Artful peer-to-peer collaboration and pet transport Trello boards save 160-plus East Coast cats


Collaborative problem-solving, when done well, feels and looks like improvisational dance. When performed at just the right time by artists who love their craft, the result feels almost magical. Of course, that magic is really just the inevitable result of passion, cooperation, expertise and ingenuity coming together around a common goal. This is what so much of Best Friends’ earliest coalition-based work with like-minded lifesaving partners was all about.

This is also exactly how I’d describe the incredible work happening along the East Coast to save dozens of at-risk cats during a challenging year. What started as one person reaching out to a colleague to help one animal shelter in North Carolina turned into a swift current of conversations across multiple organizations that helped four different county shelters save 164 cats.

So, what did this particular lifesaving dance look like?

Angela Rovetto, Best Friends’ regional manager for the mid-Atlantic area, called Audrey Lodato, a colleague who works at Dutchess County SPCA in New York. She was wondering if Audrey had any ideas for helping our friends at Burke County Animal Services in North Carolina. North Carolina is one of the five states in the country most in need of lifesaving help for pets in shelters, with cats being the most at risk. And in Burke County, cats comprise 85% of the pets dying in shelters.

Since Audrey used to work with North Carolina’s Brother Wolf Animal Rescue (an organization with a long history of coordinating pet transports during natural disasters), she was familiar with the folks at Burke County and gave them a ring. They had 140 cats currently in their care, and they needed to find safe places for at least 25 of them that same day. Audrey touched base with the amazing Leah Craig and “the magical Kelly Brown” at Brother Wolf; they had both been actively working already to offer support for Burke County’s cats. In just one day, they recruited new foster homes for 47 of the cats at the shelter.

As Brother Wolf offered this first critical helping hand, other animal welfare organizations in New York were stepping up to receive additional cats in need. Dutchess County SPCA, Humane Society of Walden, Paws Crossed Animal Rescue and our own Best Friends team in New York all jumped in to help.

In the meantime, given the remarkable joint effort underway, Burke County’s shelter manager suggested inviting some neighboring North Carolina shelters to the lifesaving party. Given the outpouring of support, their small cooperative was able to coordinate lifesaving cat transports from three more North Carolina partners: Alexander County, Mitchell County and McDowell County.

Audrey then connected with Elisha Henry, another friend and colleague, at the Bissell Pet Foundation about identifying additional organizations that could welcome some new feline friends. Elisha connected with Copper Country Humane Society in Michigan and Lexington Humane Society in Kentucky, both of which signed on to receive a total of 45 cats.

The logistical backdrop to all of this collaborative work and sending and receiving shelter matchmaking was a Trello board. Creative animal welfare organizations have been using Trello boards to match pets with foster and adoptive homes for years.

More recently, the platform has become a popular option for coordinating pet transports because it’s so easy to use and there’s no real room for error. Sending shelters can upload their pets in need of placement and receiving organizations can pull those lucky pets into their columns in real time. Transport coordinating rock stars like Audrey love the efficiency and accuracy of the platform, particularly when compared to less perfect options like Facebook, which requires extra effort to sort and update the animal information and often leaves too much room for mistakes.

When all was said and done, new lifesaving destinations were secured for 164 cats who had been at risk of being killed just a day before. Natasha Kush with Shelter Dog Transport Alliance offered the lifesaving rides for the cats and learned everything she needed to know to make their journey as comfortable as possible, even though cats aren’t her usual co-pilots.

The transports to the New York destinations were completed this past weekend and the final legs to Kentucky and Michigan are scheduled to be completed this Thursday. The best part is that the connections made and relationships built and strengthened this go-round have opened doors for future collaboration.

An initial phone call, 13 organizations and 164 cats with a brighter future brought together in one scrappy, exquisite lifesaving dance. This is how we help pets and people and create compassionate no-kill communities nationwide.

And for the final act? Let’s hope it’s community members in North Carolina, New York, Michigan and Kentucky showing a little love to those incredible organizations by fostering and adopting!

For one lucky cat, that has already happened. Burke County’s longest feline resident was a cat named Jett who just didn’t jive with traditional indoor living. Dutchess County SPCA happened to have an adopter searching for the perfect barn cat to keep her horses company. Jett is already getting acclimated to his new digs and his new family is thrilled to have him.

Jett the black cat lying on his side in a kennel

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society