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Campaign to Save Them All® 

Best Friends Impact Report, 2020

A message from the CEO

“Truly, it’s an exciting time for the animals and for the people who love them. Lifesaving is happening at a faster pace than ever before. Proof of that is in the pages of this report and in the purrs and tail wags of all the pets whom you’ve helped save.”

Our lifesaving numbers today

Based on the 2018 and 2019 national shelter data collected by Best Friends Animal Society, here’s where we are today:

The number of dogs and cats killed in shelters per year has been reduced from about 733,000 to 625,000.

National save rate for dogs and cats

2019: 79% | 2018: 77%

No-kill communities nationwide 

2019: 5,600+ | 2018: 4,300+

Five states account for more than half of the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters.

2019: California, Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana
2018: Texas, California, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia

Saving lives during COVID-19

Fostering is the future

In the early days of the pandemic, Best Friends’ lifesaving centers and many of our partner shelters closed, but pets still needed to find loving homes, and we weren’t about to let the closing of brick-and-mortar shelters stop them from finding one. So, we immediately put out a call for foster volunteers who could provide pets with safe temporary homes. The results were astounding:

In March in Los Angeles, more than 500 people stepped forward to foster in response to a call from Best Friends.

In New York City, after we cleared the Best Friends Lifesaving Center, we directed people to our partner, Animal Care Centers of NYC. The shelter received 2,000 foster applications in just a few days.

In Houston, Best Friends increased the number of pets going into foster homes by 100% — 600 more foster placements than last year.

Overall, Best Friends increased the number of foster placements by 46%; that’s 3,400 more than last year.

In the midst of the pandemic, an organic, community-based solution presented itself: The future of sheltering is one in which most pets will be placed in foster homes shortly after they arrive at a shelter. And for the pets who do need to spend some time in a shelter, they won’t live there for weeks or months, but instead will be fast-tracked through.

“We started referring folks who wanted to foster to our city municipal shelter, Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), because we were so overwhelmed with offers. ACC needed 200 emergency foster homes and they received more than 2,000 volunteers.” – Mallory Kerley, Best Friends in New York

Finding love online

Whether it’s scheduling Zoom calls with potential adopters so they can meet pets at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, setting up virtual meet-and-greets between adopters and pets in foster homes, or holding nationwide online adoption events, we are determined to help homeless pets find families despite the pandemic.

From May 27 through June 1, 2020, Best Friends teamed up with Adopets to hold our first-ever virtual super adoption, called Find Love Online. Here are the results:

  • More than 250 Best Friends Network partners participated.
  • More than 100,000 people around the country visited the event’s website.
  • More than 1,700 animals found loving homes.

Also, despite the pandemic, adoptions at our lifesaving centers and the Sanctuary have been on the rise. This fiscal year:

  • At the Sanctuary, 22% more dogs and cats found homes compared to last year.
  • In Salt Lake City, 525 dogs found homes, an increase of 380% over last year.

“The event helped us make a meaningful difference in the world when the world needed it most. Our team was smiling from ear to ear all four days.” – Laura Van Antwerp, communications manager, SPCA of Northern Nevada

Helping people and pets in need

In the field of animal welfare, you can always count on kindness — not just kindness to pets, but also to the people who love them. And as people lost their jobs, had to close their businesses, and needed to take extra precautions for health and safety because of the pandemic, kindness has been more important than ever.

That’s why Best Friends rolled out community kindness cards, inspired by kindness postcards created by a woman in England. The cards enabled people to offer to help their neighbors with their pets, which in turn helped more pets stay in their homes.

Songs to Save Them All

How do you raise funds and awareness about homeless pets when there’s a stay-at-home order? Through a virtual concert, of course. Best Friends used Tiltify, an online fundraising platform, to hold our first-ever virtual concert aimed at helping to save lives across the country. Called Songs to Save Them All, the event featured an array of talented musical artists and celebrities. More than 25,000 people viewed the live concert and as a result of the show, Best Friends gained nearly 80,000 new Facebook followers.

Pet food pantries to the rescue

In March, the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City was transformed into a drive-through pet food pantry for people having financial difficulties. Folks stayed in their cars as the Best Friends team popped bags of pet food and other supplies into their vehicles. For individuals at high risk of contracting COVID-19, the center started a delivery service, bringing pet food directly to them.

In just the last few weeks of March, the pet food pantry handed out and delivered more than 21,000 pounds of donated dog and cat food.

Salt Lake City wasn’t the only place where Best Friends provided pet food assistance to people in need. As veterinary facilities closed and trap-neuter-return efforts for community cats were put on hold, the Best Friends vans, which normally bring dozens of cats to vets for spay/neuter surgeries, transitioned to pet food delivery vehicles. When Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter in Louisiana received a large donation of pet food, for example, the Best Friends team volunteered to deliver the excess to families affected by COVID-19. About 70 Jefferson Parish households received pet food over two days.

Relief for families and pets, thanks to The Rachael Ray Foundation™

For years, Best Friends has partnered with The Rachael Ray Foundation to help pets across the country. And during the pandemic, The Foundation once again led the way, offering critical support and resources for pets and their families. As part of the efforts of Rachael Ray philanthropies to provide whole-family COVID-19 relief, The Foundation made a $2 million donation to establish the Rachael Ray Save Them All Grants COVID-19 Relief Program at Best Friends. Through the program, Best Friends distributed relief funds to nearly 200 organizations on the front lines of lifesaving nationwide.

A record year for transports

For years, Best Friends has been using transport programs as a lifesaving tool for homeless pets. Delivering at-risk pets in the South to partners in the northern part of the country, where they’re more likely to find homes, is critical for reaching no-kill. When the pandemic began forcing shelters to shut down nationwide, our transport programs kicked into high gear.

Second chances at the Sanctuary. As shelters closed nationwide, so did Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, but that didn’t stop us from continuing to find loving homes for the furry residents. This past year, the Sanctuary gave lifts to more dogs and cats than ever, ensuring that they were adopted even when people couldn’t visit because of the pandemic. We increased our Sanctuary transports by 164%, which is 458 more dogs and cats transported than last year.

Transports out of Texas. In Houston, when Best Friends sent out a transport plea to our partner organizations across the nation, we got a huge response. Organizations in Minnesota, Colorado and Illinois made it possible for 304 dogs and cats from Houston shelters and our Texas coalition partners to catch lifesaving lifts out of Texas between March 18 and April 24.

Lifesaving action in Atlanta. The Humane Society of Valdosta/Lowndes County (HSVLC) in Valdosta, Georgia, regularly transports kittens and cats to partner shelters. So, when shelters, including those that receive pets from HSVLC, were closing, a solution needed to be found — and fast. Enter Best Friends in Atlanta. We immediately coordinated a transport to bring pets from HSVLC to the lifesaving center in Atlanta, and then moved them directly into foster homes. In April, the center welcomed 35 pets from HSVLC; many of them were newborn kittens and pets with special needs.

“Best Friends didn’t just take the easy-peasy pets. Many of the pets we transported had or have special needs, like newborn kittens. That’s what makes this even more special. Best Friends has just been phenomenal.” – Emily Smith, executive director, Humane Society of Valdosta/Lowndes County

Bringing no-kill to dogs and cats through partnership

Record-breaking, collaborative, lifesaving — those are the best words to describe this past year. And that’s all because we worked together. For years, alongside our partners, we have been creating meaningful change for homeless pets, but this past year, we ramped up the collaborative work with our network partners to accelerate our efforts to reach no-kill nationwide by 2025. There are more than 3,100 (and counting) Best Friends Network partners.

Learning in a changing world

The pandemic changed not only the way companies and individuals operate, it changed the way we learn and spread information. Every year, Best Friends hosts a national conference that provides attendees with the information, resources and inspiration they need to save more lives. But this year, with the in-person conference canceled, we had to come up with a new and captivating way to connect and share ideas. Enter the Best Friends Lifesaving Library.

Starting in March, we went to work to put together a one-stop resource center where our partners (and anyone else who wanted access) could easily find tools — like podcasts, townhall meetings, insightful editorials and more — to continue saving lives during the pandemic. The library has had more than 54,000 views from around 88,000 visitors.

“I go to all the town halls because having connectivity is essential for me as a new director.” – Michelle Dosson, director, Norfolk Animal Care Center

A symposium to save lives

To increase our virtual learning offerings, in June 2020, we created the “Best Friends Symposium: Reaching New Heights in Contemporary Animal Services” in partnership with Southern Utah University and sponsored by Wellness Natural Pet Food, Fresh Step and Maddie’s Fund®. While anyone who was interested could register for the symposium, which took place in September 2020, it was designed for animal professionals and advocates, with dynamic presentations on subjects such as the future of field services, data and benchmarks, working with stakeholders, and laws and policies.

Nearly 400 people registered for the online event, so 400 animal lovers and leaders are now armed with expert information and resources to advance their lifesaving efforts.

Working together through the Maddie’s® Shelter Embed Project

In Florida and Texas (two of the five states where half of the killing in shelters takes place), through a powerful partnership with Maddie’s Fund®, Best Friends has been operating three embed programs. At Palm Valley Animal Society, Humane Society of Harlingen and Santa Rosa County Animal Services, Best Friends staff work side by side with shelter teams for three to twelve months to increase the number of lives saved.

#ThanksToMaddie Here are the save rate increases since the start of the programs, with the help of the Maddie’s® Shelter Embed Project:

Palm Valley Animal Society

July 2018: 22% | July 2020: 90%

Humane Society of Harlingen

June 2019: 62% | July 2020: 94%

Santa Rosa County Animal Services

October 2019: 79% | July 2020: 94%

“The lifesaving results of Maddie’s® Shelter Embed Project are swift and comprehensive, and able to provide intense, community-based support resulting in major lifesaving impact in under-resourced shelters where the lifesaving needs are the greatest. Looking ahead, we will continue to work on expanding these programs to support other priority agencies.” Michelle Logan, director of national shelter embed programming, Best Friends

Lifesaving cat programs

More than two-thirds of the pets killed in U.S. shelters are cats. So, for every dog killed, two cats meet the same tragic fate, and most of them are community (aka stray and feral) cats. But together with you and our partners, Best Friends is working to change that statistic through targeted initiatives aimed at saving the lives of cats around the country.

To that end, we have greatly expanded and continue to expand our community cat programs, which use trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) as the method for saving cats’ lives. Through TNVR, cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and then returned to the safety of their outdoor homes. During this past year more than 36,000 cats were spayed or neutered.

What’s ahead: As we move closer to 2025, Best Friends’ community cat programs and other lifesaving initiatives are turning the tide nationwide for our feline friends. We’re focusing on developing community-based sheltering; ensuring that cities, counties and states have cat-friendly ordinances and policies in place; supporting high-volume spay/neuter clinics; providing resources for community cat caregivers; and more.

Grassroots animal advocacy is helping the country to reach no-kill

How do we save the lives of every pet in every shelter across America? Together. That’s why Best Friends started the 2025 Action Team, a group of dedicated animal lovers who are pooling their collective kindness and energy to create compassionate communities nationwide.

Created in July 2019, the 2025 Action Team currently comprises 15,000-plus members. That’s more than 15,000 animal-loving people who are determined to make a difference for homeless pets in their own communities. As part of the team, members:

  • Work together to save the lives of dogs and cats
  • Share lifesaving ideas and solutions in the 2025 Action Team Facebook group
  • Get advocacy training via online resources, like the Best Friends Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit
  • Create real and positive change for the pets and people in their communities

“Getting help from groups and resources outside your community can be helpful, but ultimately the change must come from within. And that’s what the 2025 Action Team is all about. The team is key to building a more inclusive and diverse force of animal advocates who can work collaboratively with local animal shelters and other stakeholders in the community, and advocate for humane policies and legislation that save more pets’ lives.” – Kenny Lamberti, director of grassroots advocacy, Best Friends

Looking toward the future

While this has been one of the most trying (but most lifesaving) years yet, we know that as we transition to community-based sheltering, the next five years will be incredible. That’s because lifesaving doesn’t just belong to those who work in shelters or rescue groups. It belongs to everyone in the community. And putting it in the hands of the community will save more lives than ever before.

Together, let’s create sustainable, flexible, powerful community-minded programs. Together, let’s make the entire country no-kill by 2025 and Save Them All.

Campaign contributor spotlights

Ron and Catherine Gershman

In Los Angeles and the surrounding area, the lives of homeless pets have been made a lot sweeter, thanks to Ron and Catherine Gershman. With a love of animals and a vision to create an adoption facility that was warm and welcoming for both pets and potential adopters, the Gershmans teamed up with Best Friends in 2012 to establish the NKLA Pet Adoption Center in West Los Angeles.

This first-of-its-kind adoption center helped change the perception of homeless pets as damaged or unwanted. The facility features stylish light-filled spaces for the animals, touch screens that allow adopters to scroll through pet photos and profiles, and a community room that serves as a meeting space for coalition partners and a resource library for adopters.

Today, the center continues to be L.A.’s adoption destination and a lifesaving outlet for the city’s pets. In fact, since the center opened, it has helped find homes for more than 16,000 dogs and cats. But to reach no-kill throughout the state, it is now being transformed into a space that will help homeless pets beyond the city’s borders. With the help of the Gershman family, the NKLA center will become the Best Friends Lifesaving Center. The pet care and adoption support currently provided there in partnership with NKLA Coalition members will be broadened to assist pets in need across California.

“Ron and Catherine Gershman have been an integral piece of the lifesaving puzzle in Los Angeles for years. Their incredible generosity and passion have helped so many wonderful dogs and cats get the love and care they need at the NKLA Pet Adoption Center, and they have made a world of difference for pets all across the city. As we work to extend our reach around the state to end the killing in shelters by 2025, the center and the dedication of the Gershmans continue to be essential to our mission.” – Julie Castle, Best Friends CEO

Wellness and Fresh Step

As the official partners of Best Friends, Wellness Natural Pet Food and Fresh Step provide food and cat litter for the animals at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and at Best Friends’ lifesaving centers across the country. We are so grateful for their generosity and couldn’t do this lifesaving work without them.

To date, WellPet, the maker of Wellness Natural Pet Food, has donated nearly $2.5 million in pet food to Best Friends through their Wellness Foundation, filling the bellies of homeless pets across the country. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wellness has donated more than 250 pallets of food to animals in several hard-hit states, including California, New York, Utah and Texas. And Wellness has committed to feeding all the dogs and cats in Best Friends’ care through 2021.

In addition to making a generous cash donation to Best Friends to support our lifesaving work, Fresh Step provides 100% of the litter needed for the cats of Best Friends Animal Society. That’s about 400,000 pounds of litter every year! On top of their generosity toward Best Friends, Fresh Step works to offer support to shelters across the country with their Paw Points program, which connects Paw Points members with participating shelters to redeem points for litter and pet supplies.

Thank you so much for being part of this lifesaving journey. And as always, thank you for all that you do for homeless pets everywhere.