brown boxer dog in a red collar with mouth open

Austin Boxer Rescue Seeks Fosters, Volunteers

  • white boxer dog jumps and sticks its tongue out
  • white boxer dog jumps up on her human
  • a man, a boy, and a dog play
  • white boxer dog stands next to woman with blue hair and purple shirt near a fence
  • close-up of white dog's nose
  • a man holds his young daughter as he pets a white boxer dog
  • a brown and white dog
  • a brown dog with a gray muzzle
  • a brown boxer dog in a purple coat lays on the ground in the foreground; two men and another boxer dog stand in the background
  • brown boxer dog in purple coat
  • brown boxer dog in a red collar with mouth open
  • a fawn boxer dog in a red collar
  • black dog stretching
  • a brindle boxer dog in a yellow collar sits for a bacon treat
  • a brown dog paws at a woman's leg
  • several people hold boxer dogs on leashes down a sidewalk
  • a boxer in a kennel in a van
  • a woman, man, and child pose with a white boxer dog

Austin’s famous South Congress Ave. is home to several well-known landmarks: Jo’s Coffee (home of the “I Love You So Much” wall), Home Slice Pizza, Amy’s Ice Creams, the Austin Motel, Magnolia Cafe. But just a mile down from these familiar “SoCo” spots is a tiny, nondescript brick building. It sits next to an empty parking lot for a business long-closed; a battered sign reading “We ain’t gone yet!” halfway hangs to its front. 

This tiny building is the South Congress Veterinary Clinic, and it’s home to a handful of boxers in the care of Austin Boxer Rescue (ABR). ABR is a nonprofit boxer dog rescue serving the entire state of Texas. It was founded by ABR president Jenn Pope in 2005 when she sought to adopt a boxer and found she had to go to Houston or Dallas to find a rescue. “There was just a need for [ABR],” Pope says. Now, ABR is one of the only boxer rescues in Texas, and it’s the largest.

According to Pope, ABR sees about 575 dogs come through its figurative doors every year. Why figurative? The rescue’s Austin “kennel”, the South Congress Veterinary Clinic, can only host a handful of dogs. ABR has a larger kennel, located in Hewitt, TX, which holds about 30 more dogs – but not nearly the 100 it would take to house all the dogs in ABR’s care at any given time. So where are the dozens of other boxers?

In foster care. 

ABR relies on a huge network of foster volunteers to house most of its dogs. Most fosters live in Austin or San Antonio, with a handful scattered in other cities as well. “The fosters are vital to ABR because when a dog goes into foster care, it has a huge, positive effect on the dog’s wellbeing,” said Carol Eskew, ABR’s fundraising coordinator. “When a dog is in a foster home, it gets the constant love and attention that it simply would not get in a kennel. We especially love it when we get fosters who have children, or cats, so we can acclimate the dogs to those situations.”

In addition to fosters, ABR counts on transport volunteers to bring dogs to Austin, and volunteers to help at the bi-monthly Adoption Day events in Austin and San Antonio. “Really, every little volunteer act counts,” says Dominga Titus, a 12-year ABR volunteer. “Whether you have one hour a month to give or 30 hours a month, everything helps. Sometimes we just need people to hold a dog’s leash for a couple hours once a month at Adoption Day, or someone to bring the dogs from Austin Pets Alive to our clinic.” 

ABR relies on volunteers, rather than staff, because it gets almost the entirety of its funding from corporate sponsorships, individual donors, and fundraising events, and each dollar goes toward the dogs. “The fact is, we hemorrhage money each month,” said Eskew. “One routine surgery for one dog can cost $6,000-$10,000. And that’s not even for emergency surgery.

“We get a certain amount from grants, but the overwhelming majority of our money comes from adoption fees, and donations and fundraising. We take on so many expenses, and we keep the doors open each year, but it’s a hustle.”

“We are the largest nonprofit rescue in Texas,” Pope says. “We don’t have anyone on staff. We pay people for their time spent at the Hewitt kennel cleaning and feeding dogs and things like that, but no one is on a payroll. Everyone involved in ABR does it on a volunteer basis, no one is taking home a paycheck for what we do. That includes people who check our email, who rehabilitate dogs, who vet adoption applicants, who organize fundraisers – all of it.”

Eskew explained that the Hewitt kennel was actually entirely paid for by fundraising and donors. “We needed a larger kennel, there was just no way around it. And to purchase what we needed would cost $300,000. When we decided to purchase it in 2019, we had a third of that. And with fundraising events, we did raise the rest and the kennel is now entirely in our name.”

In a city overwhelmed with homeless dogs, ABR is doing all it can to free up space in other shelters. When ABR can step in and take boxers from these larger shelters, it frees up space for non-boxers. In September of 2022, one Austin shelter, Austin Animal Center, was inundated with more than 700 animals. The city has around a dozen other shelters, each typically filled to capacity. A 2022 article in the Austin Chronicle reported that many of the city’s shelters were at over 100% capacity. There are a couple of reasons why.

First, until 2021, Austin was the largest city to designate as a no-kill sanctuary for animals (Los Angeles took the title that year). This means that animals in the city’s shelters are not euthanized for space-saving purposes. This places a huge responsibility on Austin shelters to accept as many animals as possible, but also leaves shelters in a position where they are over capacity.

Another contributing factor is the housing crisis in Austin. According to a 2021 KVUE article, the largest reason for owner-surrenders that year was the expiration of Austin’s eviction moratorium. In May 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were laid off, or simply unable to work, either permanently or temporarily, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) put in place an eviction moratorium, which prohibited landlords from evicting tenants who could not pay their rent. The moratorium was in place in Austin through September 2021.

Eviction Lab, which tracks evictions across the country, shows that evictions in Austin were at record lows between April 2020 and January 2022, with filings ranging from as low as 8 to a high of around 50 per month. By March of 2022, however, Eviction Lab’s data shows evictions in the city were back to – and, in fact, superseding – pre-pandemic levels, with 1,060 filings that month, up 77% from the historic average of 599.

The KVUE article states that many Austin shelters saw an influx of animals as people anticipated losing their homes and having to move to places where their furry friends could not go with them, such as family and friends’ homes, temporary rentals, or shelters. And any of these Austinites who were fostering pets were now unable to do so any longer, leaving the shelters to house the dogs instead.

So, ABR makes it as easy as possible to foster, so they can continue to take in more dogs. ABR provides all fosters with monthly flea, tick, and heartworm prevention, as well as spay and neutering services. The organization also takes care of other medical expenses, such as surgeries, shots, and more, for foster dogs. Fosters can even request food, bedding, and other supplies from ABR.The organization’s Silver Hearts Program allows people to become “forever fosters” to its senior dogs (age 10 and older). Silver Hearts are not put up for adoption; instead, ABR looks for a family that can foster the dog through the end of its life, all the while providing the medical attention, food, and supplies the dog requires.

Many dogs, young and old, that come into ABR are in very poor health. Problems range from common issues such as kennel cough, heartworms, emaciation, and mange, to more severe injuries including blunt force trauma, broken limbs, and even gunshot wounds. And it’s fosters who nurse those dogs back to health and into adoptable condition, which means healthy, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered.

“All the ABR fosters are a dedicated and passionate group, and the medical fosters are really special,” says Liz Calahan, who has fostered with ABR for 17 years. “They take the nitty gritty and tough cases. You have the ‘movers and shakers’ that move the ‘easy’ adoptable pups – the ones that are healthy or young. But the medical fosters who take in the mange babies, the amputations, the hospice seniors – they’re really special.”

“We just want to help as many dogs as possible, and to give help, we need help,” says Eskew. “I think every house that can have a dog, should have one.” 

“There’s nothing like owning a boxer,” says Titus. “They are loyal, loving animals. To me, [my boxer] isn’t just a dog – she’s a guardian angel.”

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