For the past five years, Austin Testa has dedicated his time, energy, and popcorn-making expertise to one cause: helping rescue animals. To date, 11-year-old Austin has helped thousands of dogs, cats, and other creatures in Florida receive the comfort, love, and joy they deserve. Now, he’s set his sights even higher: putting an end to animal cruelty, once and for all.
In Austin and his mom Michelle’s words, the story of Every Bark Counts:
A: One school night in winter, it was really cold. My mom and I were at Walmart, and I thought about how cold the animals would be at the shelters because they’re kept outside. At Walmart, blankets were only $1, so we bought them and took them to the shelters because animals need help, too.
M: When Austin first got the blankets, he also decided to get a business card for Every Bark Counts. On the back, he wrote, “Because animals can’t speak for themselves.” But we’d gone places and people had said, “Why should I help you? What are you doing with the money?” That’s when someone recommended that we start a GoFundMe. It was the first place that Austin chose to share his project as a 6-year-old, and it helped people realize that Austin is legitimately trying to help animals.
Austin has been raising money to help rescue animals for over five years. He named his project Every Bark Counts.
A: I’ve been taking the money I raised with the GoFundMe to the pet store and getting food and blankets for cats and dogs and donating them to the shelters. I usually to try to find shelters that don’t get many donations because people don’t know about them. I started Every Bark Counts when I was six, so I’ve been helping animals for five years now. I’ve probably helped at least a couple thousand animals in that time.
Including offline fundraising, I’ve raised $7,000 in the past five years. I’ve been able to do a lot with that money, pretty much nonstop. For example, I got supplies for a cat shelter because people were just dropping litters of kittens off, and they needed a lot of stuff. I dropped off those supplies, and then the week after that, I had another fundraiser and raised $100. Then, I bought more supplies and went to the Humane Society and donated food to them.
To date, Austin has raised over $7,000 online and at in-person events to buy supplies for shelters in need.
M: Austin and I will go to dog events and find rescues and fosters who don’t get a lot of support, and he’ll donate to them. There was a Gentle Sanctuary in Arcadia, and he raised more than $500 for the animals, and we drove four hours round-trip to take the supplies there. He networks pretty much every day all the time and gives his business card out to people he meets to ask for donations. Once Austin starts talking to people, even if they give $1, he publicly thanks them on Every Bark Counts’ social media and sends them a follow-up of which shelter it actually went to.
A: In addition to my GoFundMe, I get a lot of donations at events because my mom has a commercial cotton candy and popcorn machine, and we sell bags to help the animals.
At his Every Bark Counts booth, Austin sells popcorn and cotton candy to raise money for animals.
M: We’ll find different events like Bark in the Park, where he went to Chick-fil-A and got them to donate $250 worth of gift cards, and we’ll do silent auctions. Austin always asks for the shelters’ wish lists, and he works year-round to get them the supplies they need.
This Christmas, we bought 700 stockings and got people to sponsor Austin’s booths at events, and we charged $5 for a bag of popcorn or cotton candy. He wanted to make sure that the animals had treats for Christmas, and those donations helped us fill up the stockings for the shelter animals. Eventually, we’re hoping to build Austin a concession trailer and get him to go out to events that are bigger.
Austin has three rescue chihuahuas of his own, and he likes to buy treats and toys for shelters that his own dogs enjoy.
A: Right now, I’m working on raising money for a pit bull rescue because they don’t get a lot of donations. I’m trying to get them fleeces, milk bones, treats, and food. Usually it only takes $600 per shelter. I help all animals, but I really love dogs. I have three dogs of my own, and I take care of them. I provide the right food for them, I know what food they should have, and I know what dogs would want.
I got my dog Diesel five months ago. He was a rescue from North Carolina who was abused as a puppy and taken away from his mom. He was basically tortured, and the shelter up there brought him to Florida, and I adopted him. He’s had a big impact on me because he loves me and he is a really active puppy. I love that.
The newest addition to the Testa family is Diesel, an energetic pup from a litter that Austin cared for as a Humane Society volunteer.
M: Last summer break, the Humane Society gave Austin a scholarship. While he was there, Diesel and his siblings came in. They weren’t even eight weeks old yet, and all three had been abused. Austin started taking care of them, and at the time, we already had two Chihuahuas. But Diesel stuck by Austin’s side the whole time. It was a difficult decision to adopt him, but Austin said, “Who’s going to love him like we are? He doesn’t trust anyone.”
Going to the shelters with Austin, I have the hardest time. I cry all the time. And I could never have imagined that first night at Walmart that I’d be spending $100 on blankets for animals. But even today, we probably have at least $50 worth of blankets in our car ready to take to a new shelter.
Austin speaks at events and writes letters to politicians to spread the word about helping animals and fight against cruelty and abuse.
Right now, Austin is trying to figure out he can speak for the animals, even though he’s so young. For one, he wants to stop animal cruelty. Austin wrote a letter to the governor’s office a couple of months ago because he wanted to find out at his age what can be done about animal cruelty. He also wrote to the President, “How can we protect animals from abuse?” He wants to stop animal abuse, arrest abusers, and get rid of kill shelters.
He also shares the message of Every Bark Counts with our community. Austin has been a guest speaker at a couple of different Humane Societies, presenting to 10–20 kids and adults. The SPCA just sent him a letter to thank him and say that they hope he brings awareness to more kids about being kind to animals. He also posts as much as he can on social media about animals in need. This is just his passion.
One day, Austin hopes to have a rescue facility of his own.
Some parents tell me, “Our kids play games all day.” They ask me how Austin got started, and I say I didn’t do anything. He’s driven this himself. But obviously, I’ll take him wherever he needs to go. Hopefully, one day he’ll own his own rescue or have a big ranch or farm where he can care for even more animals. Right now, Austin’s got a lot of kids who follow him and want to be a part of what he’s built. I couldn’t be more proud of him.
Austin continues to raise money through his GoFundMe to help rescue animals and the shelters that protect them.