April 1, 2020
Today I talked to Don Bland, Austin’s Chief Animal Services Officer at Austin Animal Center (AAC). We thought it important to share an update on the status of AAC, as the city animal shelter is so important to, and has such an impact on, lifesaving at APA! and in the city of Austin. As of this morning, AAC has 125 animals on site and 479 in foster. One month ago on March 1, Don said that there were 431 animals on site at AAC, so it’s incredible to see the shift from animals in-shelter to animals in-home, and foster homes increase overall, like we are seeing at APA!.
The animals which remain at the city shelter are receiving really personalized care for medical issues, behavioral quirks, and enhanced overall enrichment. Don said he has sensed a big change in the animals’ stress levels and noted improvements in behaviors as simple as coming out of kennels easier because they’re less fearful. We agreed that this is the new normal we’d like to stick with – utilizing the community more and prioritizing animals at the shelter who really need to be there.
Since the city shelter is currently closed, animals are not being picked up in the community by city services unless there is an urgent or emergency need. (Guidance is still being provided to those who call 311 to report an animal found.) Interestingly, with these reports and the guidance provided to help community members get pets home themselves, early data shows 87 percent were found in the neighborhood they lived in. Many are being returned to their owners the same day or the next day after community members took them to a store or vet to scan for a microchip, or after posting to a social media site like Nextdoor.
This data confirms what we’ve suspected for a long time, that many pets don’t need to be brought into the shelter at all, but rather be connected to their families with the support of other members of the community. Our city shelter is revolutionary in collecting this and similar data, such as previous reports that dogs are typically found within 1,000 feet of their homes but then brought up to 20 miles away to the shelter. This stay-at-home order has forced the community to step up for animals, and it really shows what improvements to the system can be made in getting found pets home with community support versus so many animals being brought to the shelter.
APA! and AAC are still accepting fosters, and are especially in need of those with more time and space to help our big dogs needing to be the only pet and bottle baby kittens who need regular feeding.
Again, I also want to ask those who can provide a monetary gift at this time to do so. We are only able to continue to progress lifesaving, and pioneer new ways of sheltering, with your continued support. Please click here if you are able to #savepetsinsweats today!
*To find additional community resources, please see below under the March 27th blog post.
March 31, 2020
Last week, there was a UT Austin study published and presented to city council on the effect of social distancing in our Austin-Round Rock area. The modeling projected the effectiveness of social distancing at 0%, 50%, 70%, and 90% compared to the projected spread of COVID-19 in our area and related strain on our local healthcare systems. According to the model, the study found reducing daily contacts between people (social distancing) by 90 percent would ensure that enough hospital beds, ventilators, and other critical care resources are available.
This information is incredibly helpful as we navigate how our shelter operates and will help us keep in mind how our actions are impacting the rest of our world. Our goal is to be as mindful as possible. As a result, we’re taking the stance that we’re only continuing services which have a direct or indirect lifesaving impact on animals, and only if we can operate at 90 percent reduced contact between people.
As an example, I discussed with Dr. Bardzinski, our Medical Director, in our clinic yesterday what this transition looks like for our medical services. She explained that the biggest change for the clinic is restricting people from coming in the clinic at all. When an animal needs to be seen for an urgent or emergent need, new processes and protocols are in place for that transfer to happen outside. Clinic staff is talking to people on the phone or online and kennels are available for one person to put the animal in, move away, and then the other person takes them out. Anyone waiting, waits in their car. With wellness procedures, the clinic is also adjusting the vaccination schedules as far out as we can and evaluating what can be taught to those caring for the animals to complete in homes.
Our adoption teams are also moving to completing adoptions virtually. We had already closed our shelter to walk-ins, and requested potential adopters schedule an appointment. Now, our cat adoption team has released their new virtual adoption appointments scheduler. Cat matchmakers are electronically, or via phone calls, suggesting kitties if customers need direction on the best fit for their family, and then when ready to adopt, the appointment and paperwork is all done electronically. Virtual meet-and-greets are even being tested!
We will continue to keep the community apprised of adjustments we make. Thank you to everyone in our teams and supporting our teams for your flexibility during this time!
*To find additional community resources, please see below under the March 27th blog post.
March 28, 2020
I am thrilled to announce 82% of our animals, more than 1,100, are now in foster homes. That is incredible! This is the first time in 70 years that at our shelter, Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC), has been more empty than full. I'm so proud of this organization and grateful to everyone supporting it.
We’re continuing to place as many as we can directly into foster homes and have less than 200 animals at the shelter right now, which is phenomenally low for us. We’re still continuing to place pets in our care into homes as fast as we can. The process is a little slower for us because we work with a challenging population of dogs and cats, but they are who need us most. We’re still processing the overwhelming amount of applications to foster and in particular, looking for homes with no other pets and space for privacy to support one of our dogs more comfortable in that setting. Another important foster we still need is for bottle baby kittens, especially since kitten season is approaching and we might not be able to open our nursery. If you’re interested, we continue to ask for people willing to foster to apply here.
I know there are still growing concerns about the spread of, and availability of tests for, COVID-19. I'm proud of all the measures each of our teams have taken to ensure that humans are safe and that we are doing our part to flatten the curve. It's hard to strike the balance of prioritizing preventing spread of the virus and preventing needless death of pets, but I believe we are doing a great job. I want to thank all of the essential people coming to our shelter for continuing to take the proper precautions. The American Veterinary Medical Association and CDC are also now saying that pet fur does NOT carry the virus, which is encouraging. I will continue to talk to the Shelter Medicine Professors at universities for the latest recommendations.
Austin Pets Alive! has always filled the gaps in lifesaving for companion animals - first in Austin and then beyond. Right now our mission is more important than ever, and we will find ways to fill the gaps in lifesaving in this new era. We know from survey data of 350 organizations, that there will be shelters whose lifesaving is at risk during these challenging times. Regionally, we will need to act to save lives as soon as those shelters hit the inevitable bottleneck of too many animals in their shelter. I want you to know that we are narrowing our focus to those animals – the ones that have fallen through the cracks. We are here for them and those shelters who are struggling. I'm so grateful to work with such a strong team of individuals who are here to ensure that during all of this human turmoil, animals don't needlessly lose their lives.
We will continue to be in need of support to ensure that these efforts continue to be strong. To provide a monetary gift, please click here.
*To find additional community resources, please see below under the March 27th blog post.
March 27, 2020
We know that uneasiness is increasing across the country, and we’re grateful our community remains dedicated to what we’re doing. We’re considered an essential service right now so we can continue some normal activities and continue to focus on lifesaving during this time. I was at the shelter today watching a playgroup, and it was so inspiring to see the commitment of our team members. I want to thank our volunteers, fosters, staff, board of directors, and community.
We prepared well but are still unsure of how we will fare financially down the road, and with other resources, but our supporters are resilient and have continued to be there for us when we need it most. We will continue to need your support as we try to recoup our revenue lost from our Thrift stores closing and navigate this new normal. If you are able to #savepetsinsweats, please share our plea on social media! Research shows that most individuals learn about nonprofits through word of mouth. So if you’re able to, share a photo of yourself, and how you’re saving pets while practicing social distancing in your sweats, and use the hashtag #savepetsinsweats – you might even see yourself featured on one of our pages!
We still have an amazingly overwhelming foster response we’re working through, so we appreciate your patience and encourage everyone still interested in fostering to let us know if you have a home with no other pets and space for privacy so that you can jump the line and support one of our dogs more comfortable in that setting. Another important foster need we still have is for bottle baby kittens. If you’re willing to bottle feed, please let us know!
Even with the uncertainty, we know one thing is clear: There is an undeniable desire to save animals among our team and supporters, despite any challenges we face. This is an important time for animal shelters everywhere. This is when we learn what it really takes to save animal lives, and this gives us a clearer picture of how communities across the country should be having conversations of what works and what doesn’t, and how we can use this experience to learn what we can do better – including here in Austin.
Additional resources for our community:
Stay safe, healthy, and informed.
March 24, 2020
Mayor Adler issued a Stay Home-Work Safe order today for Austin. The order goes into effect tonight right before midnight (11:59 p.m.) and continues until April 13. We contacted our elected officials to make sure animal welfare organizations were on their radar, and Leslie Pool’s office was very responsive as was the director of Austin Animal Services. The order will formalize restrictions for going out in the community, with the exception of essential activities and services--which we have confirmed we, lifesaving animal services, are. We are encouraging other shelters in other jurisdictions to do the same. It’s critical that we adhere to the restrictions around making sure we don’t spread the disease and take all necessary precautions while still saving animal lives right now.
Fortunately, our preparedness efforts at Austin Pets Alive! up to this point have positioned us well for this, and I continue to be so impressed with all of our team members’ quick and diligent work. Since caring for our animals is, thankfully, considered an essential service, this order simply means our rotating teams (which we’ve already established) of essential personnel on site are the only staff permitted on campus. It is our understanding that we can continue most of our operations with minimal staff on site and continue many other operations remotely. A few additional measures we are taking as a result of the order:
We’ll continue to keep these updates coming. We appreciate so much the community’s response. Please don’t forget we are seeking support from anyone whose circumstances allow for helping financially right now, we are still seeking foster homes for our pets, and we are still continuing adoptions via appointments only.
March 22, 2020
Governor Abbott just held a press conference to update citizens on the spread of COVID-19 in Texas. Three hundred and thirty four Texans have tested positive for COVID-19. The Governor issued orders focused on maximizing capacity for the healthcare systems in Texas, ordering that elective (not urgent) surgeries be postponed for the time being. We need to make sure that this applies to veterinarians and if it does, we will stop all spay/neuter and nonemergency surgeries to comply with the order from Governor Abbott for all health professionals, licensed in Texas, to cease all nonemergency (life and death) surgeries immediately. This will be challenging as we normally bring in hundreds of animals a month, have current kittens and puppies growing up in foster and pre-adoption homes and are contemplating the possible need of other shelters and rescues to assist with more lifesaving in Texas. We will figure it out after this virus is over and work with the Texas authorities to determine what we can do to stem unwanted litters and heat cycles in companion animals, especially if COVID-19 continues for the months to come. To add to the challenges that this creates, all shelters in Texas are under state law that pets must be sterilized prior to legal release to new owners. The Governor’s executive order may mean more pets are killed because pets cannot be sterilized. We have already placed calls to state representatives who can assist in clarifying if this will apply to veterinarians and lifting that state law on a temporary basis.
This weekend we have:
Below is our current census as of today. We are grateful to all the community members who have stepped up and opened their homes to help us get to our goal of less than 50% animal capacity at our shelter so we can now be ready for anything to come. Our leadership and American Pets Alive! teams continue to watch closely what is happening in surrounding shelters, and are prepared to evaluate supporting those who need us if they are in a position that their organizations have challenges severe enough to consider any animal killing.
Offsite adoption centers (Petco, PetSmart): 24% full
Tarrytown: 25% full
Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC): 21% full
Tarrytown: 16% full
Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC): 44% full
Thank you and please continue to check our website for updates. Despite challenges amid COVID-19, we remain completely committed to animal lifesaving.
March 20, 2020
The City of Austin Public Health Department provided an update this afternoon that there is early evidence of community spread. We are fortunate that our local healthcare systems are not taxed to the point that a complete lockdown is mandated, but it is recommended that everyone stay home as much as possible and maintain social distancing to prevent that. Those of us who do leave our homes should pay close attention for any flu-like symptoms before we do. If symptoms are present, we should be checking our temperatures twice a day and calling a doctor and self quarantining (staying home) if 99.6 F or higher.
We’re continuing to do our best to follow all the guidelines during this time to prevent a COVID-19 spread without compromising our animal lifesaving or our financial security. We are concerned as we start to see our revenues dipping from slowing donations, adoption fees, and traffic to our thrift stores, so we are seeking support from anyone whose circumstances allow for helping financially right now.
There was also national news yesterday about animals and the virus. I’m in constant communication with veterinarians and researchers across the country and can confirm that there is still zero evidence of animal to human spread, and vice versa, of the virus. Idexx, a trusted veterinary laboratory, has tested thousands of dogs and cats and found zero positive cases. Right now, the two positive cases found overseas can only be seen as anomalies or errors and the same recommendations from American scientists remain, that there is no reason to fear dogs and cats. We’re continuing to debunk those myths and ensure people aren’t turning their backs on any animals during this tense time.
We do see more and more empty kennels each day, though, which is a great sign that our animals are getting into homes, many being foster homes. Particularly, we saw 15 of our long-stay dogs, who need specific set ups, get into homes. Long-stay dogs are dogs who have spent 300+ days in our system either at the shelter or in and out of foster homes. Typically we’d only see that happen for about one a week. Please reach out to us if your home is open!
Tonight we’ll be announcing a complete move to appointments only for adoptions. This will allow us to minimize foot traffic but will still allow people in to get their pets!
Thank you, Austin, for sharing our belief that pets are family. Have a good night.
March 19, 2020
COVID-19 is affecting everything that we typically do on a daily basis, and as a result, we’re changing almost all of our procedures. This has taken time and hard work from our teams, but is putting us in a solid position ahead of a potential spread in Austin, which would affect our teams and our visitors.
Some other things we’re working to implement are:
I also spoke to Don Bland, the Chief Animal Services Officer at Austin Animal Center, and he said they’re doing pretty well with having enough space for animals, which is great as that will continue to be a concern during their closure. For both of our shelters, our continuing to shift animals into foster homes will remain a priority. For both adoption and foster teams, it’s an incredible amount of work pairing and placing the animals in homes so we ask for your continued patience with us.
We are indebted to you for your support. Thank you.
March 18, 2020
Hello Everyone –
Like many other organizations in the Austin community, we’re continuing to take COVID-19 very seriously. Our preparedness efforts are being continually adjusted and reinforced with all of our teams, and I’m so proud of the amazing work everyone continues to put in to keep animal lifesaving a priority during this pandemic. A few things we’re doing which are working well are:
At this time, we’re continuing to work on projections for the impact financially. We’re adjusting our policies to make sure our team members can stay home if they're sick, and we’re asking our supporters if they can make a donation. We’re incredibly grateful for those who have already.
March 17, 2020
APA! is continuing to do everything we can to save lives and not spread COVID-19. Our teams have been working urgently to move many animals to foster, even while adding in a lot of extra work around sanitation and crowd control (as in maintaining no crowds at any point in time). I’m so proud of volunteers and staff alike who have continued to make sure animals stay safe.
As of a few hours ago, we are down to only using 60% of TLAC which is so close to our goal of 50%. Thank you to all the fosters who are coming forward and opening their homes. That success is a huge group effort!
We are in close contact with Austin Animal Center and understand that they are also having success moving animals to foster and currently have no dogs in their overflow conference room, which is very good. Please continue to send fosters their way.
We saw a lot less traffic at our shelter today, which is good for “flattening the curve” of COVID-19. However, we continue to worry about the long term effect on adoptions, donations, and overall support for the animals. We are hanging in there, though, and keeping our chins up, just like everyone else in America.
On a positive note, we had a very special visitor swing by TLAC today to foster a big dog! We are so appreciative of this fabulous guests’ support. Click here to hear from him yourself!
Truly, thank you to every single person who is making sure that this disease does not take this city backwards.
March 16, 2020
You may have heard on the news that Austin Animal Center (AAC) is closed to the general public for two weeks. We are watching this situation very closely and are in close contact with the city shelter staff to ensure that Austin's animals remain safe. Here is what we know:
Please note that APA! is not an open-intake facility and cannot take animals in on behalf of AAC. The current recommendation is to leave healthy looking stray animals where they are or knock on doors until you find the owner. Studies have shown that pets are usually within 0.25 miles from their home when found.
You may be wondering what we are doing to also prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our facility.
Today, we are increasing our measures to protect people and pets by:
You will see signage for all these things accordingly.
By Wednesday, 3/18/2020, we will have implemented a plan to try to divide staff up to certain days of the week to create a team A, team B, team C approach in case one team gets sick. This is much harder to do with volunteers but we will try.
The clinic is rearranging how they work so you will see more car appointments, more information by email/phone rather than in person, and more restrictions on visiting the clinic since that is a place where a lot of people gather.
We still need to move half of our onsite animals to fosters and are now looking for homes that can accommodate dogs who may need to be the only dog in a home. Please sign up if you haven’t already to foster a dog or cat by clicking here. *Fosters must apply online and wait to be contacted by the appropriate foster team prior to coming to the shelter to pick up an animal.
Other ways to support us during this time:
We are doing what we can to protect our community with these heightened protocols, and the animals who depend on us by continuing adoptions. As we receive more information on national and local precautions being taken, we will adjust accordingly. During this time, we encourage Austinites to do what they can to help the most vulnerable of us and to stay informed in order to mitigate panic while staying healthy and safe.
– Dr. Ellen Jefferson
March 13, 2020
COVID-19 is a rapidly unfolding situation in Austin and we are monitoring it very closely – both by following the local authority’s lead on restrictions but also by communicating multiple times a day with shelter leaders around the country who prioritize lifesaving the same way we do.
Austin Pets Alive! is in existence to ensure that every animal has a fair chance at a good life. We are committed to that mission in Austin and beyond. This is going to be a trying time for our country and we don’t know what the future will hold, but we are committed to continuing to create live outcomes for pets here in Austin and everywhere else.
Because of the need to continue to help animals, especially now, we are asking our community of stakeholders to be cautious about the spread of disease by following simple protocols while on campus, such as:
We are asking volunteers, who are comfortable and able, to increase their expertise at APA! so that we have more interchangeable people in case of a personnel and volunteer shortage.
We are urgently working to move as many animals to foster homes as possible as well as grow our pool of foster animals to prepare for incoming animals. We believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to have a smaller number of animals onsite in case we are hit hard with staff shortages or a shutdown. You can read our press release highlighting this need with the city of Austin here.
We have concerns about supply shortages, and have ordered/are ordering accordingly, but if you happen to have extra supplies, please see what we urgently need by clicking here.
There will also be increased costs associated with this pandemic virus, in addition to anticipated essential revenue already lost due to the the cancellation of the vast majority of SXSW events, and other donor-focused events in order to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19. By making a donation, you will ensure critical operating dollars that allow us to intake, care for, and ultimately save already vulnerable, at-risk shelter pets.
Everyone thinks that saving pets is only about the animals. It is 100% dependent on people, and you are our people. Be safe. We will keep sharing more information as we have it.
March 11, 2020
I want to keep you as informed as possible as we navigate our current normal of taking daily precautions to prevent coronavirus. Today, it is important to know two things:
We recognize that lifesaving is incredibly important to the Austin community, and we are going to do everything we can to ensure there is zero impact to our animals. Fortunately, our staff and volunteers are well versed on operating through a crisis and handling pet disease issues because we are one of the only nonprofits in the country that willingly takes in animals exposed or suffering from contagious disease. Since this is NOT a pet disease issue, it will be new for us, but I have high confidence that if any team can handle it, it is ours. We will continuously update this blog as we receive new information.