We write this annual post (#1, #2) to celebrate the moments from the passing year that, to us, most capture the magic of Austin’s relationship with dogs. We’re a city with a higher than average concentration of crazy dog people, slightly less crazy dog enthusiasts, and every day dog lovers. It’s a phenomenon seen through much of our local culture including our city’s life-saving sheltering mission.
These moments are beautiful every year, but somehow 2015 feels a little different. For Austin’s dogs and far beyond, this has been a year of change, of transition, and even a sense of revolution that seems to be bubbling somewhere right under the surface. It’s a year that’s made us thankful for victories and progress, both big and small, and that’s ignited the kind of hope only possible when humans are able to look at a problem together and ask not if it can be solved, but how…
10. Austin Animal Center Launched a Staff Dog Walking Initiative
The struggle to provide the dogs of Austin Animal Center with the care & enrichment they need has been a long one. At this time last year, it was the norm for 60-100 dogs a day to go 24, 36, or more hours without a single bathroom break. When new leadership took the helm at our city shelter a few months ago, they almost immediately launched a staff dog walking initiative to heartwarming results. While we’re still climbing the mountain towards exemplary care, the numbers of dogs going without walks on a given day has been reduced by more than half and we’ve gotten amazing moments like these…
Keep it up AAC staff, and thank you!
9. Emancipet and Animal Trustees Looked Towards the Future (and Also Goats Happened)
The work Emancipet and Animal Trustees of Austin do providing free and low-cost veterinary care and spay neuter services to Austin’s animals in need is nothing short of amazing. We could not be more impressed and grateful for these two organizations and the prevention and problem solving they bring to our city. This year, these two grassroots powerhouses met to discuss joining forces. We can’t think of a better team and whatever the future may hold, we know it will be inspiring!
*We also happen to have the inside track on Totes the Goat paying a visit to Emancipet this year and seriously, are goats ever not inspiring?!
8. Austinites Stepped Up, As They Do Every Single Time They’re Called Upon
Austin weather seems to have taken an all or nothing approach to rain and it’s made conditions tough for a lot of our community members. Ongoing storms and devastating floods have meant animals pouring into our city shelter, as well as the creation of an emergency shelter for people and owned pets still in operation at the Dittmar Recreation Center.
Austinites were called on to help and as they do every single time, they showed up in force. On the first night of a shelter evacuation, they cleared out the crates by taking dogs home as emergency fosters. In the days that followed, more people did the same. When supplies were depleted, Austinites took to the shelter’s wish list and sent more. The residents of this city prove time and again that they’re ready to back up compassion with action. Thank you, Austin. <3
7. We Took Another Step Towards Kindness and Compassion
You may not expect to find elephants on the list in a post about dogs, but the message Austinites sent with the city’s bullhook ban this year is an important one. Humans have a poor history of acknowledging other species as the sentient beings they are and treating them with the kindness and respect that understanding demands. Often the steps we take are small, but that makes them no less powerful or significant. And each time we humans choose protection over exploitation, understanding over ignorance, kindness over callousness, and love over indifference, the world becomes a better place for all living creatures, our fancy two-legged species included.
6. Debbie Jacobs Came to Austin & Helped Dispel Myths…
It seems a more rare thing than it should be to meet professionals in the field of animal behavior who share a view on saving at-risk dogs (whether in shelters, rescues, or homes) that’s hopeful, practical, humane, and firmly grounded in science and reality. Debbie Jacobs recently came to Austin to offer a seminar on working with fearful dogs and she was all of those things with a lovely dose of humor and humility.
Saving the lives of dogs with more resource intensive behavior issues takes just that…resources. But it can be done, and it can be done ethically, humanely, and effectively. What that means for those of us committed to doing so in a largely unregulated industry is holding ourselves accountable for continued education, skill building, and leading by example.
5. …While Adoptable Joey Did the Same Thing at Class
One of the reasons Debbie Jacobs’ seminar so resonated at this particular time is a little dog named Joey. This precious, smoochable, squishable, wiggly little piglet of anxiety is attending our current group class cycle and has what most closely resembles doggie agoraphobia. And yet for the past three Sundays, he’s come out and defied expectations at group class. He works through the class exercises in an often modified way at a distance at which he feels comfortable. But he’s doing it and increasingly often, he’s doing it with joy.
In a different city, there’s a good chance Joey never would have made it out of the shelter and into a foster home. In Austin, he’s found humans who love and understand him and who are here in his corner while he works with all his might to find his own, unique path home.
4. Compassion Fatigue Awareness Started to Permeate Our Vocabulary and We Tried to Be a Little Gentler with One Another
This one is not yet as sweeping locally as we’d love to see and quite honestly, that is exactly why we’ve chosen to include it in this post. One of our directors was lucky enough to take the pilot class of Jessica Dolce‘s amazing Compassion in Balance course while another brought Dolce’s workplace seminar to staff at a local non-profit. We’ve seen the language of compassion fatigue and self-care on the lips and in the social media feeds of more and more of our friends and colleagues and we’ve seen the seeds of a cultural shift that comes with new awareness and understanding.
This is incredibly important stuff and its growing foothold in Austin can only improve the quality of the work we do and the quality of our own lives as we do it. If these words are unfamiliar to you, start here. We can’t think of a better, more appropriate concept to share on a day of gratitude.
3. And Along with That Came Compassion Satisfaction
Compassion satisfaction is about those good feelings you get from your work. It’s noticing all of the magical moments, big and small, and making sure you take the time to really feel and appreciate them. Austin is filled with those moments and this year, we took new strides in making sure we all stop and absorb the good stuff! In the world of sheltering, one of the very best sources of compassion satisfaction is post-adoption updates. We happen to think Tommy (aka Dr. Thomas) and Pepper nailed it.
2. Leadership & Love Took the Helm at Our City Shelter
We’ve made no secret of the challenges we felt Austin still faced despite achieving no-kill status on paper. A few months ago, the city had a changing of the guard and welcomed new Chief Animal Services Officer, Tawny Hammond and Deputy Chiefs Kristen Auerbach and Lee Ann Shenefiel. With these amazing women has come the can do attitude, focus on best practices and exemplary operations, and coalition building that Austin has so desperately needed.
It is no coincidence that despite the recent floods hitting during an already busy intake time, Austin Animal Center has achieved its highest live outcome rates in history (97%) two months running. We’re so impressed with the positive changes that have occurred in the short time since the new leadership team took over but even more than that, our hearts are warmed by the different tone that’s being set throughout Austin’s animal welfare community. Change takes time and innovation and progress never stop, but Austin is on an amazing path right now and for the first time ever, we may actually travel it as a team.
1. Cupcake’s Parents Got Married and We All Remembered That Growing Up is About Possibilities Brought to Life
The previous two years’ versions of this post have closed with our one and only canine mascot and this year fits perfectly with tradition.
Dogs Out Loud was founded to fill a gap that happened to also mean saving the dogs we most gravitated towards already. They’re not the stereotypically easiest of dogs but they are some of the most amazing. And with the right support, they can go on to be wonderful companions and thriving shelter ambassadors. Our very first official program dogs were Cupcake, Leroy, and Jennifer and to this day, they remain perfect examples of the possible.
When we met them, they were a truly epic leash gremlin, a dog who wanted nothing to do with humans and had no idea how to live in their world, and an off the charts wild child who could easily have been mistaken for a long-legged, brindle tornado. Today all three are beloved family members, well past their transitions home and living the canine versions of peaceful, settled lives. Their humans get married, they help with the yard work and household renovations, they have Barkbox subscriptions, and two of them have handled moves to other cities and states.
This is the possible. It’s happening right now and we could not be more grateful to live in this moment where the hard work of the future is already bathed in the sunshine of hope made real.
*Photo credits Austin Animal Center, Emancipet, Dogs Out Loud (and our adopters!).