Communication, collaboration and cooperation

Person holding a puppy on an orange leash next to a Best Friends-branded vehicle
By Julie Castle

One of the things that has always been so exciting about animal welfare is how often and quickly things change. There’s always a new scenario on the horizon and a new opportunity to re-examine existing protocols and find innovative lifesaving strategies that will get us to the next level and one step closer to our goal of every animal shelter in every community reaching no-kill by 2025.

One of the most critical aspects of our work, as important as the lifesaving strategies themselves, is scaling up those strategies. This is something that has always been our focus and is the genesis of everything, from the annual Best Friends National Conference to our partnership with more than 3,600 shelters and rescue organizations to our embed and community cat programs. Achieving no-kill on a national level requires a national effort, and to Best Friends, that means communication, collaboration and cooperation.

So, when we pilot a program that is replicable, scalable and produces virtually immediate results, I get pretty excited.

At this point, nearly half of America’s shelters are no-kill, but others are still struggling. Based on that dichotomy, about a year and a half ago we launched a pilot program matching organizations that have successfully implemented lifesaving strategies with others that were still grappling with lifesaving gaps. Best Friends provided financial support to peer mentor shelters and training, coaching and brainstorming to fellow shelters to support their programs and needed improvements. Our pilot program matched four peer mentor shelters with three fellow shelters, and the results were absolutely phenomenal.

In 2019, the save rates for dogs and cats entering the three mentor shelters were 66%, 62% and 22%. At the end of 2021, those save rates had increased to an astonishing 89%, 77% and 81%. Their 2019 combined lifesaving gap (the number of additional animals who must be saved to achieve no-kill) was 7,427, and now it’s 947. And, yes, that means 6,525 fewer animals lost their lives at just these three shelters in the first year of the pilot program. And if your heart exploded a little when you read that, you’re not alone.

I’d love for you to take a few moments to watch this short video.

The gentleman in the video is Chip Fitz, director of Tangipahoa Parish Animal Services in Louisiana. His shelter was partnered with Brandywine Valley SPCA in Delaware. It was Chip’s shelter that increased its save rate from 22% to 81% and it’s where 3,279 fewer animals lost their lives in 2021 versus 2019.

There is a moment in that video (if you watch it, you’ll know what I’m talking about) when it hits him. In that moment, Chip recognizes the utterly transformative nature of what he, his team and his mentor shelter have accomplished. In that moment, 3,279 is not just a number — it’s lives. Lives that purr, lick your face and are ecstatic every time you arrive home. And it’s lives that he now has the tools to save for years to come.

This is what animal welfare is all about. People coming together in the spirit of saving animals and sharing knowledge and experience so that others can share the joy of helping and saving more animals. So, what was initially a pilot with three collaborations in 2021 is now the Prince and Paws Shelter Collaborative Program with 18 collaborations this year and a target of 40 for 2023. This is one important way that we’re scaling up our work, and it will be a critical component in reaching and sustaining no-kill across the country.

I’ll bet it won’t be long before Chip and Tangipahoa Parish Animal Services are on the other side of the equation, sharing their successes, helping other shelters to achieve their lifesaving goals, and watching that moment when they truly experience the joy of what they’ve accomplished.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society