Best Friends programming drives lifesaving success

By Julie Castle

I know, I know — most of us are trying to make 2020 a distant memory and focus on the future. In the world of animal welfare, however, 2020 brought about a lot of innovative lifesaving that will lay the groundwork for getting America to no-kill by 2025.

Best Friends has always known that if we’re going to make no-kill a reality nationwide, we need to have a critical role in helping to fill gaps. That meant collecting data from shelters around the country and identifying those that need the most help to save lives.

We are specifically focusing on shelters in the five states (California, Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana) that account for more than 50% of the killing in shelters. In connecting with these shelters, we’ve found that the folks on the ground want to save more pets, but they lack the resources, programs and/or community buy-in to make it a reality.

What they do have is an incredible eagerness for collaboration. On average, shelters that engage with Best Friends reduce their lifesaving gap (the number of additional animals they need to save to reach a 90% save rate) at 3-1/2 times the rate of shelters that aren’t engaged with Best Friends. And that number gets even more dramatic when we talk specifically about cat-related programming, where the lifesaving gap is reduced 12 times faster.

One of the most amazing examples of this type of collaboration is Palm Valley Animal Society (PVAS). In 2016, PVAS had a 23.7% save rate with a lifesaving gap of nearly 17,600 animals. But their board of directors, staff and volunteers were eager for change, and Best Friends was eager to help.

Best Friends staffer Mike Bricker was brought into PVAS, spending 100% of his time working with their team on the ground. Fast-forward to 2020, and PVAS achieved a 91.6% save rate! PVAS now has a new director, a great volunteer base and more community support than ever before. This amazing transformation took dedication and hard work, and we’re proud to celebrate their success. The best thing is that PVAS now has the programming, leadership and experience to sustain no-kill status and save even more animals.

PVAS is not alone. Harlingen Humane Society in Harlingen, Texas, is in the neighboring county and after seeing the transformation at PVAS, the board was eager to hear more. Best Friends’ Terran Tull joined the Harlingen team, implementing many of the same programs that PVAS had, and in 2020, they too celebrated a save rate that surpassed the no-kill threshold of 90%. Harlingen’s 2020 save rate was 92.6% — an increase from 49.3% in just one year! This dramatic change meant that 2,272 fewer animals were killed than in 2019. Think about your pets and then imagine 2,272 just like them living in happy homes. That’s a huge accomplishment.

Shelters in Texas just keep rolling along and accomplishing great things. For example, our unflappable Mike Bricker moved to Abilene Animal Services from PVAS mid-year in 2020, and Abilene has already increased its save rate from 57.6% to 78.1%. This change represents 1,746 fewer unnecessary animal deaths.

In Cumberland County, North Carolina, Best Friends partnered with Cumberland County Animal Control. Over the past two years, Best Friends has supported the shelter with grant funding, field officer training and mentorships, and we sponsored a training academy to help build lifesaving programming. The results? From 2019 to 2020, the shelter increased its save rate from 63.3% to 84.8% and decreased the number of animals killed by more than 2,200. Incredible.

Shelters in Louisiana are also making strides. In early 2020, the Best Friends team for the South Central region made a connection with St. Tammany Parish Animal Services. Through the course of the year, St. Tammany staff worked with Best Friends on a shelter assessment. After the assessment, Best Friends mentors worked side by side with St. Tammany staff on a monthly basis as they began building out the recommended programming. In just a few months, the save rate jumped from 52.5% to 72.1%, and they’re very motivated to keep increasing it.

Positive outcomes like this not only help pets, they boost the morale of shelter workers. According to Robert Bremer, the chief of field services in St. Tammany: “Not only did you inspire us to Save Them All, you showed us how to do it. We no longer walk around with the burden of death on our shoulders.”

Further east, Santa Rosa County Animal Services in Florida is also seeing spectacular success. Best Friends staff member Jessica Guttman joined their team in February 2020 and — boom — the Santa Rosa team lowered the number of animals killed by almost 690 in the past year, increasing the save rate from 69.9% to 88.4% in 2020, and putting the shelter well on the way to no-kill. Brad Baker, Santa Rosa emergency services manager, says, “I was tired of reading research papers. What we needed were partners who would get in the game and help us change.”

As I’ve known since I started working at this organization back in the 1980s, Best Friends employees are always ready to roll up their sleeves, get in the game and bring about change where change is needed the most. Our goal is to continue this winning strategy — to continue partnering with shelters, especially those with the largest lifesaving gaps, and help them on the path to achieving no-kill.

After all, it’s only by working together that we can Save Them All. That’s not just a motto. It’s a fact and these shelters prove it.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society