Q: Tell us the story of each of your pups.
A: Bernese is 9 years old and she’s from the San Antonio shelter. Back in 2012, she was part of a litter that was there and her littermates all got adopted and she didn’t for a year. She grew up in a kennel. Not a good situation at all. She was so fearful of people, that’s why she didn’t get adopted. She kept cowering in the back. And so when they were going through a space crisis, I asked if I could foster somebody that would help save them space and would help them save lives.
Back then we were trying to do San Antonio Pets Alive! and trying to help that city and they gave me her. She was untouchable for several months so we just adopted her thinking she’d never warm up to people. But she’s done a lot better. Now she’s 9 and she’s mostly chill. Her biggest problem is that she’s terrified of people.
Q: Is that because she was alone in her kennel during that time?
A: Yeah, she’s tricky. She definitely has some dog/dog issues and some dog/people issues, but she’s my most normal.
A: Buster was in Hurricane Harvey. He was in rabies quarantine in a Houston shelter. At that time they weren’t vaccinating for distemper because they thought they weren’t allowed to since the law says they have to wait for the rabies vaccine at the end of quarantine, but it’s not true that it’s illegal and we’ve since worked with them and they now vaccinate every dog that’s going through rabies quarantine. He was really, really sick.
He was paralyzed for a month. He lost all of the muscles in his head so he can’t open his mouth. His esophagus didn’t work. He’s a total disaster. He has a stomach tube on the side of his stomach where he still gets fed because he can’t open his mouth. It’s been 4 years and it’s taken him this long to start licking food out of a frying pan after he gets his medications to get his esophagus to work. He’s come a long way. He’s not paralyzed anymore, but he can’t open his mouth. He can get his tongue out a tiny bit and he’s so sweet. He’s a miracle dog. We don’t know exactly how old he is. We thought he was maybe 2 when he came into the shelter so he’s probably around 6.
A: Echo is the little brown one and she was right before Hurricane Harvey.
She was a distemper puppy pulled from San Antonio that came over to APA! that was in a foster home with her brother. Her brother died immediately and she got really sick and became paralyzed. She was 8 weeks old when that happened. She was paralyzed for 2-3 months. Me and Pam Martin shared custody of her when I was going back and forth to Houston.
This happened right when Harvey hit. She has a ton of developmental issues because she couldn’t move during her growth phases. She has one arm that goes to the side. It was the only one she could move for a few months so that one’s become her most muscular arm, kind of in a weird position which then made it hard to fit her for a cart or to get anybody to help with her because her limbs go in all different directions and her back legs don’t really work. So she’s permanently paralyzed and she’s mostly continent. When she scoots around, she goes to the bathroom. She’s kind of the highest need dog we have even though Buster has a lot of problems. She’s really sweet too. She’s very loving but because she was going to die when she was a baby, she never got exposed to people except for me and Pam. So she hasn’t developed any socialization skills which is why she barks like crazy. But she warms up pretty quick.
A: Bullfrog is also from San Antonio. He was born in 2012. They were going through a massive distemper outbreak.
When shelters go through the evolution of massive killing to saving more [lives], that exposes all of the problems. So shelters like San Antonio and Houston that had really high death rates, never knew they were spreading distemper everywhere because all of the animals died so they didn’t exhibit symptoms. So as you start seeing that trajectory upward of live release rate, distemper comes out in an outbreak because they're not vaccinating at intake. They’re not keeping anyone separate. They’re not doing any of the things to help the disease spread. So he was exposed as a baby. His whole litter died. He also had Parvo and I had all of the Parvo puppies from San Antonio for a year. He got over Parvo and got really sick with distemper. He couldn’t lift his head off of the ground for 2 years and couldn’t open his mouth for 2 years, so we also thought he was going to die because he was in such bad shape so we didn’t socialize him either. Now he can run around and bite people which is not great. At least he’s controllable because he only has 3 legs.
Q: How do they all get along?
A: Ehhhh. Echo is the biggest problem because she's a bossy bee. She’s always growling...so we have to keep her separate when we’re not home.
Q: Can you share the story of how the Parvo ward started in your bathroom?
A: It started in that bathroom [points]. It’s all tile so it’s a great place to have Parvo. I took home the first litter and it just kept being the Parvo ward after that. The upstairs bathroom wasn’t finished when we moved in so I painted the floors with sealer so we could put puppies up there. We didn’t have enough money at the time to finish it. The upstairs and downstairs are where I tried to segregate the dogs.
Q: When did that start?
A: The first litter of puppies was Thanksgiving 2008. That was the first litter we got that was really sick. I went to pick up healthy puppies to transport for somebody and the shelter said, “I don't think you want those puppies, they’re pretty sick.” I went back and looked at them and I was like I can handle this.
Q: Did you know how to treat Parvo at that time?
A: Oh yeah, you learn that in vet school. All vet clinics can do it. We treated it in every vet clinic I worked at - it’s common. That was the real epiphany, why can’t shelters treat it? There was an unspoken rule that shelters aren’t allowed to treat it because of potential spread throughout the shelter. Even when we started treating it, shelter professionals came out of the woodwork to shame us. It really helped that I was a vet and I could be like, “That’s ridiculous.” It takes one person to really damage your reputation.
A: They were just killed hand over fist. All of these purebred pugs and basset hounds, all sorts of things that come through the shelters because they have Parvo and they’re surrendered. Somehow people know to do that, and that still happens all across Texas. It is kind of sad to think that people have purchased these dogs and I assume they love them. Some of the bills they’re quoted are like $10K. That’s part of what I'm really excited about with the future and HASS. If we can start helping people when their dogs get sick, then it helps prevent them from just getting another one, because who’s telling them not to bring another puppy into that environment where it’s all over the place? Nobody.
Q: What was it like having all of those puppies in your home?
A: When all of the San Antonio puppies were here, it was the most. It was 25 at a time. Our whole guest room was filled with crates and the bathrooms were filled with Parvo puppies. I probably spent 8 hours away cleaning and treating dogs.
Obviously, it needed to be more sustainable and San Antonio has their own Parvo ward now. After that first year, they didn’t need help in someone’s home anymore. It’s a horrible odor.
Q: Was it just you? (photos below are some of the parvo puppies she saved in her bathroom)
A: Yeah. I didn’t really have anybody to help. It’s really hard to come into somebody’s house and help with that. So yeah it was just me. It’s all of the goal to never do that again. It's sad to think that those 25 puppies were just fine.
Q: What does the 10 year anniversary of No Kill Austin mean to you?
A: I think that it’s awesome. We’re the longest-standing No Kill community. It’s really exciting. It’s amazing that when we started everybody said it’s not sustainable, it’s not going to work, you guys are going to be overloaded. You can’t possibly keep up with all of the animals that need to be saved. I think it’s good that that has proven to be untrue. It is sustainable in a way. I think what we’re trying to head towards now is more sustainability that doesn’t rely on APA! having to do acrobatics to make sure every animal is safe. It should be more institutionalized in the government system. But as long as we’re here, it’s sustainable. It’s inspiring.
Q: Why do you think people are still so hard-headed around the idea that No Kill is impossible?
A: It's not people outside the system. It’s typically people inside the system. And when you’ve been doing it for so long...I can see the change of people who join the movement in an organization that has a high rate of killing. I can see the psychological change that happens. They cross the line and they recognize that they can’t do it [become No Kill] and they’re okay with it. I don’t mean okay, it’s still damaging. There’s a shift that happens. I don’t know if you can ever get back from that.
Q: Do you think it’s going to take a younger generation to have new ideas to make a change?
A: Yes. I think there has to be a changing of the guard. There has to be an expectation that it’s not acceptable to kill animals. And then things start to change. The system is rooted in this powerless feeling of “Well we just have to clean up the mess from the irresponsible pet owners.” Anytime the language is used that way, it’s outside the power of the org, people’s irresponsibility is outside the power, as soon as the conversation shifts to that, you lose the ability to change things you can’t control. When you talk about it in terms of things you can’t control, you can’t do it. When you talk about things in terms of things you can control, then you can do it. But I think it will take more people to be aware that it’s possible and that it should be done in order to remove the expectation that it’s okay not to. All governments have accepted that that’s okay.
Q: What are you most proud of over the past 10 years?
A: I'm so proud of the organization. We’ve done so much as a group. It’s incredibly difficult work. It’s not easy. It’s not always fun. It causes burnout. I’m proud that we’re at the point where we are. We’re having discussions on how to make things sustainable.
We don’t rely on people who are burning out and then passing the baton to someone else to burn out. I’m proud that we’re here. I’m proud that we made it happen and I'm proud that we’re still doing it and I'm proud that we’re looking to make it better.
Q: Where do you see the movement in the next 10 years?
A: By starting to crack the nut of animals not dying in shelters, it starts to show that there can be some systemization to anything in the shelter. The only systemization that existed forever was to take them in for 3 days and kill them. That happens over and over everywhere across America. So clearly it has some roots in institutionalization. By being able to automate lifesaving to a degree, we’ve got the Bottle Baby ward where kittens go, there’s a place for every type of animal to go so they don’t die. What we need to do next is create that same kind of pipeline for animals that aren’t going to die, even in our own shelter. The pipeline needs to be clear of how they’re getting out. A big dog that’s rowdy at the city shelter comes to our shelter and there needs to be a very clear path on how it gets out. Instead of focusing on the care in the shelter, maybe in addition. So that’s step one, making sure the whole system is automated.
A: The next piece is trying to untangle why animals are coming in, to begin with. It’s always this assumption that pet owners don’t care and animals are just stray and have no owner. And probably none of those things are true. We have to start looking at the things we can control and can be changed and that’s never been done before. It’s just astounding for this time and age. I think it goes back to if you think you can’t control it, you don’t try to. It’s a mindset.
A: Hopefully we will spend the next 10 years making Austin the epicenter of lifesaving for not only Austin but for everywhere else. Austin is on the brink of going one way or the other. Either we’re just a mediocre shelter, in a mediocre system, in a city with a good live release rate, which many cities have caught up to. Or we’re going to continue leading the charge and revolutionize the ways shelters operate. I hope we will spend the next 10 years making Austin the place people can come and learn, people can come and see it in action. The whole city understands how the intervention part works, how the care works, how the live outcomes work and it’s not just magic.
Q: How do you feel about Austin being the epicenter of lifesaving and then Texas and California killing the most animals?
A: I think we can change that dramatically. We already work heavily outside of Austin in Texas shelters. By focusing more on government laws and budgeting, giving governments the tools to make the changes even if they don’t have the right personality at the shelter or they don't have the right city council. It shouldn’t have to be a perfect set of circumstances that causes No Kill. It should be a turnkey process. I think we can help a lot. One of the things we’re working on with HASS is a benchmarking system. Anyone in the public can compare their community with other communities which are then compared to what people want, not how shelters operate. People can use the public’s expectations to drive change. They’ve never had the tools in the past, and they still don’t have them, but if we can build those out for the average animal lover to make a change and drive that apathy then that’s a game-changer. I don’t think anyone wants pets to be killed in shelters.
With Dr. Jefferson at the helm, the trajectory of APA! has exceeded anyone’s expectations. With her leadership and your support, we can ensure Austin will remain No Kill for more than 10 more years and counting.
Join us in celebrating Austin's 10th No Kill Anniversary by making a donation today. Thanks to a generous board member, all gifts will be DOUBLED up to $10K!
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