American Pets Alive!

I was honored this past weekend to be a featured speaker at the American Pets Alive! No-Kill Conference, which is a program of our good friends at Austin Pets Alive (APA). In 2011, when Austin became America’s largest no-kill city, there was only a handful of no-kill communities in the U.S. Today, that number is around 230 and growing.

There was a fun photo booth at a party celebrating Austin's 3-year anniversary of being a no-kill city. I wanted to share this photo of me along with one of Best Friends' amazing social media coordinators, Melissa Miller (left), as well as Amy Starnes, the brilliant mind behind our email programs.

Austin is, and will remain, an important benchmark for the no-kill movement for three reasons:

1) It was driven and achieved from OUTSIDE of the shelter system, by a small grassroots rescue group, Austin Pets Alive.

2) In the last few years, several of the most innovative no-kill programs have come from the team in Austin, including the concept of a neonatal kitten nursery and a “parvo puppy ward” to save more at-risk shelter pets. In particular, kitten nurseries are now popping up all over the country and saving thousands of lives. (We’ve launched our own kitten nurseries, including this one in Utah.)

3) The architect of Austin’s no-kill plan, APA’s executive director, Dr. Ellen Jefferson, stepped in to take over the small all-volunteer advocacy group in 2008 and transformed it into a powerhouse that led Austin to no-kill status by 2011. Ellen had no money, just a handful of volunteers, very little name recognition for APA, no donor base, no building. Basically, nothing on paper said she’d make it happen. But what she did have was the will and determination to pursue her “moon shot”goal and, in three short years, see it through to making Austin the largest no-kill city in America.

In addition, Austin had the support and advocacy efforts of Ryan Clinton, founder of Fix Austin. Ryan provided the political savvy, professionalism and smarts to thwart the entrenched no-kill opposition.

Appropriately, the work being done in Austin was the centerpiece of the conference and the APA shelter served as a kind of “wet lab” for the programs and practices highlighted in the presentations. “Hosting this conference,” says Ellen, “is one of the most inspiring things we do at Austin Pets Alive because it gives us a moment to reflect on all the amazing milestones that have occurred in Austin for no-kill. It also gives us the opportunity to help many more animals than we can physically care for by sharing our knowledge of how to save them with others who can do the physical work.”

The conference ran February 22-24 and offered expert presentations about how to get to no-kill from Best Friends Animal Society (including NKLA), Alley Cat Allies, Kansas City Pet Project, San Antonio Pets Alive, Rockwall Pets, Seagoville, Williamson County, Austin Animal Center, the Austin City Council and APA program managers. I was very happy to see that six presenters on the agenda represented Best Friends.

Other movement leaders on the agenda included Becky Robinson from Alley Cat Allies, Brent Toellner and Michelle Davis of Kansas City Pet Project, and Joe Angelo, who was critical in getting to a save rate of 86 percent in San Antonio! Joe, a Harvard grad and city management consultant, is a rock star, and an amazing individual. From top to bottom, it was a high-energy slate of speakers.

I had the opportunity to address an “all-in session” and invoked JFK’s historic “moon shot” speech (in which he said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”) as an analogy for Best Friends’ commitment to leading Los Angeles to no-kill status by 2017, a subject that I plan to expand on in a future post on this blog.

It was a great weekend and the American Pets Alive! Conference is a valuable component of the no-kill movement’s gathering momentum. Every day, in cities and towns across the country, shelters, rescue groups and passionate individuals are joining together to end the killing of shelter pets.

Together, we will Save Them All.