|MF: Mike Fry |
BN: Beth Nelson
EJ: Dr. Ellen Jefferson
MF: Beth and I are smiling because we have one of our favorite veterinarians on the line. Dr. Ellen Jefferson is not only a veterinarian, she’s the Executive Director for Austin Pets Alive, which is one of my favorite rescue organizations in the nation. They are very instrumental in getting Austin, Texas to no kill status, which for a relatively small startup rescue group is a phenomenal accomplishment.
She’s joining us to talk about how they’re taking their efforts in effect on the road to teach other people how they can accomplish those same things in their community. Welcome back to Animal Wise Radio, Ellen.
EJ: Thank you. I’m very glad to be here today.
BN: Ellen, we should just maybe mention that this is not the first time you guys have shared your story and gathered speakers together. You have an upcoming conference, but you’ve done it before. We’d like you to have a chance to talk a little bit about this upcoming conference being put on by American Pets Alive.
MF: When is it, and what’s the purpose behind the conference?
EJ: It is February 23rd through 25th here in Austin, Texas. Austin is seeing a lot of success with the no kill hitting 90%, and we get a lot of questions. People want to learn more and really dig deep to try to figure out what happened here. We created this conference so that we could do it in a more structured format where we can share everything – every program detail with anybody who is interested, and hopefully do it in a way that they can actually leave and start those programs for themselves when they get back home.
BN: Not only that, Ellen, but it’s a networking opportunity for people in that region, or anyone who wants to come to talk to other folks who may be struggling in the same kind of space that you’re struggling in, or they can connect with presenters who might have a really special area of expertise that you’re bringing in to help do the presentations.
BN: I’m wondering if from the last time you did this, I know that there are some stories out there that are super-inspiring from people who have come to the conference, but do any stick with you that you’d like to mention?
EJ: This wasn’t from our conference, but this summer after the No Kill Conference with Nathan in Washington, D.C., somebody contacted us from Alabama and said that they had saved every single puppy at their local city shelter after attending my conference with Ryan Clinton. That’s exciting, and it makes me very proud.
MF: The other thing that I find really inspiring about this story is that if you look at the no kill movement in general, many people put the starting point as San Francisco in about the mid 1990s. They didn’t actually get to no kill, but they got really close. They were saving at least all healthy and adoptable pets, while some treatable animals were still being put down. At that time, one of the things when you talked to the people who were there that they were surprised about is that other animal shelters didn’t call them. Other shelters didn’t say, “Wow! How did you do that?” Instead, mostly shelters sat back and said, “Oh, they’re probably just making it up.” I think the fact that now more than two decades later we’re in a position were shelters are now sitting up saying, “Hey, Austin! How did you do it?”, and that shows some great movement.
EJ: It’s wonderful. Like you said, having a conference like this builds that sense of community where there are people who are all trying to accomplish the same thing in their own community, and what we’re hoping is that we can learn from each other, but also dig deep into the program.
MF: Can you tell us who are the presenters that are coming, and what can people expect when they’re at the conference?
EJ: We have one very special guest – you! A lot of the presenters are Austin Pets Alive employees or volunteers who have either started a program that has impacted the save rate at our city shelter, or they’re currently running that program. That’s probably a little more than half of the speakers.
The other speakers are people who are coming from other communities that have seen phenomenal success in either their whole entire no kill plan, or in one specific area, like legislation. We have somebody that’s here in Austin (not part of Austin Pets Alive) but is part of the Love-A-Bull program, Megan Turner, and she’s going to be talking more about how to increase the image of pit bulls and enhance the image of pit bulls in the community. It’s a little bit of different things, but then also the program details that are here at Austin Pets Alive.
MF: I think that’s a great approach, because one of the things that was fascinating about how you directed Austin Pets Alive to get the Town Lake Animal Center to no kill is you actually objectively looked at the animals. You categorized them. You said there were parvo puppies, and first, you were going to save all the parvo puppies, and had a program for them. You had another program for the bottle baby kittens.
You objectively looked at it, organized it, and went after it in a very aggressive way. I think that approach lends itself really well to a conference situation, because people can look at the programs that you implemented, here’s how you did it, and rub elbows with the actual people.
MF: What’s the hotel like, and where can people stay?
EJ: The conference is being held at the Radisson Hotel, which is right downtown. It’s on the river. You can directly oversee the Congress Bridge where the bats are. In the winter, there’s not near as many, unfortunately, as in the summer, but that’s pretty cool. We have the largest urban bat colony in the world, so that’s pretty exciting.
It’s great. It’s right downtown. You can walk to any dining and entertainment, and the conference is held in the conference room.
BN: Austin is a groovy town, so if you’re not just from outside of Austin and you’re wondering if it’s a nice place to be, it just is.
MF: It’s a fun city to visit. I always look forward to a trip to Austin.
EJ: It will be pretty warm, I would guess. Right now, it’s 75 degrees.
BN: Ellen, do you have any other news or updates from Austin? One thing that we always think is exciting for us, having met you, having met a lot of the volunteers that worked down at Austin Pets Alive and some of the other folks who have been on the animal commission in Austin, to hear the news, but sometimes it seems like there’s this thirst for bad news out of Austin by a certain contingent of folks, and what’s interesting though is usually when we dig just below the surface, we find out that there’s maybe a lot more drama around the headline than what is really actually happening. What do you have to say about that?
EJ: It’s something that we’ve obviously struggled with over time. I guess I believe that it’s probably part of any kind of social movement where you have the people that are involved in agencies that are trying to make change are inevitably going to butt heads. From reading about other social movements, when you know you’re really close to solving it and achieving the end result of the social movement, the infighting between agencies gets worse and worse and worse until it finally just stops and the end result is there.
That gives me a lot of comfort. because I think that we are following a social movement pattern, and the vast community is very happy with where we are. It’s just agency to agency, and it can be agencies that aren’t even in Austin fighting. Like I said, it gives me a lot of comfort that this is the norm rather than the exception.
MF: It’s kind of interesting that you said that. I’ve actually heard most of the “complaining” coming from people who are not in Austin, and it’s come from people who have historically taken very extreme positions like, “No kill is not possible; you could never do it.” I could understand why they might be a little upset that Austin did it and has been no kill now for three years now, right?
EJ: Two. Actually, in February at our conference on Sunday night, we’re having our two-year no kill anniversary party.
MF: Wow – time flies when you’re having fun!
EJ: I know!
MF: Austin has a population of about a million people, correct?
MF: So if a city of about a million people can have their entire community no kill and have their animal control center saving 90% or more of the animals, those people I was talking about, I’m sure they feel a little chagrined, and it’s hard for them to let go of decades of excuse making for why no kill couldn’t happen. I think that over the next year or two, those people’s complaints are just going to go away, because more and more communities are achieving it, and they’ll just be bored with their story.
BN: Ellen, one of the things that we understand from talking to you again in some of your community and talking with other people who have committed themselves to working in the field and working towards and achieving no kill, when you ask them the question of what would you rather be doing … it’s all work right – it’s work whether you save animals or it’s work whether you kill and dispose of animals – can you imagine going back? Universally, the answer we’ve gotten whenever we’ve asked people whether they are animal control officers who’ve turned their institutions around and their communities around, or not for profit organizations who have done the same, they say it’s way more fun, it is work, and they would never go back.
BN: Is that echoing your sentiments?
EJ: Yes. I can't imagine our community ever going back. In 2007, we euthanized 14,000 animals. There’s no way that we would ever do that again.
MF: It will be interesting to see as we go forward in the United States how many other communities follow the example and how Austin will remember that history. It’s going to be important as the elections go in. I know your mayor was instrumental in making that happen, city council members were instrumental in making it happen; as they end up getting replaced and people who maybe weren’t there on the front lines when that happened, how will the community remember that dramatic shift that occurred? I think that’s going to be an interesting thing to think about as the years come forward. What a great time talking with you, Ellen.
EJ: Thank you.
MF: Where can people get more information about this conference if they’d like to come?
EJ: If they type in www.americanpetsalive.org, it will take them to the page on the Austin Pets Alive website to get more information and sign up.
BN: Once again, just to remind folks, this is coming up February 23rd through 25th. There’s still some space available. If you go there, you’re going to be a part of a crowd that’s changing the way we do things. It will be inspirational, I promise you.
MF: I like to bring this up whenever the story happens – I was speaking at a conference in Austin, and I had come down and met Ellen for the first time and met some of her other staff, and the day before had been doing some observing of their work. I was so moved by what they were doing and the spark and passion they had in their eyes that I could see that I got up in front of the room and I said, “You’re going to get to no kill before you even believe it’s true.” I told the room of about 150 people that you were going to get there really fast.
It was within a month the city announced that it had achieved no kill, if I remember the timing right.
MF: The reason I knew that that was going to happen was just because these people are amazing. I think you should all come down and check them out. I hope to see you at the conference. Thanks, Ellen. We’ll see you then.
EJ: Thank you.
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