their cages empty, as a policy. That meant that every day, perfectly healthy animals with no known problems were killed – just to maintain the empty cage quota. That these animals were dying even though there was a kennel available never made any sense. And yet, that was the policy, in case of emergency, and the policy was followed. Common sense didn’t have a place at the table.

We needed help to change policies like these from within the city government. We had endless meetings, educated the city council one by one on what No Kill means. And because the community rallied behind us every step of the way – hosting fundraisers at beer joints, putting APA! stickers on their cars, posting pictures of pets on Facebook and showing up at council meetings in droves in their APA! shirts–we finally got the top-down mandate we needed to start making a real difference.

In March 2010, Councilmembers Morrison and Martinez brought the motion to have the city shelter adopt a series of programs aimed at eliminating unnecessary killing.

It went into effect immediately and included an order that the shelter would not kill pets if there were any empty cages.I will never forget that day. Our volunteers went to “walk” the euthanasia list and found it empty. None were killed the next day, nor the next. The cages did fill up within two weeks, but we relished the win. And that’s when progress really began to happen.

Austin only stays the largest No Kill City in the nation because of the people of Austin want it to. As long as the people of Austin believe that a kitten should not be killed for the crime of simply being “too young” or that a dog should not be killed while a kennel sits empty, we can continue. As long as you continue to donate, to volunteer, to foster and adopt. Only as long as YOU wear your APA! shirt or put a sticker on your car can APA! continue to save these lives. We need you today more than ever.

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

Next: Livesaving Programs