Austin Pets Alive Leads Nation, But Could Lose Everything

Austin Pets Alive HeadquartersFour years ago in Austin, 14,000 domestic animals were being euthanized every year. Today, Austin leads the entire nation, having reached the goal of 90% no kill.

The eyes of the nation watch our local non-profit, Austin Pets Alive, as they trailblaze with innovative methods and ideas, championing for animals that were destined to die.

Austin Pets Alive Takes Off as Grassroots Effort

Austin Pets Alive Founder Ellen Jefferson

Austin Pets Alive! founder, Ellen Jefferson (right)

In 2007, Ellen Jefferson was working as a veterinarian at Emancipet, a non-profit she founded. “As a vet, I did nine years of spaying and neutering. I figured we could really make an impact on the kill ratio if we could keep the animal population down. But I realized we could do something more. I just needed to figure out what it was and make it happen.”

Ellen came up with an idea for a hands-on, in-take shelter that rescued animals from the city’s euthanasia list. It would provide foster programs, adoption programs and much more, in addition to spaying and neutering services. It was a huge vision, with no capital to back it up.

Ellen shared her idea everywhere she went. Ultimately, she found a partner in the already existing organization, Austin Pets Alive. At the time, Austin Pets Alive had been an advocacy group for over a decade.

“They already had a board of directors, were established as a 501(c)3 and had a good history in the community. It was a good match. I used an e-mail list that Austin Pets Alive had built over time, and volunteers came out of the woodwork.

So many people volunteered, but no one wanted to be the leader. I was dumb enough to say, ‘I’ll be the leader.’ Four years later, here I am.” -Ellen Jefferson

Several politically influential people joined the Austin Pets Alive Board of Directors. State Representative Eddie Rodriguez was one of them, a major advocate for a no-kill Austin. Ellen’s heart and vision, combined with a politically influential board and numerous volunteers, sparked a grassroots movement that ultimately propelled the organization to become national leaders. Ellen reflected, “It’s pretty crazy when you look back on it. We’ve come a long way in four years, but we have a long way yet to go.”

Kitten at Baby Bottle Program

Kitten in Baby Bottle Program

Austin Pets Alive in Danger of Losing Everything

Austin Pets Alive fought hard to move into the city’s abandoned animal shelter on Caesar Chavez. Though it’s far better than the facility they had before, the organization still faces uncertainty. Austin’s city government wants to tear down the buildings that Austin Pets Alive calls home. Their lease expires on June 1, 2015, but they have no capital for a new building campaign.

Says Ellen, “All of our money goes to the animals. We really need 10-15,000 square feet of space within Austin city limits. But the space alone won’t solve the issue. The location needs to be zoned properly, and we need to be able to build out the kennels, which is the really challenging part.”

Austin Pets Alive Kennels

Austin Pets Alive kennels need replacing within the next year

Though two and a half years may sound far off, there are challenges facing Austin Pets Alive that are more immediate than that. By the end of October 2013, Austin Pets Alive must update many of their existing kennels to comply with regulations, or they will be closed. At the same time, their lease doesn’t allow them to make “any major changes.” If that weren’t enough, Austin Pets Alive is losing their city funding this month, November 2012.

The Impact of Austin Pets Alive

A 90% no-kill rate is truly remarkable. There is no other city in the nation like Austin when it comes to the care and well being of our precious animals. Here are some impressive statistics about Austin Pets Alive:

  • #1 No Kill City in the nation at 90% and climbing
  • Largest pet foster program in the country, with over 800 animals in foster care
  • Over 7,000 animals saved from euthanasia during this year alone
  • Have helped adopt out over 17,000 animals
  • 1,200-2,000 bottle baby kittens are saved each year
  • 120 spay and neuters are provided each week
  • Dog behaviorist on staff doing groundbreaking work
  • Providing homes for even the most challenging and sick animals
Austin Pets Alive Behavioral Dog Program

Ground breaking dog behavior program at Austin Pets Alive

The “Jog a Dog” program represents another way that Austin Pets Alive is leading with innovative methods. With this program, Austin Pets Alive has partnered with Team Spiridon, Hill Country Running Co. and Firecracker Dog to encourage runners to take shelter dogs out for fresh air and exercise. Not everyone can adopt a pet, but anyone can take the initiative to help animals while getting their regular exercise on Town Lake.

So how can you help?

Greatest Needs at Austin Pets Alive

Everyone can help. There are needs ranging from large-scale funding down to a bag of kitty litter.

For Anyone With a Heart for Animals

Austin Pets Alive Volunteer

Volunteers mean the world to Austin Pets Alive

Take a look at the following list and find out how you can do your part to keep Austin Pets Alive running for years to come.

  1. Long term homes: Austin Pets Alive’s #1 goal is to provide quality, long-term homes for the animals they shelter. Adoptions are always the priority. If you’re looking for a family companion or friend, it’s possible to walk in and out on the same day with a healthy and happy playmate after an hour’s investment. Email for more information.
  2. Funding: Austin Pets Alive is losing their city funding this month. Without this funding, their mission will be critically impaired. If you have a heart for animals, there’s no better place to share your resources here in Austin – heck, maybe in the country!
  3. Everyday items: Kitty food and puppy food are always needed. Kitten milk, cat litter (clumping Tidy Cat preferred), towels and blankets. If you can help with any of these items, please don’t hesitate!
  4. Volunteer: They are always in need of volunteers at Austin Pets Alive. For more informatio, email

For Angel Donors, Philanthropists and Companies

Baby Bottle Program at Austin Pets Alive

A playful participant in the Baby Bottle Program

Ellen Jefferson expressed the following large-scale needs, in order of importance:

  1. Sponsor for Baby Bottle Program: Austin has the leading baby bottle program in the nation at Austin Pets Alive. People all over the country are watching and wanting to pattern themselves after the program here.  $250,000 annually would support the entire Baby Bottle Program, providing staff, milk, the development of an intern program and more. This is currently a primary need because of the amount of eyes watching this program. A sponsor for this program would have an impact on animals across the nation.
  2. Refurbish gates: The gates to the kennels need to be refurbished, or Austin Pets Alive is going to lose the use of them. This upgrade will cost around $100,000.
  3. Vans for offsite adoptions: Austin Pets Alive needs more vans to safely transport animals to offsite adoption locations. Each van costs approximately $25,000. These vans must have air conditioning in the back portion of the van, due to the extreme temperatures we face here in Texas.

If you can help with any of these large scale needs, please use our contact form on the Austinot and we’ll put you directly in touch with Ellen Jefferson.

Keep Austin Pets Alive

No matter who you are, what your resources are or what you have to give, Austin Pets Alive is thankful for each and every donation. It is so wonderful to have this amazing organization as part of our city. Please share this post with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or whatever. Let’s get the word out and keep Austin Pets Alive!

Baby Bottle Kitten at Austin Pets Alive

@EricHighland asks:

What are your thoughts on Austin Pets Alive?


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  • Kimberly Storin

    Austin Pets Alive is the driving force of the no kill movement in Austin, Central Texas and the country. The organization’s success is a testament to the strength and passion of Austin’s tight-knit community that proudly bands together for the greater good. Thank you Austin, and thank you Austin Pets Alive, for saving our pets and setting an example for the rest of the country.

  • Carol Haggard

    I applaud APA for all that you have done to improve conditions for animals in Central Texas. Particularly, in your volunteers where dedication is strong. Thank you on behalf of my furry friend, Brooks, that I got from APA 2 years ago. Couldn’t have found a better pet.

    Why are you losing the funding from the City? Is there any way that action can be changed?

  • person1

    I think everyone who loves animals would like an organization like this to succeed. Sadly, they have huge communication issues and their Volunteers and funders drop like flies after continuously having bad experience time and time again. They really need to work on their PR and in turn their reputation will return. Maybe it’s time for a New leader(s)?

    • Volunteer

      YES. I was an APA volunteer for two years, doing in-home fostering. After a horrible series of experiences, I have resigned and won’t be doing any more work for them.

      I have become convinced that the reason they are doing such a great job at keeping the City shelter “no kill” is because they simply take the animals out of AAC, and thus the city is not euthanizing them. What happens to the animals after that–especially if they receive veterinary care and what quality that care is–is anyone’s guess. In several cases, I took home fosters who would have actually been better off in the city shelter, as they at least would have received some kind of regular, adequate medical care. APA’s veterinary clinic is a joke–it is filthy, staffed by a continually rotating roster of underqualified and underpaid workers, and I won’t even get into the veterinarians themselves. No one who was paying for private veterinary services would dream of going to a clinic like that. It would be shut down.

      What is even worse than their “vet” clinic is the bottle baby nursery. This seems like a wonderful idea, and it would be if APA had enough volunteers to keep the facility clean and the kittens fed on a regular basis. Unfortunately, they absolutely do not, and I wish every person who sees their cute little bottle baby kitten advertisements could see the reality of the conditions these little animals are living in. This room is even filthier than their vet clinic, and the stench of matted food, feces, and urine on the kittens themselves overpowers you from the lobby. The garments given to volunteers to wear while bottle feeding are even nastier–covered in old, matted gruel. They require you to be observed and supervised for SIX HOURS before you can bottle feed the kittens themselves–this is NOT rocket science.

      When I volunteered in the bottle baby nursery, there were 3 week old kittens who had not been fed in the last SIXTEEN HOURS because there were not enough people there to feed them. I saw this happen more than once–kittens who hadn’t been fed in way too long because there weren’t enough volunteers. I don’t believe it is a humane thing to do to take a tiny cat into a room covered in filth, leave them in a cage where they will fester in their own feces, and then starve them. Yes, that technically makes us no-kill from the city shelter’s perspective, but starving to death slowly is, IMO, a worse option than a quick euthanasia.

      Interestingly, APA rarely if ever publishes the mortality rate for the bottle baby nursery.

      • Also a volunteer

        I work in the bottle baby nursery currently and am a foster as well. I’ve even fostering since August but have only worked in the bottle baby nursery for about a month. I don’t know if large changes have happened as far as the nursery is concerned, but I find it to be as well taken care of as possible. It is not covered in feces or urine and in fact, APA has published their mortality rates for the past two years that I know of -. This can be found on their website. As one volunteer to another Im sorry you has such a bad experience, but I have always found that while there is a certain fly by the seat of your pants strategy to many of the programs this is the operating procedure in a donations and volunteer run facility. Despite this, the animals receive top care. One number I can pull of the top of my head is 88%parvo survival rate- much higher than the national average. Also, a shout out to Dr. Johnson and the vet techs who have helped several of the tough medical fosters I have had.

  • Walkyourdogaustin

    We love APA and will keep working to help raise more money! Great article Thanks!

  • mmnick

    Great article! 7,000 animals saved this year is pretty awesome!

  • anonymous

    APA is the leader of No Kill, but cannot do it without community support. Keeping No Kill means adopting, volunteering, and fostering at APA and the Austin city shelter. It also means contributing to APA!

  • Jessica

    Austin Pets Alive makes me proud to live in Austin. They do such a fine job rehabilitating used and abused cats and dogs. Although a shelter isn’t an ideal situation for any animal, they do everything they can to make sure the pups and kittys are safe, happy and healthy. I hope and pray that they will get the funds to continue their good work at TLAC. Please, please, please help support this wonderful rescue group!

  • Andrew Hill

    Austin Pets Alive is awesome! This is a nonprofit we should all support.

  • truthcomesout

    This is grossly one-sided article. Ask the City of Austin *why* APA is losing their funding. Also, investigate the claim that “all [APA's] money goes to the animals” by demanding they make their books public. Austin, and the animals, deserve more that wool pulled over their eyes.

    • Brittany Highland

      @34462302227061814212f6c29bfbc5e9:disqus We appreciate your insight. Our blog is run by my husband and me, and we don’t claim to be journalists nor do we style our articles in the way that newspapers do. We love to support local businesses and non-profits who are trying to make Austin a better place. With that said, we appreciate all sides of the story, and you’re welcome to email us at

    • Hmmmm

      Ask the city of Austin why they built a brand new facility that has less kennels than the old building they moved out of? Or why the funding was pulled as a surprise inspection demanded repairs to the kennels? Motivations and politics aside. There are always two sides to every story but even though APA! Is most likely not perfect – it’s effectiveness cannot be questioned.

  • KyleFN

    Sounds like someone needs to start a KickStarter campaign … :)

    • Austinot

      Not a bad idea @twitter-18467842:disqus I’m sure there are some folks who would volunteer video and editing services and they could do something up nice!

      • KyleFN

        Quite true … we have a whole town of movie/entertainment makers. I’m in school to design video games, they should see about getting a free promotional video from some TV/Media students (class project or something).

  • Mollymac

    I am rather appalled with the comments made by the naysayers who are dissing APA! nothing is perfect and the fact that the organization isn’t perfect is no excuse to systematically run them down. it is not easy to save the animals that irresponsible humans disregard on a regular basis! If you want to see euthanasia at its “finest”, try Houston’s animal control! also run by vets! rather, the Dr. mengele of vets! If you want improvements, try doing something about it instead of foisting nasty comments on them. Oh and btw, euthanasia is the humane death of a sick animal. What the pounds do is killing!

  • Diane Fauquest

    I hate APA. They pollute Austin with sick and aggressive animals and ruin rescue for so many fosters and adopters. I can’t wait to see their reputation wash out and the reality come to the surface.

  • Megan

    While APA certainly has admirable goals, their methods are extremely questionable. I am a veterinary student who volunteered there and could not believe how their program was run. While they are “no kill” the mortality rates and incident rates of disease were still higher then should be expected and I question the numbers they report. While this is biased as they take in the sickest animals, they do not have the resources or professionals to handle these means. Furthermore, they refuse to offer substantial training to volunteers. Time and time again I saw very poor practices lead to the spreading of Parvo to otherwise healthy puppies. Many vet techs and veterinarians as well as volunteers leave APA due to the poor practices they have. I have worked at several other similar clinics whose programs are leaps and bounds ahead of APA due to how they treat their employees and volunteers. I really hope they have turned around, but their reliance on volunteers who are not trained really leaves their practice lacking and I am surprised at their lack of employees despite their persistent, and often successful, fundraising and city funding. Honestly they really should be shut down.