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No-kill in the Southeast: Collaborating in Tampa to save hundreds of animals’ lives

Dogs and cats are valued members of every community, and it takes dedicated, compassionate and strategic people to build and sustain a no-kill community. Last month, people with those very characteristics came together in the Tampa Bay area to help local animal shelters find homes for hundreds of animals in a single weekend.

Solving challenges for animal shelters together

First, a bit about our focus in Florida, which is one of Best Friends Animal Society’s top five priority states. The approach to bringing the entire state to no-kill is through collective impact, which simply means that individual organizations are working together toward a shared goal. A statewide steering committee of animal shelter leaders already existed, and recently they formed “micro” committees across the state to facilitate more partnerships with shelters that are geographic neighbors.

These smaller committees are proving to be invaluable. They’re creating real opportunities for shelters to work together on solving local cat issues, encouraging open adoptions (which involves removing barriers to adoption and using a nonjudgmental approach) and engaging passionate community advocates. And during the weekend of May 17-19, shelters in the Tampa Bay area came together for the first time as a group to hold a mega adoption event. To say it was a resounding success is an understatement.

Tampa Bay area’s first mega pet adoption event

The area’s first shared dog and cat adoption event included Polk County Animal Control, Hernando County Animal Services, Pasco County Animal Services, Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center, Citrus County Animal Services and the Humane Society of the Nature Coast. Best Friends helped facilitate the event and, through the generous efforts of a local donor, stepped up to cover pet adoption fees, heartworm treatment for dogs who need it, and parking for all attendees. All the shelters, along with Best Friends and dozens of amazing volunteers, set up shop at the Hernando County Fairgrounds for three heartwarming and lifesaving days.

The final numbers are impressive, with a total of 378 cats and dogs getting adopted, but this was so much more than an adoption event. This was a party that brought together local humane organizations and community members from diverse backgrounds, all with the shared goal of saving animals. Each and every adoption was celebrated with cheers, whistles and treats for our four-legged friends. Many families were so inspired by the event that they returned the second day to adopt again.

The community came out in force to not just adopt a new family member, but to offer support and celebrate the hardworking shelter employees who are tasked with the care of these animals 365 days a year. Shelter workers and volunteers got hugs, free bottles of water and nonstop gratitude for their service to the community. It was truly inspiring.

More pet lifesaving events to come

The event was so successful that the Tampa Bay Regional Municipal Coalition, of which Best Friends is a member, is exploring plans to enlist several more shelters for another event — with the goal of finding homes for 1,000 animals.

Events like these are the truest form of collective lifesaving impact. From conception to execution, mega adoption events require egos to be put aside, and agendas and budgets to be shared. Maybe most important, for this event to be as successful as it was, the community had to be engaged and plugged in as a partner.

This event has the potential to be paradigm-shifting for the Tampa Bay area and, we hope, for the entire state of Florida. We’re already looking at the event as a model that can be refined and expanded throughout the state.

To Save Them All, we must reach them all. When animal welfare organizations, both local and national, partner effectively and engage their communities to join the fight to save cats and dogs, anything is possible. Cheers to everyone who participated in the Tampa Bay event and to those who are committed to the ongoing work being done in Florida.

Kenny Lamberti with a dog Kenny Lamberti
Southeast regional director
Best Friends Animal Society