Woman’s Best Friend
This Trinity alumna has dedicated her professional life to saving “throwaway pets” and recently helped form the organization, Austin Pets Alive!
By Donna Parker
Ellen Jefferson, who received a degree in biology from Trinity in 1993, went on to earn her doctorate of veterinary medicine from Virginia Tech in '97 and moved to Austin to "help as many animals as possible." There, she got a first-hand lesson on what was really going on at that time in America's animal shelters.
"I was blown away by the problems associated with stray animals because so many were being euthanized," explains Ellen, who continues, "so I started a low-cost spay and neuter clinic but found after nine years that it didn't make as big an impact as I'd thought."
Ellen turned her focus to decreasing the shelter numbers. She founded Austin Pets Alive! which is a non-profit dedicated to ending overpopulation with an emphasis on finding resources for pet owners. The mission now is to get animals into foster homes and out of the system.
It's serious business. Ellen says some shelters make a list the night before of animals that will be put down the next day, usually when there is no more time for human intervention. That's when Ellen and her team step into action to get at least some of those animals out, just in the nick of time.
Austin Pets Alive! (helping people help pets) recently moved into the former Town Lake Animal Center so the infrastructure is in place for Ellen's work to continue as president of the organization. In addition, she serves as a part-time vet at the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in Kendalia.
"Really, this is my life," says Ellen. "I am working all the time on animal-related issues."
When she does have precious, free time, Ellen and her husband, Damon O'Gan, love to visit old car shows, her favorites being those from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
"We do have a '56 Cadillac with a parade top that we love to drive around in. My husband is a musician on the side and plays old-time fiddle and the bagpipes with his band. Plus, we love to just sit and people watch, too, which is fun here in Austin."
"Looking back to my Trinity days, it took me awhile after graduation to really appreciate the quality of my classes and what a tremendous learning experience it provided me. I still spend a lot of time in San Antonio and the sights and sounds always remind me of Trinity."
"One professor who had a profound impact on me was Melvin Frei, department of biology, who has since passed away. He was one of the science teachers and helped me get a summer job doing research. He was very down to earth and certainly a good mentor."
"The campus was beautiful, and being a ‘military brat,' I had moved many times and sought a small environment for college. Trinity was that place that nurtured me."
Because of Ellen's organization's success, Austin is now the largest no-kill city after putting down an average of 14,000 animals just five years ago. Next stop-San Antonio, where Ellen is working on a Pets Alive! branch.
"We have the ability to make it succeed by putting the right people in place!"
You may contact Ellen at Ellen.email@example.com.