Austin Humane Society, Animal Trustees of Austin, Emancipet and Austin Animal Center were already meeting regularly when they became an ASPCA Partnership Community in 2007. As cooperative relationships grew stronger among these agencies, together they developed new strategies that would reshape how Austin takes care of its homeless pets—and serve as a model for other shelters across the country.
|2011 Total Intake**||19,894|
|2011 Targeted Spay/Neuter||29,407|
What They've Accomplished Together
- Emancipet, Animal Trustees of Austin (ATA) and Austin Humane Society (AHS) provide nearly 30,000 spay/neuters annually, an increase of 162.6% over 2006 numbers.
- AAC developed a transfer program with 90 rescue groups that collectively pull up to 20% of the dogs and cats from the city shelter annually, making a significant impact on the city's Live Release Rate (LRR). In 2006, the partners' combined LRR was 52.9%. In 2012, it reached 90.3%.
- During their five years in the ASPCA Partnership, the partners' combined shelter intake did not increase, even though it is one of the nation's fastest growing cities.
Challenges They Faced
Evaluating resources and finding common goals aren't always easy for agencies that operate independently. Building trust requires transparency, which can be intimidating for groups that feel proprietary about their work or who don't trust wholeheartedly in the other agencies.
Additionally, the Austin partners had never shared or analyzed their data together in order to drill down on the source of the community's pet population problem.
Getting Set for Success
ASPCA data specialists took the raw data from each partner, unscrambled it and put it into a database. The initial report showed what was really happening in the community—for example, a disappointing 52.9% LRR—which turned out to be much different than the partners had predicted.
"The data was a huge eye opener for all of us," says Lisa Starr, then Public Relations Director for AHS. "We thought we were covering all of our bases, but it showed glaring gaps in our community services that we didn't know we had."
The Austin partners felt a sense of urgency to tackle these deficits, and agreed to collect data in a similar way going forward. Using the 2006 baseline data, the Austin partners began asking new questions.
- What populations of pets were being euthanized more in the community?
- Where in the community were those pets coming from?
- Which partner in the community had the capacity to address these issues?
The data revealed answers that would shape their programs over the next five years.
The Austin partners implemented many strategies that tapped each of the partners' strengths while increasing cooperative efforts.
- AAC and AHS hosted $5 adoption specials and fee-waived adoption programs for older dogs and cats to generate more foot traffic and kick-start adoptions when the shelters were full.
- AAC transfers underage kittens to AHS, which has expanded their foster care program to accommodate these nursing felines.
- Emancipet and ATA use volunteers to promote free rabies and spay/neuter clinics through grassroots door-to-door campaigns in targeted neighborhoods.
- ATA operates an emergency care fund that provides medical care for pets of low-income pet owners. Whether pets need surgery for an injury or treatment for an illness or scrape, the emergency care fund ensures pets don't have to be surrendered to animal shelters for medical reasons.
- Emancipet provides pet owners with low-cost heartworm treatment options to reduce owner-surrenders of heartworm dogs at the city shelter.
Why It Worked
The Austin partners successfully achieved their common vision by:
- Meeting together monthly to build trust and work on shared goals;
- Using shared data to launch programs and measure achievements;
- Coordinating activities and allocating responsibilities based on each agency's strengths;
- Building on each year's successes with new cooperative activities;
- Being supportive of each other along the way;
- Gaining access to the ASPCA's media and marketing specialists, data specialists and grant resources to keep the community's momentum growing.
Case in point: in the partnership's beginnings, the agencies made an important strategic compromise based on what the data was telling them—that feral cats were the largest cause of pet overpopulation.
Rather than divide TNR and spay/neuter services among several groups, the partners felt the community would benefit from more focused strategies. In addition to handling the sterilizations of the 4,000 shelter pets received annually, AHS was in a unique position to expand capacity at their shelter clinic, potentially handling the 5,000 TNR surgeries projected for the program.
With support from the ASPCA, the two spay/neuter clinics agreed to try an unconventional strategy: Emancipet and ATA would sterilize owned pets only and redirect the entire feral cat program to AHS.
"As a spay/neuter clinic, it wasn't easy giving up something that was logical for us to do," says Mills. "We didn't lose anything from this new strategy. In fact, each of our agencies got stronger and more efficient as a result."
The Austin partners graduated from the ASPCA Partnership program in 2011. They will continue to collect and submit their data for five years following graduation, to ensure their vision and to analyze the impact of their work over a decade.
Agency leaders meet monthly to network and nurture each other, coming together to build and sustain the programs that helped them reach their shared goals. They also mentor other ASPCA Partnership communities and share insights on how to develop and manage collective impact initiatives.