Celebrating powerful change and collective impact: Animal welfare groups from nine states win Best Friends Lifesaving Awards

By Julie Castle

One of our core tenets at Best Friends is that big, sustainable change can only come about when we work together. Individually, yes, we can do great things. But the kind of change that unravels broken systems, opens new doors and saves lives only comes from our collective voice and impact. This is what led to the creation of the Best Friends Network, now comprising 3,147 animal shelters, rescue groups, spay/neuter organizations and other lifesaving groups across all 50 states.

Recognizing other local organizations working to save pets in need was something we did even in the earliest issues of Best Friends magazine and continue to do today. Our incredible partners around the country are the key to the 2025 no-kill goal and have been a catalyst in our movement. They’re also a testament to the power of many, and I am grateful and humbled to work alongside them to save pets in shelters and create brighter futures for pets and people alike nationwide.

This year, Best Friends has recognized 12 animal welfare organizations and two state coalitions for outstanding work in creating compassionate, animal-friendly communities through increased lifesaving and progress toward no-kill. In a normal year, we’d be acknowledging these tremendous partners and celebrating with them in person at the Best Friends National Conference. But of course, this is anything but a normal year. So, please join me in spreading the lifesaving love and giving a virtual round of applause to the organizations and coalitions below.

Here are this year’s Best Friends Lifesaving Award categories and winners, based on national shelter data and work from calendar year 2019 (compared to 2018).

Transformational Change Award

This award is given to animal shelters with the highest increase in lifesaving progress for dogs and cats, based on how many pets are admitted to the shelter each year.

Admitting 2,000 pets or fewer

Lycoming County SPCA, Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Lycoming County SPCA changed the lifesaving game in its community when they took an active role in local trap-neuter-return (TNR) efforts and said ‘no more’ to euthanizing feral cats. They did amazing work to educate their community about the benefits of TNR and brought together caring community members and shelter team members in one unified effort to save more animals.
– Elizabeth Jensen, Best Friends Northeast regional director

Admitting 2,001 – 6,000 pets (three recipients)

Santa Rosa Animal Services, Milton, Florida
Santa Rosa County Animal Services was determined to do better by the people and animals in their community and they pulled out all the stops to make it happen. And even better, they successfully engaged their community to help them do it. Through dedication, fortitude and collaboration with other groups and county officials, this incredible agency illustrated just how much you can do when you give it your all.
– Michelle Logan, Best Friends national shelter embed program director

Hall County Animal Shelter, Gainesville, Georgia
When Best Friends first arrived at Hall County, they welcomed us into their shelter with open arms. And it’s been a fabulous partnership ever since. Everyone there from the frontline shelter staff up to the county commissioners embraced and implemented recommendations for new programming to save more lives. They hired new team members and approved an essential community cat program, and they're now a regional leader in animal welfare, providing mentorship to other shelters looking to make similar changes.
– Carrie Ducote, Best Friends Southeast region senior manager

Burke County Animal Shelter, Morganton, North Carolina
When I first met the director at Burke County and her mighty team of two, the to-do list was long and the barriers to overcome were high. But they put their heads down and their hearts out and made incredible change happen quickly. They increased lifesaving, reduced the number of animals pouring into their shelter and successfully overcame a parvovirus outbreak. They became a community resource and collaborator. The initiative and results this small but mighty team continues to make happen are truly remarkable.
– Angela Rovetto, Best Friends Mid-Atlantic regional manager

Admitting 6,001 – 10,000 pets

Tulare County Animal Services, Visalia, California
Tulare County Animal Services has made tremendous progress over the past year. Equipped with a forward-thinking leader and a mighty team dedicated to serving the pets and people of their community, I have no doubt they'll continue to take risks and push boundaries in order to save the most lives. I can’t wait to see what they do next and will be their cheerleader every step of the way.
– Sheila McLalin, Best Friends Pacific regional manager

Admitting 10,000 or more pets

Palm Valley Animal Society, Edinburg, Texas
Change is the word of the day, month and year at Palm Valley Animal Society. They embrace it, never shy away from it and are always ready to challenge the status quo when it will result in saving more lives. They’re constantly driving to be better tomorrow than they are today and looking for opportunities to brainstorm ways to improve their work and impact. This is what has led to their astounding success over the last year and why they’re not stopping now. This is not a group that rests on its laurels. I can’t wait to see what’s yet to come.
– Michelle Logan, Best Friends national shelter embed program director

Positive Outcome Award

This award is given to animal shelters with the highest increase in positive outcomes for dogs and cats, such as adoption, transfer to a rescue group partner and transport to a partner shelter.

Dallas Animal Services, Dallas, Texas
Over the past couple of years, new leadership at Dallas Animal Services has continued to make dramatic lifesaving changes, including major increases in adoptions, substantial public engagement around their Dallas 90 campaign and great support from their rescue and spay/neuter partners across the metroplex. The team effort in Dallas has made them a leader across the nation in so many areas and has led to a dramatic increase in lives saved for one of the nation's largest shelters.
– Brent Toellner, Best Friends senior director of national programs

Touchstone Award

This award is given to shelters and communities with the highest increase in lifesaving progress that also achieved no-kill for dogs and cats, based on how many pets are admitted to the shelter each year.

Admitting 2,000 pets or fewer

Alamogordo Animal Shelter, Kitty City and the community of Alamogordo, New Mexico
The supportive, collaborative relationship between Alamogordo Animal Shelter and Kitty City is the number one reason that their community cat program has been so wildly successful. The two leaders at these organizations empower their team members to make critical lifesaving decisions, complement one another’s roles and solve problems with grace and expertise.
– Kirstie James, Best Friends community cat program supervisor

Admitting 10,000 or more pets

Montgomery County Animal Shelter, Conroe, Texas
I am so amazingly proud to have witnessed Montgomery County reach the no-kill milestone. The work of this team is a true testament to what you can accomplish when you are laser-focused on your goal. They diligently applied proven strategies and approaches and it resulted in major success for them, their community and the animals in their care.
– Lee Ann Shenefiel, Best Friends South Central regional director

Collective Impact Award

This award is given to organizations and state coalitions that demonstrate outstanding ability to support fellow partners and work collaboratively toward a common goal.

Spay Neuter Network, serving northern Texas
Spay Neuter Network is a shining example of how community-based lifesaving requires purposeful and thoughtful work. Their efforts showcase the fact that progress doesn’t happen by accident. They prioritized collaboration with others and filled major gaps in local programming to save cats’ lives in the city of Dallas.
– Lee Ann Shenefiel, Best Friends South Central regional director

One Tail at a Time, Chicago, Illinois
I recently told the executive director here that if I were an animal rescue group, I’d want to be just like them when I grew up! One Tail at a Time has built a community organization that is constantly growing and evolving to meet the needs of the pets and people where they live. They’ve helped shelter partners and families with pets, and have had a huge lifesaving impact in Chicago.
– Stacy Rogers, Best Friends Midwest regional director

Gwinnett Animal Welfare and Enforcement, Lawrenceville, Georgia
Given their consistently high save rate and commitment to best practices, Gwinnett County was a natural choice for coalition leadership. Since Gwinnett County was elected vice-chair of the Georgia Animal Shelter Alliance in May of 2019, they have supported the coalition’s mission by mentoring, training and supporting other Georgia shelters. They are the ultimate team player.
– Carrie Ducote, Best Friends Southeast region senior manager

Idaho Shelter Coalition
What started off as a simple idea to get shelters and rescue groups communicating and working together toward a common goal has blossomed into an organized coalition effort with more than 20 groups statewide. Data-driven, strategic and organized, this group has accomplished amazing things in such a short time. The increase in positive outcomes for pets and work to reduce their lifesaving gap by an amazing 49.4% statewide is remarkable. The future is bright for the animals in Idaho!
– Melissa Lipani, Best Friends Mountain West regional manager

Georgia Animal Shelter Alliance
Through changes and challenges, the Georgia Animal Shelter Alliance members continue to adapt to the needs of the state, staying focused on one goal — increasing the number of dogs and cats saved in their shelters. This alliance (which includes Best Friends) has collaborated to complete lifesaving assessments at six shelters since 2018, and started two critical community cat programs in key counties, resulting in more than 12,500 additional lives saved. Membership has grown to include more than 30 organizations, and the alliance has become a name shelters recognize and trust across the state.
– Makena Yarbrough, Best Friends Mid-Atlantic regional director

Congratulations to all of our award recipients and so many other incredible organizations for lighting our path to no-kill nationwide, and for making this world a better place through kindness to animals and compassion for the people who love and care for them.

Together, we will Save Them All.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society