In 2011, Austin, TX became the largest city in the country to achieve no kill status. Over the course of several years, the community went from killing about 40-50% of the animals in their shelter to killing less than 10%.
And quickly, Austin became a role model that other communities sought to follow as a No Kill Community.
Earlier this week, Austin news outlets began covering word that the shelter was beyond full. While the shelter has taken in 140 more animals this year vs last, the shelter has also done 139 fewer adoptions. The combination of 279 more pets in the shelter over 4.5 months was enough to create crowding problems at the shelter.
So the shelter did what good shelters do in such a situation -- they reached out to the media, and the public, for help. They extended their adoption hours and waived adoption fees for all dogs and for cats one or older.
One of the tenets of the No Kill equation is that instead of blaming the public for your situation, you must EMBRACE the public -- beause the majority of the public loves animals and they are the ones that are going to help you save the lives of animals: either by adopting, volunteering, or donating to your shelter.
This is exactly what Austin did.
And the public did, what the public does when you embrace them, they showed up in droves and more than 100 animals made their way out of the shelter before the day's end.
I applaud Austin for reaching out -- although, doing so didn't come without criticism.
There are, sadly, some out there that were almost excited to see animals' lives at risk because they are opposed to No Kill.
And even some who are advocates of No Kill seemed very quick to point out their mistakes and point to where things went wrong.
Now, I'm not going to claim to be intimately familiar with Austin's situation or how they got into a bind. I do know quite a few of the key players down there, but haven't spoken to any of them in awhile. But I do think their situation highlights for me some key learnings that we can all take-away to improve situations in our own communities:
1) No Kill is a Journey, not a destination -- just because you achieve no kill success doesn't mean you will necessarily sustain it. Sure, it's easier once the programs such as a a foster program, off-site adoptions, etc are in place, but if you are an open adoption shelter, success today does not guarantee success tomorrow -- and every day needs to be treated as if the shelter is above capacity -- because you're one big intake day away from it being true.
2) Reaching out to the public is important - -and when you do, they will step up to help and adopt. The same was true for us last week. If you embrace the public, they will embrace you and help.
3) Reaching out, and doing the right thing, will invite criticism. There are always going to be people who want to see you fail and would rather see you fail than actually be a part of the solution. You have to do the right thing, even if it invites criticism.
Good luck to Austin as they move forward. May their no kill journey continue....