12-year-old Austin Testa has spent half his life caring for animals. When he was six years old, he visited a local Wal-Mart on a cold night with $100 in his pocket to spend.
“I saw one-dollar fleece blankets and bought some to take to animal shelters,” Austin said. “From that day on I was inspired to help animals in need.”
Soon, his non-profit Every Bark Counts was born to give a voice to the voiceless—particularly smaller or not as well-known animal rescues. “Without the small or lesser known shelters or rescues, most of the animals that don’t have homes in kill shelters would be killed,” he said.
“I didn’t imagine [Every Bark Counts] would take off as much as it has, but I’ve always believed in myself,” he said.
More recently, Austin worked on raising money for a pitbull rescue because they often don’t get much supplies. He raised money for fleeces, treats and food for them. Austin said pitbulls often look tough, but they’re very loving and kind dogs once you get to know them.
“Austin has always said animals depend on us because they can’t speak,” Austin’s mother Michelle said. She shared a story about how Austin helped a horse named Chance who was pregnant and on her way to a slaughterhouse. He paid for her to be brought to Florida, his home state, where she now lives and was able to have her baby. Austin not only helps animals in Florida, but nationwide too.
This summer, Austin is working on a shaved ice concession stand dubbed “The Atomic Dog Snow Shack.” Along with his mother, he plans to make snow cones and donate a portion to rescues, fosters and animals in need.
Austin and his mom share their home with three Chihuahuas—Bella, a brindle, Oreo, a black and white Jack Russell mix and Diesel, an all-black Chihuahua and Beagle mix. All are rescues and Diesel has the saddest story. His siblings and he were thrown in a cooler box and threw them down the river. One of his brothers had to get his left hind leg amputated because it was tangled in fishing line.
For now, Austin just wants to keep working on Every Bark Counts. Any small amount can help him. His GoFundMe with Every Bark Counts has raised over $80,000 for an $85,000 goal. “I want to try and inspire other people to help the animal community,” Austin said. “One day I want to try and stop animal cruelty and the kill shelters.”
Austin has also been awarded for taking care of animals by Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) during his annual Heroes Among Us event recognizing community leaders. According to Bilirakis’s website, Heroes Among Us honors those dedicated to volunteerism, good deeds and going above and beyond to serve others.
In the coming years as he gets older, Austin imagines himself having a shelter for all animals who can’t find a forever home so they can feel like they have a permanent home there. Austin particularly feels for the animals who have been in shelters for years, saying you should always give animals a second chance.
“His visual is a resort with pools and separate doghouses with play areas for each animal,” Michelle said. “Families could come and play with the dogs and bring snacks for them.”
When Austin isn’t busy saving animals, he enjoys painting, drawing, boxing, bike riding and going to the beach with his mom and before coronavirus hit he loved visiting amusement parks.
“Oh, and since I was three I’ve loved doing Legos,” he added.