AUSTIN, TX (KCBD) - The KCBD Investigates Team traveled to Austin with employees from the Lubbock Animal Shelter to attend a conference in the largest no-kill city in the country.
The American Pets Alive conference helps provide shelters with programs and tools to make their community no-kill.
Dr. Ellen Jefferson is the Executive Director of Austin Pets Alive! and a speaker at the conference.
She said her non-profit began partnering with Austin's municipal shelter years ago to save as many animals as they could.
"The City of Austin was at a 55 percent euthanasia rate just 10 years ago. A lot has happened, and we hope we can help Lubbock and other cities across Texas," Dr. Jefferson said.
Dr. Jefferson said last year, the City of Austin reported a 98 percent save rate.
"Euthanasia is what veterinarians use when relieving extreme suffering. What has happened in the shelter industry is that word has been used for really killing when animals don't need to be euthanized, but they are put to death because we don't have room for them; we don't have programs for them. We as people have failed them," Dr. Jefferson said.
Dr. Jefferson said the high intake numbers can be partially attributed to the shifting expectations communities have of their municipal shelters.
"Their job was to protect people from rabies. They were supposed to just pick up strays and not let them run the streets anymore - dogs only, not cats. Instead, it's morphed into this garbage can for everybody to put animals in. It's not the city's job to necessarily solve a person's personal problems with their animals," Dr. Jefferson said.
To reduce the high intake number, Dr. Jefferson said shelters, like the Austin Animal Center, are transforming into more of a customer service and resource center.
"So, if somebody's fence is blown down, instead of taking the animal and impounding it because it is a free-roaming animal or the person can't afford a fence, help them get a fence. That would be a much cheaper solution. It's a lot easier to just help the person," Dr. Jefferson said.
Dr. Jefferson says the City of Austin was taking in 25,000 animals a year before implementing programs like mending a homeowner's fence and trap, neuter, release when it comes to feral cats. She said her team is teaching conference attendees about 12 programs that can be implemented in communities all over the country, like Lubbock.
"We were excited to come because we are ready to hear about these ideas. We want to implement any ideas that we can. We don't like putting animals down. That is the hands down, worst part of our job," said Lubbock Animal Shelter's Assistant Director Kia Riemath.
She and two other Lubbock Animal Shelter employees attended the conference for the first time.
"I think these are all feasible ideas," Riemath said.
Thanks to a grant, those Riemath and her co-workers are also participating in Maddie's Lifesaving Academy.
The academy's leadership team is made up of employees at Austin Pets Alive! and the Austin Animal Center who provide online and on-site practical training in a variety of lifesaving programs.
"I think that it's huge that they are here," Dr. Jefferson said about Lubbock's presence at the conference. "That is the only way change is going to happen."
The Lubbock Animal Shelter's director just announced his plans to retire this year.
When looking to fill that position, Dr. Jefferson said the City of Lubbock needs to be looking for someone who has experience with a no-kill community.
"Finding someone with shelter experience typically means they have experience in what you don't want them to do anymore," Dr. Jefferson said.
She said it important to find a director who knows how to build the steps to become a no-kill city.