AUSTIN (KXAN) — Through a program he started at the Austin Animal Center (AAC), Brendan Gemmell has made contact with thousands of people experiencing homelessness in the area and distributed over 20,000 basic pet supplies for their animals.
Roughly three years ago, Gemmell realized the AAC was having trouble connecting with Austin’s unhoused community.
“Typically, people unhoused and experiencing homelessness do not fit our typical animal services brick-and-mortar model. So we thought, ‘how can we build trust and connection with these members of our community?’” he said.
The Austin Animal Center consistently faces overcapacity issues. This is partly due to the shelter’s no-kill status, meaning they have a goal of preventing 90 to 95% of their animals from being euthanized. AAC is the largest no-kill shelter in the country.
Not only did Gemmell want to help these people and their furry friends, but aiding this community with their pets, means the pets are more likely to stay with their owners and less likely to end up back in the shelter.
“(Their pets) are their emotional support, their security, everything in their world. And we’re doing everything we can to keep them with pet retention,” Gemmell said.
He also said they can make great pet owners.
“My dog is in my crate eight hours a day. Where these people are, they have their dogs with them 24-seven. It is the best-case scenario.”
Through their donation partners, Gemmell, as a part of the Neighborhood Level Program (NLP), is out in the community distributing leashes, collars, pet food, blankets and harnesses. But also, “anything that they need, I keep in the truck, just to make the person experiencing homelessness a little easier,” he said.
Over the last three years, Gemmel has become a familiar face in Austin’s houseless communities, so much so that he has started helping other nonprofits connect with people experiencing homelessness with their services. This fact doesn’t surprise him, though. His colleagues joked he was so gregarious he could become friends with a piece of toilet paper.
“I’m always there, so they trust me,” he said. “Then I can help them not only with their dogs but with ECHO, the Host program and other services the city offers. I’m almost like abridge to get them on their feet.”
The Neighborhood Level Program’s mission is far from over. Currently, Austin Animal Center is accepting donations for its human and dog coat drive. If you would like to make a donation, you can visit their Amazon wishlist, which is on their website, or bring any supplies straight to the shelter.
“I’m just there helping them. If they need help, I help; If they don’t, eventually, they know they can trust me.”