AUSTIN, TX (KCBD) - The City of Austin has become the largest no-kill city in the country.
Austin Animal Center, the city's municipal shelter, accepts strays and owner surrenders regardless of age, health, species or breed.
The municipal shelter partners with the nonprofit, Austin Pets Alive!, to help find those animals forever homes.
Dr. Ellen Jefferson is the Executive Director of Austin Pets Alive! She said 10 years ago, the city was euthanizing roughly 55 percent of their animals. Thanks to partnerships and programming, Dr. Jefferson said last year, that euthanasia number dropped to two percent.
Hannah Horstman is the Communication and Events Manager for Austin Pets Alive!, which is located at the city's old municipal location.
"We have roughly 260 dogs on campus and roughly 400 in fosters," Horstman said.
"I am in just awe of this community. We have one of the largest foster programs in the United States," Horstman said.
Horstman said the shelter has a foster plea list.
If someone volunteers to foster a dog or a cat, they will receive an e-mail with a foster plea, which gives details about the animal needing a temporary home.
Horstman said Austin Pets Alive! has 2,000 volunteers who do everything from walking dogs to inputting data.
"It's very important that all of our dogs get out at least four times a day," Horstman said.
To make sure that happens, the shelter has a whiteboard in each dog run on campus.
The whiteboard shows which kennel each dog is in and how many times it has been out that day.
The board is also color-coded, so volunteers and staff can identify each dog's needs.
For example, if a dog is easy to walk, it will be a pink color.
If the dog has special needs, it is marked with a different color.
Horstman said the shelter does enforce volunteer protocols to make sure they have the skills to walk certain dogs. Volunteers and staff also work to train dogs and document personality traits so they are more adoptable.
When a dog has completed specialized training, a sign is attached to the dog's kennel that reads, "Top Dog."
"It really helps get the conversation moving with dogs that may otherwise get looked over," Horstman said.
Austin Pets Alive! has another program called, "Canine Good Citizen."
Horstman said those dogs are ready to be out in public and will listen to commands.
"It really helps get animals more attention than if they just had a name on their kennel," Horstman said.
Horstman said all of the shelter's programs were created specifically for animals most at risk of euthanasia.
Horstman said all of the dogs and cats at their shelter are pulled from euthanasia lists at other shelters, and they do not turn away sick or injured animals.
For example, Austin Pets Alive! has a special adoption room for cats with Leukemia, which is transferable.
All of the cats in that room are up for adoption, but will only be placed in homes with no other animals, or with other animals who have tested positive for Leukemia.
The shelter also has a Barn Cat Program for feral cats. Those cats are spayed/neutered and then adopted out as working cats.
"They are pest control for places like the police department or spas, any place where people don't want rodents or vermin," Horstman said. "They have a home base where they are guaranteed shelter, water and food if need be, but typically they usually take care of that themselves. It allows them to continue to be who they are in a safe environment."
Horstman said on occasion, an animal may be adopted out before it has a chance to be spayed or neutered.
She said that can happen sometimes with puppies and kittens who are too young to go through the procedure at the time.
"If an animal has not had a chance to be spayed or neutered before it is adopted, we do a surgery deposit. Once they bring the animal in for the surgery they get the deposit back," Horstman said.
Austin Pets Alive! does have a clinic on the campus with three or four veterinarians on staff. The shelter also employs an overnight staff for emergencies.
The adoption fees can very depending on what animals have needed at the shelter.
"A puppy who has gone through our Parvo program and has needed extra care is probably going to be around $250," Horstman said.
Austin Pets Alive! is active on Facebook and Instagram.
While the Facebook page is managed internally, Horstman said volunteers have access to the Instagram page.
"That way, if they are out in the community with a dog, took a dog on a field trip for ice cream or whatever they can post to help get their personalities out there," Horstman said.
Every animal at Austin Pets Alive! has an online profile with a photo and a biography. Horstman said they rely on volunteers and fosters for help inputting that data.
Austin Pets Alive! has saved more than 40,000 dogs and cats since 2008.
Now, shelter administration is teaching other shelters about the programs that have helped with this success rate.
Their key programs include:
Parvo Puppy ICE: for the treatment of dogs and puppies stricken with Parvovirus
Neonatal Kitten Nursery: for the feeding and treatment of orphaned, unweaned kittens
Dog Behavior Program: to support dogs that require additional behavioral attention
Dazey's Ward: designed to treat cats with ringworm and contain the fungus within a quarantined space
Barn Cat Program: to find alternative homes for under-socialized or feral cats
FeLV Sanctuary: to house and find homes for cats diagnosed with Feline Leukemia
Medical Triage Clinic: designed to provide routine and emergency care on an open admission basis
PASS: for animals that could avoid shelter surrender altogether with a little assistance.