A Note from Ellen Jefferson
Like many animal lovers, I have been accused of loving animals more than most people, which is why it might come as a surprise to hear that I want to take a minute, during the month of thankfulness, to celebrate people. That’s right –PEOPLE.
For a long time and even now, the prevailing attitude in shelters has been that people are the problem that has caused animals to be killed in shelters. It isn’t directed towards shelter employees but those people outside the four walls of the shelter, you know- the community.
I believe that there are two reasons for this attitude:
- When you work in a place surrounded by pets that are likely to be killed and you know they all arrived because of something someone did or didn’t do, you begin to believe that the world is solely made up of people who don’t spay/neuter their pets, people who don’t treat pets well, people who are waiting for the right moment to “dump” their pet, people who don’t go to the vet, and people who can’t be trusted to foster or even adopt.
- The sheltering industry historically has missed the opportunity to look internally, to determine what they can do to increase lives saved, how they can be the heroes for the animals in their care, and most importantly, how the existing community can be leveraged to help. Instead the solutions have been solely focused on changing the community through spay/neuter programs, education programs, and laws, but meanwhile shelter animals died.
When APA! was re-engineered into a rescue entity in 2008, a very deliberate decision was made. APA! specifically chose to view the community and the people in it as potential heroes and thus created the tagline “Helping people help pets.” We believe that the good outweighs the bad, the good always wins eventually, and if people are given the same knowledge that we have about pets’ needs, people will rally to help pets. We believe that it will be people who will solve the issue of animal death in shelters. Think about it like a math game: all the animals are brought there by a person. A certain number of people-generated actions had to occur to land the animals there. As sad as that is, we believe that if we can get enough people to take an equivalent number of actions, the process could be countered and animals would be saved by actions instead of killed by actions.
I get a little teary-eyed thinking about all the ways that people have contributed to saving lives this year. On top of the hundreds of people who foster every day, the 600+ adopters that come forward every month, the volunteers who put in over 2,000 hours every week, the donors who are essential in keeping the shelter operating, and the staff members who work their hearts out every day, there were a couple of shining moments when even more people stepped into the ring to be heroes.
- In the spring, as the Texas Legislature considered adding more regulation and bureaucracy to veterinary medicine in shelters, people gave tirelessly of their time to pack hearings and to educate senators and representatives. As a result, people like Senator Kirk Watson and Representative Eddie Rodriguez, championed the plight of shelter pets that don’t have the resources of private owners or well-funded nonprofits but still clearly deserve to be given a chance to live. The bills that would have made helping pets with whatever means available illegal were thankfully defeated (at least for that legislative session).
- At the beginning of the summer, as Austin experienced one of the worst floods in its history, a simple Facebook post asking for people to come to APA! to rescue a shelter pet from the rising waters, resulted in nearly every animal in the shelter going to a temporary foster home, and a line of more potential fosters spanning the entire parking lot at the Town Lake Animal Center. And as a result of that line, hundreds more pets were saved that would have been killed in other regional shelters. All because people responded to the need and came forward to foster and adopt in droves.
- And finally last month, when a little dog named Neville was in the wrong place at the wrong time and bit a child, people came out of the woodwork to prevent his court-ordered, unnecessary death. A stellar attorney team formed and almost 250,000 (yes that’s right- TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND) people came forward to sign a petition. Those people formed a voice for Neville resulting in his case being reconsidered in a different court system and Travis County Attorney, David Escamilla, providing for his live release.
Neville is a perfect example of what’s at stake when the choice is made to either embrace people or blame people. A shelter dog, with literally no hope of survival, depended on people to advocate for him, fundraise for him, and adopt him. Those hundreds of thousands of people saw their own story and the lives of their pets in Neville’s story and truly understood that his life was worth saving. The movement to #SaveNeville proved that many people agree with us at Austin Pets Alive!, that people do care for animals, even those that are not perfect, and want them to have a second chance. Neville’s story isn’t about a “problematic community,” but rather it is about the people who believed he was worth saving and stood up to say ‘We Are All Neville!’.
It is no accident that Austin is the largest No Kill City in the US. This didn’t happen because of magic. It happened because the people, who are absolutely necessary for countering the actions of those few other people that cause pets to be in shelters, stepped up and took an action. And because those life-saving actions are repeated day after day, year after year, tens of thousands of pets in Austin and beyond get to live.
On behalf of Austin Pets Alive! and the animals that have been given a second chance by people, I want you to know how important you are to No Kill. Every animal that is alive today is incredibly thankful that you are a person in our community.
—Dr. Ellen Jefferson, Executive Director