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Teach an old dog new tricks: Austin Pets Alive! gives city's animals a second chance

Teach an old dog new tricks: Austin Pets Alive! gives city's animals a second chance

Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_bodie
Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_5
Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_4
Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_3
Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_2
Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_6
Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_7
Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_bodie
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_5
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_4
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_3
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_2
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_6
Austin Photo Set: News_caitlin_austin pets alive_feb 2013_7

For many, visiting an animal shelter is an unpleasant experience. Animals are often cramped and frantic, waiting to be saved from an imminent death. But the scene at Austin Pets Alive! (APA) is markedly different: classical music plays over a loudspeaker, animals romp together in guided play groups, while others lounge in their kennels, awaiting a pleasant volunteer-led walk.

At APA, animals have a future, and the sense of safety is evident in the calm environment.

As recently as 2007, more than 14,000 animals were euthanized in Austin per year. Most were healthy, many were full grown, and the majority of the animals that were sick could have been cured. Beginning in 2008, APA stepped in to work with the city shelter to save those animals — the dogs and cats that were more fit for a family home than a crowded kennel. Owing in part to APA's commitment to that mission, the city of Austin now boasts a 90 percent save-rate, and the organization single-handedly saved 6,000 animals just last year.

At any given time, two-thirds of the animals that APA has rescued from city shelters are housed with foster parents. Those fosters take it upon themselves to find those animals a permanent home. The other third of the animals reside at the APA Town Lake shelter, which is also home to APA's surgery center, offices and specialized wards.

For example, an entire facility, Dazey's Ward, is devoted to cats with ringworm, a condition that's curable but would immediately send them to the euthanization list at a city shelter. At APA, almost all of these cats are adopted.

"It just goes to show that we have so many preconceived notions about what people will deal with as adopters," says Executive Director Ellen Jefferson. "I think as animal welfare people, we've given animals the short end of the stick by not letting people make that decision. You never know who's going to fall in love with a ringworm cat, for instance. It's not about whatever is wrong with [the animal], it's about the relationship."

Other laudable programs include the Parvo Ward, Bottle Baby Nursery, Louie's Fresh Start Program, the APA Medical Clinic and Barn Cat Placements.

The APA operation is a legitimate labor of love for its staff and volunteers. They believe in connecting with the heart of the animal and the capacity for rehabilitation; they truly give these animals a chance, and with each adoption, the fruit of their compassionate labor shines.

Each week, CultureMap will feature an APA animal ready to be placed in a permanent, loving home: dog or cat, big or small. We will tell you about the animal's personality and unique traits and, most of all, encourage you to meet one another. And if you're not ready to parent, there are a plethora of ways to get involved as a volunteer. You might be surprised by who emerges as your new best friend (and roommate).

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Austin Pets Alive! will present Austin's No Kill Anniversary Party on February 24. Tickets are available online.