Rescue pet vet, known for no-kill activism, faces reprimand after complaints

Dr. Ellen Jefferson
Dr. Ellen Jefferson

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A local animal-rescue advocate and veterinarian faces reprimand following complaints regarding her practices at rescue organizations in Austin and San Antonio.

Dr. Ellen Jefferson is in charge of animal medical services for the Austin Pets Alive! and San Antonio Pets Alive! organizations. She is now facing a 2-year probated suspension after the formal complaints, which include diagnosing an animal without seeing it and allowing a tech to perform surgery on a kitten without anesthetic.

“As an animal lover, it kills me,” said Sheryl Meade, one of the women who filed a complaint.

In August, Jefferson took part in an administrative hearing before the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, which recommended a two-year probationary suspension, and a $2,000 fine.

The board will make an official decision in April.

Jefferson denies the allegations and has filed suit against the board, saying its jurisdiction over private veterinarians does not extend to shelter vets.

“I have always operated within the professionally accepted standards of shelter operations, adhering to the applicable rules,” she said in a written statement sent to KXAN. “I have centered my entire life and career around saving animals from needlessly dying.

The board said she violated six board policies including not correctly labeling drugs, not keeping accurate records, violating the professional conduct policy, and dispensing drugs without seeing the animal or the animal’s owner.

KXAN spoke with two people who filed complaints about practices involving Jefferson and both no kill shelters.


Meade, who filed one of the first formal complaints against Jefferson, told KXAN she was fostering a dog named Starlight.

After five weeks in her care, Starlight became very ill, Meade said.

“She was prescribing pain medications, antibiotics without an examination,” Meade said.

The state board said that is a violation of board policy. In court documents, board members say Jefferson “violated professional conduct by diagnosing, prescribing and dispensing drugs without seeing the animal.”

Meade said Starlight died four days later.

“It was something no one should have to go through,” she said. “To see that look in her eyes when her heart stopped. It’s something that kills me. As an animal lover, it kills me.”

A second complaint came from volunteer Kelly Walls, who objected to daily practices at the San Antonio Pets Alive facility. Among them: that she saw Jefferson allow a technician to perform surgery on a kitten with no anesthetic – a charge Jefferson denies.  Walls also says in her complaint she saw animals not getting the proper medical care at the San Antonio location.

“There were buckets, and in those buckets were dead kittens,” Walls said.

Jefferson denied those allegations.

The veterinarian has high-profile supporters in Austin, and is credited with helping put into place Austin’s no-kill policy for its shelter animals.

“As former Board President of APA, I’ve worked closely with Dr Jefferson and her organization for years,” said state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, in a written statement. “I have met few public servants who are as dedicated as she is and even fewer organizations that have had such a tremendous impact on our community.”

Austin Pets Alive volunteer Laura Stromberg volunteered with Jefferson for several years and says these claims aren’t justified.

“She’s dedicated her entire life,” Stromberg said. “She’s done it without pay. She did it without pay for a long time. She’s one of those people who would take home every animal under the great blue sky if she had the real estate to do it.”

Jefferson has filed her own lawsuit against the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.  She claims in court documents the board should not have jurisdiction over her since she is a non-profit shelter, and not  in private practice.

Jefferson would not grant an on camera interview, but sent this statement to KXAN:

“Statement Regarding Veterinary Board Allegations against Ellen Jefferson, DVM

I have filed suit against the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners because it is pursuing complaints filed against me that are outside their jurisdiction and by doing  so they are threatening shelters all across the state of Texas.   While there is absolutely no question that any loss of life should be taken very seriously and is never the result that I personally want, the TSBVME is not the proper venue for that conversation.

I have always operated within the professionally accepted standards of shelter operations, adhering to the applicable rules.  I have centered my entire life and career around saving animals from needlessly dying.  

There are two cases being examined by the TSBVME.  The first is a case that everyone, including myself, agrees was a terribly sad loss of life, and one that potentially could have been avoided if the animal had been owned by someone other than a shelter with limited means.  The second has been filed by PETA, which has been under tremendous national scrutiny for endorsing the wholesale killing of shelter pets. PETA alleges that a lay person performed surgery on an animal.  This is absolutely false.  I am deeply disturbed by the death or suffering of any animal as evidenced by my relentless work to transform Austin and soon San Antonio into No Kill Cities.

14,000 dogs and cats died needlessly in the City of Austin before I began my work in saving lives in 2008.  Since then the organization I lead has saved the lives of over 23,000 dogs and cats and has been the driver in making Austin the largest and most respected No Kill City in the Country.

In San Antonio, over 20,000 were methodically killed, bagged, and immediately incinerated per year until my work there began.  In the last 12 months, that total death number has decreased to less than 6,000 animals and that city is poised to eclipse Austin as the largest No Kill City in the US.” provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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