Austin learns a lot from Larry Wright, Evan Smith and Amy Mills

The Library was the place to be. Not the Central Public Library. But the blue-and-red rectangular meeting room at Hotel Van Zandt.

It was the location for a Toast of the Town salon to support the Neal Kocurek Scholarship Fund for health sciences careers, operated by the St. David’s Foundation. Thirty of so lucky souls were treated to an enlightening public talk between journalist and author Lawrence “Larry” Wright and journalist and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith.

Evan Smith and Larry Wright at Hotel Van Zandt for Toast of the Town. Contributed by Matthew Fuller/St. David’s Foundation

The two had met soon after Smith moved to town in the 1992 to join the staff of Texas Monthly. He was assigned to edit Wright’s piece on the chemical castration of sexual offenders. Wright was for it.

Smith went on to lead Texas Monthly and now the Texas Tribune, while also interviewing top minds on “Texas Monthly Talks” and then “Overheard with Evan Smith” on public television.

My nominee for best reporter in Texas, Wright has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since he left Texas Monthly in the early 1990s. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” as well as “The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State,” “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prism of Belief” and “Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David.”

If those accomplishments were not enough, he writes plays and screenplays, appears on stage, and basks in the glow of the lauded TV adaptation of “The Looming Tower” now streaming on the Hulu channel.

RELATED: Toast of the Town one of the classiest acts around.

Can you see why I dropped everything for this benefit dinner? Smith devoted his early questions to terrorism and world affairs. Wright believes, for instance, we are ignoring the proliferation of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State beyond their Middle Eastern origins while we are distracted by other crises. He continues to state that the intervention into Iraq was the single worst foreign policy decision in American history.

Smith then moved on to main subject for the evening, Wright’s recent book, “God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State,” parts of which appeared in The New Yorker. On that field in inquiry, both sharp minds need no urging.

Wright’s editor at The New Yorker had asked him to explain Texas, a big task. He did not rely on the standard reports about the recent changes in the state; he spent a year observing the Texas Legislature. After all, Texas could tell us more about the future of the country, especially if its voters participated in elevated numbers.

He came away from his research with with a volume full of conclusions and an urge to run for governor. Wright thinks that the primary jobs of state government are education and infrastructure. Those needs tended to be ignored while state leaders spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on bathroom rules and sanctuary cities. He lays heavy blame on traditional business advocate Gov. Greg Abbott, who sided late in the session with radio personality Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick against outgoing Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who held together state government against all odds.

Wright has much more to say about state and national politics and culture, but as they say, buy and read the book.

Emancipet Luncheon

One speaker in town who could give Smith or Wright a run for their money is Amy Mills, CEO of Emancipet, an Austin nonprofit that provides free or low-cost spay, neutering and veterinary care at seven clinics in four cities.

Melissa Levine and Mary Herr Tally at Emancipet Luncheon at Hyatt Regency Austin. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The early part of its annual luncheon, which has moved gracefully from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin to the larger banquet hall at the Hyatt Regency Austin, was spent on the tasty vegan fare, video stories of clients and statistics shared by eager board members.

The room grew hushed when Mills rose to the stage. After all, she can so cogently and quickly explain a rapidly expanding and sustainable nonprofit, she would likely trounce every other participant at Philanthropitch.

RELATED: What caused all the excitement at nonprofit pitch fest.

That fast-action pitch session from nonprofit leaders was an early-week Austin highlight. (I can’t tell you how many ambitious Austin nonprofits are exporting their great ideas around the world. Just a few decades ago, they didn’t look beyond the Austin city limits.)

Some statistics appeared in the printed program. In 2017, the group provided

• 71,539 preventative care visits

• 33,300 free or low cost spay/neuter surgeries

• 622 heartworm treatments

• 177 special surgery procedures

• $883,930 in free services to Houston-area families affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Mills expanded on the last number. With animal welfare partners, they focused, not on lost pets, but on vet care for families hit hard by the storm. They announced that their clinical services would remain absolutely free for 90 days. As workers arrived the first morning, more than 100 people were in line. Some had never visited a vet before. They saw a total of 6,641 animals.

RELATED: Amy Mills takes Emancipet mission national.

Also in 2017, Emancipet opened its largest clinic ever in Northeast Austin and its first in Philadelphia. It responded to rising vet care costs by seeing 93,576 pets. Just as importantly, they trained 28 vets to take their business model to other markets. They can’t do it all themselves.

Mills saved the most dramatic news for last. Hurricane Maria scattered pets all over Puerto Rico, who then rapidly multiplied. Emacipet with 23 other groups is headed there to spay/neuter 20,000 of them. They will then leave their surgical tools and other equipment there for vets they will train to keep up the work.

Hard to beat Mills. Hard to beat Emancipet.

Last chance to hit the best of Austin spring party circuit

Soon it will be hot. Very hot. For many, too hot to party in Austin. That’s why we urge you to savor the last semblance of spring and hit this circuit of more than 40 parties hard.

April 26: Little Artist, Big Artist for Chula League. Mondo Gallery.

April 27-29: Austin Food + Wine Festival. Auditorium Shores and Fair Market.

April 27-28: Texas Burlesque Fest. Paramount Theatre.

April 28: Putting on the Ritz Gala for Sam Bass Theatre. Marriott North La Frontera.

April 28: Songs for Trees for TreeFolks. Lemon Lounge.

April 28: Town Lake Links 30th Anniversary Celebration. UT campus locations.

April 28: Council on At-Risk Youth Distinguished Speaker Event. AT&T Conference Center.

April 28: Viva EASB! for Elizabeth Ann Seton Board. Camp Mabry.

April 29: An Afternoon in Neverland from Ballet Austin Guild. Driskill Hotel.

April 29: A Marvelous Party: Delovely for Penfold Theatre. Kindred Oaks.

April 29: Bollywood Meets Borscht Belt from Hindu Charities and Shalom Austin. JCC Community Hall.

May 1: Great Futures Spring Luncheon for Boys & Girls Clubs. Fairmont Austin Hotel.

May 1: Hope Awards for iACT. Bullock Texas State History Museum.

May 2: Taste of Mexico for Mexic-Arte Museum. Brazos Hall.

May 3: I Heart HealthStart Gala. Gather Austin.

May 3: Opal Divine’s American Whiskey Festival. Austin City Hotel.

May 3: Evening of Honors for Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights. UT Alumni Center.

May 4: The Blue Bash for Austin Chamber Music Center. River Place Country Club.

May 4: Best Party Ever for Leadership Austin. Brazos Hall.

May 4: Austin Book Awards for Austin Library Foundation. Austin Central Library.

May 4: HeartGift Gala. JW Marriott Hotel.

May 4: Texas Monthly Live. Paramount Theatre.

May 5: Red, Hot and Soul. Zach Theatre.

May 5-6: Pecan Street Festival. East Sixth Street.

May 5: Down & Derby for the Shade Project. Mercury Hall.

May 6: Urban Roots Austin Tour de Farm. Fair Market.

May 8: Philanthropitch Austin. LBJ Auditorium.

May 8: Shoal Creek Awards. Cirrus Logic Conference Space.

May 9: Farm to Plate for Sustainable Food Center. Barr Mansion.

May 10: Due West: West Austin Studio Tour kick-off party. Central Austin Library Gallery.

May 10: Official Drink of Austin Party for Austin Food and Wine Alliance. Fairmont Austin Hotel.

May 11: Reach for the Stars Gala for Ann Richards School Foundation. Four Seasons Hotel.

May 11: Emancipet Luncheon. Hyatt Regency Austin.

May 12: Paramount Gala with the Gipsy Kings. Paramount Theatre.

May 12: Mother’s Day Jazz Brunch for the Frederick Douglass Club of Austin. Crowne Plaza Austin.

May 14: There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch for People’s Community Clinic. Four Seasons Hotel.

May 15: Spring For Water for Clean Water Action. Zilker Clubhouse.

May 17: Molly Awards Gala for the Texas Observer. Four Seasons Hotel.

May 19: Austin Under 40 Awards Gala. JW Marriott Hotel.

May 20: Cochon555 Culinary Competition. Four Seasons Hotel.

Two dozen Austin parties you don’t want to miss

It’s been a while since we previewed key upcoming Austin parties. Sorry. SXSW intervened. As well as some Austin news that made it hard to celebrate.

But we are back with some prize-winning dates, including the last hurrahs for 2018 Rodeo Austin.

March 23: Rodeo Austin Youth Livestock Auction. ACL Live.

March 23-May 12: Performance Park. The Vortex.

March 24: Fab Five Event for Seedling Foundation. Westin at the Domain.

March 25: Ignite for Shalom Austin. JW Marriott.

March 31: Texas Whiskey Festival. Bullock Texas State History Museum.

April 3: Lift a Fork for Forklift Danceworks. Springdale Station.

April 5: Generosi-Tea for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area. Hotel Ella.

April 5: Quest for the Summit for Explore Austin. Fair Market.

April 6: Storybook Heroes Luncheon for BookSpring. Renaissance Austin Hotel.

April 7: Partnerships for Children Gala. Cover 3 Downtown.

April 7: Manos de Cristo 30th Anniversary Gala. ACL Live.

April 7: Tailwaggers Neo-Gala for Austin Pets Alive. 7Co.

April 7: Bandana Ball for Ronald McDonald House. Wild Onion Ranch.

April 10: Breakthrough Champions Celebration. Austin Central Public Library.

April 12-13: Mack, Jack & McConaughey. ACL Live and other venues.

April 14: Capital Area Dental Foundation Gala. JW Marriott.

April 14: I Am Art for Women & Their Work. Private home.

April 11: DSACT Cocktail Bash. 800 Congress Ave.

April 13-14: Art City Austin for Austin Art Alliance. Palmer Events Center.

April 21: Andy Roddick Foundation Luncheon. Hilton Austin.

April 26: Women of Distinction for Girl Scouts. AT&T Center.

April 26: Umlauf Garden Party. Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

April 28: Putting on the Ritz Gala for Sam Bass Theatre. Marriott La Frontera.

April 27-29: Austin Food + Wine Festival. Auditorium Shores and Fair Market.

April 29: An Afternoon in Neverland for Ballet Austin Guild. Driskill Hotel.


Scenes from Harvey: Austin nonprofits in action

It was a given that Austin nonprofits such as the Austin Red Cross, Austin Disaster Relief Network and Central Texas Food Bank would send immediate aid to coastal Texans reeling from Hurricane Harvey.

Nancy Flores has been sharing the ways that Austin groups have rallied to support the stricken.

Also, as Matthew Odam has reported, Austin’s always generous food community, is lining up to help out.

  • MORE STORIES: Mary Herr Tally sends us additional reports from Austin Pets Alive. I especially like the two van loads of Labs and Goldens headed for Pennsylvania.

“The rescue stories are so powerful and evolve quickly — daily or by the minute, from a tiny puppy found alone and brought in badly needing to nurse and luckily matched within minutes w a momma and her new litter.

“Or a young dog with a particularly traumatic rescue that the rescuer wanted it known. The muddy pup had a fresh a head and shoulder wound and injured pelvic. She’d shut down emotionally and wouldn’t eat for days, and after being held closely for hours and lovingly talked to, perked up and was later jetted off by Oakland-based MAD Dog Rescue.

“MAD Dog volunteers arrived yesterday morning, walked thru APA’s Burnet site to cherry-pick 60 seniors, dogs needing medical care, and puppies that they would then fly out last night.

“The APA Harvey dogs are leaving quickly, yesterday a Golden Retriever Rescue group from Pennsylvania left with two vans loaded with Golden Retrievers and Labs. Another rescue group from California sent a plane on Saturday.”

  • From Mary Heerwald at Austin Pets Alive, which has rescued more than 330 animals since Thursday afternoon.
“We received an incredible dog family named Snow White, Prince Charming and each of the seven dwarves (puppies), no less, that was abandoned in a truck port in Columbus. This Facebook plea was sent to us via our Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender line and we were able to help coordinate their evacuation transportation and get them all safely into foster homes in Austin.”

• From Margo Sawyer, the distinguished Austin artist whose old Elgin building — not her studio or house, but one she had planned for a sculpture garden — was destroyed in Harvey’s high winds and rain.


“This is especially devastating as I have had a  summer meeting with artist friends, investors, realtors and architects thinking and dreaming what this special place could be a sculpture garden or sculpture garden and spa with art that doubles as ice plunge pool to be a relief of the summer heat. I know there are many horrific situations in Texas right now, but as artists we often take the big risks in living in areas or building building the need a lot of work, as we see the potential value.” Visit Sawyer’s GoFundMe site to stabilize and rehabilitate the building.

• From Chelsea Rodriguez at Austin Humane Society:

Shawn with Roco and Mimi. Contributed

“As Hurricane Harvey began to make its way to the Texas coast, Shawn of Rockport, Texas was preparing to weather the storm. Many people in the Rockport area had already fled to outlying towns, but there were some who stayed behind. Little did Shawn know, this would be one of the most terrifying events he had ever experienced. “’We ended up being buried into our house. We live next door to a recycle yard so there were pieces of metal and boats, you name it, on top of us.’ Shawn, his wife and their two dogs, Roco and Mimi, were able to dig themselves out of the debris on Saturday morning. “I was a smoke jumper in California for the National Forrest Service for 17 years and this was the scariest thing I have ever been through.”

Lewis and Jade. Contributed
“Lewis and his 8-year-old Doberman, Jade, were among the fortunate to have evacuated from Rockport before Hurricane Harvey hit. ‘We went to Mathis to ride out the storm, when it was over we made our way back to Rockport around 10:30 in the morning and my house was gone.’” Along with his home, Lewis, a small business owner, found that his construction shop had also been destroyed. AHS was able to provide general wellness vaccines and microchipping for the pets of the victims of Hurricane Harvey. For the hundreds of people like Shawn and Lewis that are seeking refuge in Toney Burger Activity Center and Stadium in Austin, Texas, the future is unclear.”
Brandon, Tess and Harvey. Contributed
“Hurricane Harvey has continued to devastate Texas and its surrounding states, but like they say, ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’ For Rockport evacuees, Brandon and b, that silver lining comes in the form of a tiny four-legged friend. Just as Brandon and Tess were preparing to evacuate their home, a beacon of hope showed up on their doorstep. ‘He just came out of nowhere and we knew we couldn’t leave him behind. The water was starting to rise and we expected alligators to show up pretty soon,’ said Brandon. The duo, now a trio, scooped up the adorable German Shepherd pup and headed out. When morning came, Brandon, Tess, and their new furr-baby traveled back to Rockport and came to find that their house had been completely destroyed. ‘All that matters is that we’re together. All 3 of us,’ said Tess. When asked what they decided to name their new little guy, they responded, ‘Harvey.'”

•  Some nonprofits are helping out indirectly. Consider the Paramount Theatre, whose system is pretty efficient and clever.

“In response to the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, the Paramount is offering free admission to this week’s Summer Classic Films to Red Cross donors. In order to redeem their free ticket, patrons are encouraged to donate $10 to the Red Cross by texting REDCROSS to 90999. All they need to do is show the text at the Box Office, and they’ll receive a free ticket to that day’s film(s). Additional ways to donate will be available on site. More details and other giving opportunities here:”


RELATED: Before Harvey, nightmares of Texas hurricanes past.

RELATED: Central Texans with coastal property await word.

RELATED: Thrall holds pre-Harevy rain record at 38 inches.

From social spies: Recaps of May Austin parties that we missed

Miss a few Austin parties and shows in May? So did we. It’s inevitable. So much happening in Our Town.

To keep us in informed while we are otherwise engaged, our social spies sent us short reports about their favorite events.

RELATED: Catch up on these Austin parties that passed us by.

Austin-Heart-Ball-2017-1056 (1)
Catherine Bruni, Kevin Opgenorth and Catalina Berry at Heart Ball of Austin. Contributed by Ed Sparks Photography

From Rosalyn Mandola: 

The 20th Annual Heart Ball of Austin was held Saturday, May 13th, at the JW Marriot in downtown. The event, presented by St. David’s HealthCare in support of the American Heart Association, broke records in attendance and fundraising. The success was thanks in part to headlining entertainment from Wynonna & The Big Noise, featuring legendary country musician Wynonna Judd. With more than 700 in attendance, the gala raised a whopping $1.09 million (gross) for cardiovascular and stroke research and outreach programs, and kept crowds dancing late into the night.”

MHA Texas_Rep Four Price (L) & Speaker Joe Straus
Rep. Four Four Price and Speaker Joe Straus at the Mental Health America Dinner. Contributed by Merrick Ales Photography

From Julie Burch:

Mental Health America of Texas commemorated the beginning of Mental Health Month with the 54th Annual Honoring Dinner: An Evening of Hope to recognize the significant contributions of Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) and Sharon Butterworth of El Paso, to mental health in Texas. MHA Texas’ highest honor, the Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt Award for Mental Health, was presented to Rep. Price in recognition of his leadership in improving the lives of Texans affected by mental illness. Butterworth was recognized for her dedication and commitment to improving the mental health of El Pasoans with the Texas Impact Award. Nearly 300 guests joined the event, on Friday, May 5, 2017, at the Hyatt Regency Austin to celebrate the honorees.”

Edward Flores and Jim Spencer at Emancipet Luncheon. Contributed by Bryant Hill

From Brenda Thompson: 

Emancipet’s 18th anniversary luncheon May 15 raised a record-breaking $447,000 for pets and the people who love them, thanks in part to Emancipet board member Angela Dorsey and her husband, Jason Rhode, who pledged to match donations up to $100,000. As a nonprofit organization, Emancipet relies on private funding to provide safe, affordable spay and neuter surgeries and prevent unwanted litters. Emancipet also provides lifesaving heartworm prevention at a price our clients can afford affordable microchipping, and tens of thousands of pets every year. The luncheon chair was Bonnie K. Mills and the her committee members were Shavonne Henderson, Kathy Katz, Tonia Lucio, and Kelly Topfer. KXAN’s meteorologist and animal lover Jim Spencer was the master of ceremonies for the event.”


Salute the stunning new Dell Seton Medical Center

The Austin parties are picking up again. We attended three fine ones recently.

Dell Seton Medical Center Big Reveal

Have I mistakenly entered a luxury hotel? That’s the first impression one receives in the ground-level guest areas of the new Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas.

Opening of Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

For the Big Reveal at the $300 million teaching, charity and research hospital, which goes fully operational in May, numerous top citizens sipped bubbly, nibbled on delectables, then set those aside to tour the seven-floor state-of-the-science facility that will take the place of University Medical Center Brackenridge.

Pete and Tomi Winstead at the opening of Dell Seton Medical Center University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Fortuitously, among our first contacts in the comfy cafe was Pete Winstead, the Austin power broker who led the charge to raise $50 million for the hospital, along with his charming wife Tomi Winstead. By the way, as State Sen. Kirk Watsonauthor of the 10-point regional health plan that includes this new medical center, pointed out: No taxpayer money was spent on facility. Jesus Garza, retiring CEO of Seton Healthcare Family, and Christann Vasquez, president and CEO of the medical center, were also on hand to salute the sleek new building, filled with natural light and brightened with fine art.

Cafe at this charity hotel feels like Four Seasons Hotel. Opening of Dell Seton Medical Center University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

This whole series of medical structures along Waller Creek are so much more pleasing than the old Brack complex and the blocky government buildings that bank up against them. But it’s how the hospital works that keeps one transfixed with such wonders as a hybrid cath lab and OR and a design that will facilitate care of the worst-off patients that impresses the most.

Hybrid cath lab and OR. Opening of Dell Seton Medical Center University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Too much spent on the hotel look? Vasquez explains that they chose less expensive materials for the backside and inside of the place, but they wanted people to feel relaxed and at home during traumatic times. And after all, Dallas spent $1 billion on its charity hospital redo and San Antonio $500 million. So Austin’s $300 million looks like a bargain.

Tailwaggers for Austin Pets Alive

As promised, the Tailwaggers “non-gala” or “neo-gala” for Austin Pets Alive at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum was gloriously liberating. A perfect April evening. Unhurried strolls through the lovely gardens to find stations with drinks, animal welfare info or pledge options.

Mike and Catherine Kaviani at Tailwaggers for Austin Pets Alive. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Almost every top social in town — thanks to chair Mary Herr Tally and her team — was present, along with young couples who we’d never met before. Plus some pets.

David Kurio’s floral genius at work during Tailwaggers for Austin Pets Alive. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The program was short. The Big Band music was romantic. An errant buffet line put the only crimp in the evening, although once self-served, the fresh, healthy food was excellent. I’m not even going to try to list the social movers and shakers who attended, because the list would go on into next week.

We’ve got another signature Austin event on our hands.

Ribbon Cutting for Briscoe Center

“We are not a museum,” said longtime director Don Carleton about his research archives, the Briscoe Center for American History. Well, just a little bit. Along with a first-rate reading room and new gathering spaces, the renovated ground floor of the center — located across the plaza from the LBJ Presidential Library — is quite a bit of exhibition space. As Carleton says: “Now we can share some of our treasures.”

Patia Sandifer and Stephen Bedsole at the grand reopening of the Briscoe Center. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

And we are grateful for it. We’ve been digging around the Briscoe since it was named the Barker Texas History Center in the 1980s. It’s a superb collection overseen by top-notch professionals. And it always bugged me that its historical shows were staged in the hallway to the restroom. (I have the same problem with the admittedly lovelier hallway at the Austin History Center.)

At the recent ribbon cutting for the refabricated center, Carleton welcomed UT bigwigs such as President Gregory Fenves and Provost Maurie McInnis, who said that archival material: “Makes the past real in a way that just reading about history does not.” He also thanked major donors, such as the family of late Gov. Dolph Briscoe and expert on early UT history, Clyde Rabb Littlefield. Also present were Dan and Jean RatherKathy CronkiteBen Sargent and former U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

We’ll deliver at fuller report on what’s inside the new Briscoe very soon.

This week’s most inviting Austin parties and shows

It’s already April 4? Where do the spring days go in Austin? Below find some of the most inviting parties and shows of the week.

Pete Leibman, Courtney Jacobs, Brooklyn Decker Roddick and Keith Kreeger at the 2016 Opportunity Matters Luncheon for Andy Roddick Foundation.

All hail SaulPaul and the other 2017 AU40 Awards winners!

We couldn’t make the Austin Under 40 Awards ceremony this year, but we can sure follow up on our advance story with a list of winners and a hearty cheer.

RELATED: Matt Curtis sings the praises of the Austin Under 40 Awards.

Austinite of the Year
SaulPaul, Musician with a Message, ReRoute Music Group

WAG Photo SaulPaul 4.14(1)
SaulPaul is the AU40 Austinite of the Year. Contributed

Arts, Media, and Entertainment
SaulPaul, Musician with a Message, ReRoute Music Group

Culinary Arts and Hospitality
Mason H. Ayer, Chief Executive Officer, Kerbey Lane Cafe

Community Service and Nonprofit
Amy E. Mills, Chief Executive Officer, Emancipet

RELATED: Amy Mills takes Emancipet’s animal mission national.

Engineering, Architecture, and Design
Daniel Goodman Carl, Regional Director, BSA LifeStructures

Entrepreneurship and Startup
Matt Stanley, Founder, President and CEO of Sundance Memory Care

Financial and Insurance Services
Rich Coffey, Founder, Coffey Advisory Group, LLC

Government and Public Affairs
Rudolph K. Metayer, Litigator, Chamberlain | McHaney

Milam F Newby, Managing Partner – Austin, Vinson & Elkins LLP

Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations
Maria Orozova, Founder + President, The MOD Studio

Medicine, Healthcare, and Life Sciences
Lauren Chauret, Partner & Director of Operations, PTV Healthcare Capital

Mentor of the Year
Ann Jerome, Executive Director, American Heart Association

Real Estate
Mark Strub,  überAGENT® + owner of STRÜB RESIDENTIAL

Sports, Wellness, and Fitness
Rashanna Moss, Owner- Pure Barre Austin

Technology and Sciences
Jeffrey Palermo, CEO, Clear Measure, Inc.

Youth and Education
Larkin Tackett, Executive Director, IDEA Public Schools, Austin

UPDATE: Left off of AU40’s original official list was:

Engineering, Energy, Mobility and Systems Sciences
Becky Hollis Diffen, Attorney, McGuireWoods



2012: Ellen Jefferson advocating for animals

We repost this 2012 profile of Ellen Jefferson just in time for the Austin Pets Alive benefit, Tailwaggers, on April 7.

RELATED: Joining the revolt against the traditional Austin gala at Tailwaggers.

tln apa! ellen 03
Ellen Jefferson in 2012 was with Pidgey at her home in Austin. Thao Nguyen/For American-Statesman

While volunteering at the old Town Lake Animal Shelter, veterinarian Ellen Jefferson saw too many animals killed.

“It didn’t feel like I was making a big impact, ” Jefferson says. “But I felt like if I could stop the inflow, fewer would come into shelter, so more could go out alive.”

In 1999, Jefferson founded Emancipet, a nonprofit group which spays or neuters animals.

RELATED: Amy Mills takes Emancipet’s animal mission national.

By the time she left the group – which keeps growing without her – they were performing 16,000 surgeries a year, mostly from a roaming clinic. That superhuman feat, however, didn’t make the expected impact on the number of animals euthanized at the city’s shelter.

“Rabble-rousers were saying that we were still killing too many, ” she says. “And I ignored them. The more I listened to them, however, the more I realized we weren’t actually lowering the kill rate.”

So in 2008, Jefferson – a calm and measured animal welfare activist – reactivated Austin Pets Alive, a group dedicated in 1997 to saving more shelter animals, 50 percent of which were being killed.

Austin Pets Alive, in concert with scores of smaller rescue groups, has, by targeting specific animal groups, put the Austin save rate above 90 percent, the only large city in the country to do so.

Jefferson, whose group now works from the old shelter as well as pop-up adoption centers, says she believes the save rate can be driven up to an almost inconceivable 98 percent.

“It’s exponentially harder to get those last animals cared for, housed safely and adopted, ” she admits. “It’s also exponentially more expensive.”

Destined to help

Married to horse vet Damon O’Gan, Jefferson, 41, was born in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy. Her father, Wayne Jefferson, is a retired Air Force pilot and two-star general.

“He’s an impressive guy, ” Jefferson says with a wide grin. “I’m not as much like him as I’d like to be.”

Her mother, Bonnie Wassell Jefferson, was an Austin schoolteacher before raising a family.

“She’s a real people person, ” says Jefferson, who tends toward shyness. “She’s gregarious and fun-loving.”

Like many military children, Jefferson lived all over the place, but she graduated from high school in Alexandria, Va. She studied biology, ecology and other subjects at Trinity University in San Antonio before entering vet school at Virginia Tech University.

“I was planning to open a spay-neuter clinic, ” she says. “I wanted to help the disenfranchised animals of the world.”

Instead, she first entered private practice in rural Rocky Mountain, Va.

“There were no bells or whistles, ” she recalls. “It made me utilize what’s in front of me rather than shifting things off to a specialist.”

After moving to Austin in 1998, Jefferson practiced emergency medicine at a North Austin clinic.

“You can’t predict what will come through the door, ” she says. “There’s typically only one vet on the premises. You think fast and triage. It’s a great learning experience.”

Building Emancipet from scratch taught her many things as well. But it didn’t achieve the original goal: Stop the killing.

“I really thought the only answer to shelter euthanasia was spay and neuter, ” she says. “But we needed to improve the processes at the shelter, not just in the community.”

So Jefferson focused on bottlenecks. The city shelter employed only one part-time behavior evaluator. It couldn’t keep up with in-house spaying and neutering. And the adoption process could take as long as two hours on busy days.

So Austin Pets Alive, like other rescue groups, removed the animals before they were killed.

“So if one part of the process was backed up, ” Jefferson says, “another animal wouldn’t die because there wasn’t enough turnover or space.”

The group and its army of volunteers used a dazzlingly simple method for rescuing the savable animals. They broke them down into categories.

Just a few years ago, any kitten under 6 weeks of age was killed on intake. So her group created a mass nursing ward with bottle feeding for orphans. That saved an estimated 1,200 kittens each year, instantly adopted when they reached 6 weeks.

Back in 2007, as many as 9,500 cats were killed because they came in all at once during breeding season, April to October. So Austin Pets Alive scooped them up and scattered them to foster networks and remote adoptions sites in pedestrian areas.

“We got them in front of people in as many places as possible, ” she says. “That way they were more likely to be adopted.”

Cats with ringworm were killed because they are often contagious to people and other cats. So Jefferson‘s group created a ward to treat them in three to six weeks.

More sadly, cats diagnosed with feline leukemia were expected to live only from six months to two years. So Austin Pets Alive found people willing to adopt for what was understood to be a shorter time than usual.

“Even though it’s painful to lose a pet, they want to give it a home, ” Jefferson says. “It’s like a hospice situation. Sometimes their own lives are in flux, so a short-time pet is not so bad. It saves a life and gives the owner companionship.”

Parvo puppies got a parvo ward.

“It’s pretty labor intensive, but treatable, ” Jefferson says. “You end up with a highly desirable puppy.”

The hardest animals to save were – and continue to be – big dogs with behavior problems.

“I’m not talking about truly dangerous dogs, ” she says. “Just dogs who are down on their luck.”

Complicating matters, big dogs at shelters are seen in rows of cages or on restraints which amplify reactive behavior. So the group now uses pack play time and other methods to retrain the big dogs.

“The longer they stay, the more likely they are to go cage crazy, ” she says. “Play groups prevent that from happening.”

Working with a $2 million annual budget, the group has saved more than 6,000 animals this year alone. The group employs 75 staff members, half of them part-time, and has trained more than 8,000 volunteers over the past four years.

Jefferson, who always keeps numbers and charts handy, is no animal-welfare hardliner.

“I do believe in euthanasia for animals that are suffering and have no hope of getting better, ” she says. “It is the kindest thing to do. It is just that we use ‘euthanasia’ to mean something very different in the animal shelter world.”

She thinks Austin is positioned uniquely to set a national example.

“Recognizing that all the systems are not perfect yet, Austin is at an amazing place, ” she says while tipping her hat to leaders in city government who have supported the evolution. “We, all the animal welfare groups, have accomplished so much. The rest of the country is completely blown away by what Austin has been able to do in such a short period of time.”

She also praises county shelters in Williamson County, which have reached the 90 percent save rate as well.

Jefferson‘s critics believe that Austin Pets Alive emphasizes the quantity of adoptions over the quality of them. They also decry the group’s training methods and its maintenance of the decaying Town Lake shelter.

“There’s so much people drama!” Jefferson says. “Animal welfare tends to be polarizing like most passionate causes. There are few (causes) in America that are centered around life and death, and the fact that no-kill is squarely centered on that topic is in and of itself dramatic.”


Joining the revolt against the traditional Austin gala

Austin guests have been in open revolt against the traditional Austin gala for some time. They tell me that the standard black-tie affair is too long, too loud, too starchy and too gabby.

When one of Austin’s top social benefactors, Mary Herr Tally, starts storming the gala barricades, you know that change is in the air.

Mary Herr Tally with a designer pet collar made by Shanny Lott. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

She calls her upcoming benefit for no-kill shelter and service, Austin Pets Alive, a “non-gala,” a term already in usage, or a maybe “neo-gala,” which better fits her slimmed down, unbuttoned strategy.

RELATED: Breathing life into Austin’s No Kill wins.

Even the name of her April 7 event at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, Tailwaggers  borrowed from Hollywood star Bette Davis‘ animal welfare outings in the 1940s — suggests something spontaneous, serendipitous.

“People ask: ‘How’s your gala?'” Tally reports. “Well, it’s not one. It’s casual cocktails and dinner. You take away all the tedious parts; do your key fundraising prior to the event; and avoid beating your guests down with a live auction or cash call.”

Tally is no stranger to the conventional gala. Since 1994, she has raised money for what used to be called the Austin Museum of ArtLong Center for the Performing Arts and Zach Theatre and Austin Opera as well as Seton Breast Care Center, Center for Child Protection and various animal welfare causes.

She felt Austin Pets Alive needed a signature event. She huddled with social masterminds such as Armando Zambrano and Carla McDonald to brainstorm for Tailwaggers.

A lightbulb moment came when McDonald proposed offering designer pet collars, auctioned silently. Tally was all in: “No painful live auction!”

She described how guests get distracted during the extended bidding of a live auction.

“People get up and walk out,” Tally says. “It’s embarrassing. It’s messed up. I mean, the live auctioneers have the best intentions …”

Cash calls — also known as “fund a cause” or, even more colloquially, “paddles up” — are no better if they last more than a few moments.

“Then you get your food. Finally,” Tally sighs. “We’re trying to redefine the gala that doesn’t have to be about a ball gown and and a tux. Austinites are sophisticated. They know what to wear to a good party.”

If forced to pin a name on the Tailwaggers sartorial style, she’d call it “Austin casual cocktail.”

“Just wear what you wear when you go out to dinner!” Tally says. “That could be jeans and a cute top, or it could be a dress. Austinites know how to dress, even if it has to be different at times to get some people out.”

Tally recently adopted a mixed breed dog from the Austin Animal Shelter that had been pulled from the Lockhart shelter’s euthanasia list.

“Annie Richards” was not what she expected to bring home.

“You think you know what you want,” she says. “Then you find the one.”

UPDATE: The origin of Annie Richards was clarified in a recent update.