How Young-Williams Animal Center is achieving extraordinary outcomes


It wasn’t that long ago that Young-Williams Animal Center had to stare down many of the same challenges faced by shelters across the country – increasing intake numbers, a declining save rate and uncertainty about the future. However, when CEO Janet Testerman assumed management of the nonprofit in 2016, it was her mission to make a positive difference for pets and people in Knoxville.

Testerman attended numerous conferences to learn from leading organizations and bring back best practices to her community. And the statistics shifted. Our save rate, or the calculation of animals that left the shelter alive divided by total intake, skyrocketed from 62.63% in 2016 to 94.35% in 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic put pressure on the shelter like it did every animal welfare organization across the world. Even more animals than before entered the shelter as owners experienced housing insecurity and intense life changes. The influx of animals caused significant space issues and strained the shelter’s resources, operational processes and staff.

We stayed the course, and the outcome was extraordinary. In 2021, staff and volunteers cared for more than 10,000 pets, the Pet Resource Center provided financial assistance and approximately 18 tons of free food to help almost 5,000 pets stay with their people, and the shelter maintained a 93.35% save rate.

To aid other animal advocates as they attempt to overcome similar obstacles, we are sharing what we have learned.

  • We expanded our pet foster program. Fostering is free for community members and provides a temporary home for pets in need. The program also opens shelter space, allowing other animals to get care.
  • Community outreach became key. We are reaching people who want to help by appearing more frequently in media outlets from television to print, hosting additional events and promoting the shelter’s needs on social media.
  • We hosted accessible hiring events. We held job fairs at the shelter, so applicants could tour the space and interview on the spot.
  • We put a pet detective on the case. We hired a “pet detective” to help reunite lost pets and their people. The individual in this position searches online groups and posts to reconnect strays at the shelter with their owners. In 2021, we helped 1,754 pets find their way home.
  • Paying it forward made a positive difference. In collaboration with partners, including the BISSELL Pet Foundation, we transported recued animals, provided targeted pet assistance in our community and strengthened our relationships with animal welfare agencies.
  • Education became essential. We hired two staff members for Pets for Life, a program designed to target underserved communities with information about spaying and neutering, vaccinations and our Pet Resource Center.
  • We worked with local government. We reached out to municipalities and government entities to improve relationships, promote positive laws for pets and secure funding.
  • Partners made it possible. We cannot fulfill our vision of “A Home for Every Pet” without the help of organizations like the BISSELL Pet Foundation and Knoxville residents.

To learn more about Bissell Pet Foundation and how animal shelters nationwide are achieving incredible results with the organization’s assistance, visit