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Find a furever companion: Austonia's complete guide to adopting a pet in Austin

Austin Humane Society is a great place to adopt a cat, as they house more felines than dogs. (AHS)

No Austinite is complete without a fluffy friend! The fact is locals love all their pets; studies rank Austin as one of the most dog-friendly cities in the U.S.


In 2010, Austin City Council passed a No-Kill Implementation Plan that pledged to increase live outcomes by more than 90%. According to community relations officer Suzie Chase, APA! was able to bring the euthanasia rate from 87% to 5% or less.

The result of becoming a No-Kill city means shelters are often stretched thin—Austin Humane Society typically takes in 11,000 animals per year, APA! often takes in more than 10,000 cats and dogs per year, with intake hitting 982 in November—and they encounter new challenges on the daily.

Though the pandemic drove adoptions up as working from home became more prevalent, the demand to put animals in safe homes has bounced back with shelters sending out pleas for adopters and fosters in recent weeks. Here's how you can get started.

What are your options?

Whether you’re looking for a puppy, kitten, lap cat, running partner, or senior pet, you’ll be able to find it in a local shelter:

  • APA!, which has two locations, partners with the AAC to rescue animals from euthanasia lists and focuses on the most at-risk animals.
  • AHS is a limited intake facility, meaning it prioritizes getting healthy animals into homes. AHS often takes medical cases due to its robust medical program and partnership with VCA.
  • Austin Animal Center is the city-funded shelter. AAC is an open intake facility, meaning it handles all stray cases, as well as most owner surrender cases and reunification.
All three are available for walk-ins. You can browse APA! dogs and cats, AHS dogs and cats, and AAC dogs and cats online. Prices fluctuate depending on the month, specials, animal and needs. APA! is running $22 adoptions through January.

What to know before you go

Bubblegum was playful, curious and friendly despite his ailments. (Laura Figi/Austonia)

Depending on what pet you’re looking for, you may have to be patient. According to Austin Humane Society Director of Shelter Operations Katelen Knef, healthy puppies and kittens are the quickest to leave. Animals become harder to place at the age of 6-7 and even more so when they come with ailments, behavioral or medical issues.

On a tour of APA! at 1156 W. Cesar Chavez, Austonia met a playful, three-month-old tailless black kitten named Bubblegum, who will be harder to place due to being incontinent as a result of his Manx syndrome, which results when the tailless gene shortens the spine too much. He will need particular care but can still thrive in the right home.

Fortunately, volunteers at the shelters focus on match-making, and aim to help animals find permanent placements. Chase likes to say that by adopting, rescuers are actually saving two animals because it opens up the space for new animals to come into their care.

If you’re a lover of all animals and have some extra room in your house and schedule, Chase said fosterers are one of the most valuable resources shelters have. APA! is currently urgently looking for temporary homes for 50 dogs while COVID has caused staff and volunteers to fluctuate.

Where do the animals come from?

Unfortunately, sometimes the volunteers’ guesses are just as good as yours. Only so much work can be done to retrace steps of where animals have been before. However, volunteers can usually tell you about how the animal was discovered, its disposition, compatibility with children and other household pets and medical needs they’ve found while the animal is in their care.

AHS offers trial periods with animals and will take animal surrenders by appointment but hopes that they can make a perfect match. APA! has famously said it will take an animal back at any time but offers alternatives through its P.A.S.S. program.

What illnesses are common/should I ask about?

It’s important to be prepared for any ailments a pet comes with for financial or emotional reasons.

Before adopting a dog, know about:

  • Parvovirus, a highly-contagious virus that affects dogs' gastrointestinal tracts and is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated feces, environments or people.
  • Kennel cough, a viral infection in the respiratory system that is indicated by a runny nose, lethargy, sneezing, fever and decreased appetite.
  • Diarrhea, which can indicate stress or parasites in dogs.

Before adopting a cat, know about:

  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), a viral disease caused by a feline coronavirus unrelated to human coronavirus. Though not believed to be contagious, FIP is almost always fast-progressing and fatal.
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), an infectious disease that affects the cat’s immune system. FIV is incurable but can be treated.
  • Feline Leukemia (FelV), a potentially deadly virus spread through bodily fluids that only impacts cats.
  • Ringworm, a fungal infection of the superficial layers of the skin, hair, and nails. Ringworm infections can occur in any mammal, including humans.
  • Diarrhea, which can indicate a respiratory infection in cats.

We are not health professionals at Austonia—if you’re concerned about your animal’s wellbeing, call the shelter you adopted it from or call your veterinarian.

What services do shelters provide after the fact?

AAC is an excellent resource for low-cost pet needs; AAC offers free spaying/neutering for dogs and cats through Emancipet, which includes microchipping, pain medication, a rabies vaccine for pets three months or older, DHPP for dogs and FVRCP for cats. AAC will provide a free microchip to all residents and offers classes on responsible pet care or rabies prevention.

APA! offers lifetime coaching for animals with behavioral needs, including classes to learn how to control behavior, and compiled a list of trusted resources.

If I can't adopt, how can I help?

APA! has so many options to give, you’ll oftentimes be able to know exactly what you’re pledging money toward. APA! also takes item donations but be advised that shelters can’t usually use opened containers, scratching posts, carpeted cat trees, plastic bowls, scoops, or litter boxes, bed linens or couch cushions.

AHS accepts cash donations. AAC is government funded, though it always accepts donations in the form of cash, which goes toward rabies and microchip programs, animal enrichment, spay and neuter programs, and more. AAC also accepts item, fencing and doghouse donations.

You can also apply to be a volunteer at any of the locations, though APA! is on-boarding on an as-needed basis and AHS has paused taking in new volunteers.

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