Meet the Pet Organization Leading the Largest No-Kill City in the Nation

Say hello to Austin Pets Alive. APA is not your typical shelter setting, their innovative programs save more than 6,000 animals from euthanasia annually, keeping Austin,TX no-kill since 2011! The programs implemented have led to a measurable impact on the community’s save rate – and Austin’s status as the largest No-Kill City in the Nation!


Before APA STARTED 50%, or 14,000 of the animals entering the city’s shelter were euthanized. In 2008 the organization started and examined the gaps in the existing lifesaving efforts and found there were groups of animals for which life-saving programs did not exist. APA decided to create programs targeting the groups of animals facing certain euthanasia. APA also created the largest pet Foster Program in the US with up to 1,000 animals in foster during our busy summer season.


Support Austin Pets Alive here.


Hundreds of extremely dedicated volunteers donate their skills, expertise, and love to APA! – to the tune of more than 2,000 hours EACH WEEK or the equivalent of 50 full-time staff members. According to the current valuation of volunteer time of $22.14 per hour (2012), determined annually by the Independent Sector, APA! volunteers contributed $2,334,109 during 2013.



Below is a Q&A from Austin Pets Alive Executive Director, Dr. Ellen Johnson. 


Tell us a little bit about your history prior to working for Austin Pets Alive! – how did your previous experiences prepare you for this journey?


I’m not sure if anything could have quite prepared me for this journey, but I can tell you what sparked my motivation – and no matter what comes our way here at APA!, prepared or not, that motivation has been a driving force for me.


I became a veterinarian in 1997 and quickly realized that far too many pets were unnecessarily dying in our shelters. Technically, the use of the word “euthanasia” is for when you painlessly end the life of an animal that is experiencing incurable suffering, whose quality of life and will to live are too low to try to keep them alive. When I started volunteering at our local city shelter, I was seeing the word “euthanasia” used to describe the death of perfectly healthy animals. This was both shocking and unbelievable, but it happens on a large scale all over the country. So I left and founded Emancipet, a spay/neuter clinic, in an attempt to prevent animals from having to go to shelters to be killed.  I found that even those efforts were not enough when it comes to saving the lives of animals at risk of death in a shelter. In 2008, I became the Executive Director of Austin Pets Alive!, where our work has revolved around turning Austin into a No Kill community (which successfully happened in 2011!) and giving every animal a legitimate chance at life.



When did you first realize you had a passion for saving animals? Why is this cause so important to you and your work? 


I have centered my entire life and career around saving animals from needlessly dying and I think my passion for saving pets has always been a part of who I am. I’ve had this passion since very early in my childhood and had every pet imaginable that my parents weren’t allergic to!


What are the most challenging obstacles that Austin Pets Alive! has to face and how are they overcome?


Austin Pets Alive! is a shelter of last resort – we are focused on and driven to save animals at risk of euthanasia in other shelters. Because those animals were never saved (anywhere in the world) before we started saving them, we had to build the programs from scratch to help save them.  So, we’ve developed innovative and, in most cases, first-of-their-kind programs that help the populations of animals that typically don’t leave city shelters alive. Programs like a Bottle Baby Kitten Nursery, Parvo Puppy ICU, dog behavior program, triage medical clinic and Feline Leukemia Center.


We’ve saved over 50,000 animals so far, but because these pets have more challenges to overcome before they make it to adoption, our work continues to be difficult.


We’re also entirely dependent on the community’s support of our lifesaving efforts. Everything we do is fueled by the donations we receive, and as we continue to increase our impact and footprint, and receive more and more unique and challenging animal cases, our need will also increase.


Support Austin Pets Alive here.


Our commitment to lifesaving generally presents challenging obstacles – we certainly don’t make it easy on ourselves, but that’s not the point of our work! Most recently, we’ve been working in Houston and along the Texas coast on Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts. To date, we’ve saved just over 5,000 lives from Houston and devastated coastal areas. We’re in the process of determining how we can continue offering support to these areas as they rebuild, and help arm Houston, in particular, with the tools to maintain No Kill.



Last year Austin Pets Alive! helped the City of Austin achieve an astounding 95% save rate for shelter dogs and cats in Austin. What is your long-term vision for APA!? Is there another key milestone you are aiming to reach?


We have developed deep partnerships with our city to try to make sure that no animals slip through the cracks and it’s through that collaboration that Austin has been the largest No Kill city in the country for nearly seven years. Another key milestone is expanding our training academy so that we can seed the rest of the country with shelter workers trained to replicate our programs and high lifesaving standards across the country.  Around 500 students will come a few at a time to APA! throughout the year to take up short-term apprenticeships within our programs.  They will learn hands-on here how we accomplish our work and will be mentored by our expert program managers.


We’ll also be helping Houston with their efforts to save animals and create a culture of animal-lovers, which is a silver lining coming out of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction. Ideally, we’d love for Houston to steal the title of “largest No Kill city” from us!



What simple advice can you give to people who are eager to make an impact but don’t know where to begin? Why should people get involved?


Becoming No Kill not only saves thousands of pets’ lives every year – it was also recently determined to have an incredibly positive impact on local economies. A new study looking at the impact of No Kill in Austin since 2010 has found that it’s responsible for pouring over $157 million back into the local economy! Pets, people and communities are all positively affected by No Kill work.


There are so many opportunities for you to get involved in your local animal shelter community. You can start by volunteering for a local No Kill shelter or your municipal shelter, where you can learn the ropes, care for animals and start to understand how the system works. You can donate to organizations currently doing important No Kill work in your region or nationally. If you’re already involved in animal sheltering, join us for the American Pets Alive! conference in February, where you’ll be given incredible resources to help you increase your lifesaving. And you can sign up for newsletters from APA! (just head to to stay tuned on the amazing things happening here and around the country!


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